The Devils are emerging from this season’s all-star break with one of the best post-break records in the history of the franchise. To this point, the season has been a rousing success for the fellas in black and red, with the Devils holding the third-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference (and also the league). For a team in the Devils’ position, the playoffs are typically all but locked in, but we in this neck of the woods have not had a lot of playoff hockey in our lives in the last 10 years, so it’s hard to take anything for granted.
With that in mind, today we look at exactly how much the Devils need to do to get over the finish line to get in the playoffs. This team has done well enough that they should be aiming for goals considerably higher than just participating in the postseason at this point, but it’s undeniable that the Devils mathematically qualify for the playoffs, if/when that happens, will be a massive reason for celebration within this fanbase. So what do the Devils need to do to get there?
At the time of publishing, the Devils are sitting second in the Metropolitan Division, with a 32-13-4 record (68 points). They are already five points beyond last season’s point total with 33 games still to go on the schedule. The lowest bar to clear, improvement over last season’s debacle has been cleared comfortably in less than 60% of the season. It is truly a testament to how bad last season’s team was (and conversely, how good this one has been so far) that the team could lose 33 straight games to end the season and still be five points clear of the 2021-22 version of this squad.
TO REACH 95 POINTS
In order to make the playoffs in a given season, the threshold typically hovers around 95 points, depending on the relative strength of the conference and the leaguewide distribution of power. At the current time, Micah McCurdy’s HockeyViz only has the threshold in the Metro at 92-93 points and MoneyPuck.com has the first team out (Buffalo) with 92 points. With the current state of the standings, 95 points is likely enough to get in. So what do the Devils have to do to get there?
The Devils would need just 27 points in 33 games to get to 95 points. A record of 12-18-3, for instance, would be enough to clear that bar. I don’t think anyone would feel too good about the Devils finishing the season in that type of swoon (which works out to a 67-point full season pace). It just shows how good of a position the team has put itself in at this point, though. Even some pretty putrid hockey over the stretch run probably clears the bar for the playoffs.
TO REACH 100 POINTS
Current pace doesn’t always hold, though, and it’s a fact that last season’s Eastern Conference did not have a playoff team with fewer than 100 points. Bubble teams will be loading up for the stretch run and the bad teams at the bottom will largely be leaning into that badness by unloading rentals and other veterans to up their odds of being the winners of the Bedard sweepstakes. It’s unlikely the threshold is so high again but to feel really confortable, 100 points might be the target.
To clear that 100-point threshold, the Devils still don’t quite need to play NHL .500 hockey, which is already a pretty easy target for a team with any expectations. They would need 32 points in 33 games, or a record of something like 15-16-2. That’s still not much of a lift, even to get to that 100-point mark, given that it’s a 79 or 80-point pace over a full season.
TO (MAYBE) WIN THE DIVISION
So anything near NHL .500 probably gets the Devils in with room to spare, but what about winning the Division? The Devils haven’t won their division since they topped the old Atlantic Division back in 2009-10, when each conference still had three five-team divisions before the 2013 post-lockout realignment. The Devils won that division in 2010 with 103 points. The threshold will almost certainly be much higher this season, with Carolina currently cruising at a 122-point pace. The Devils are on pace for a very respectable (and also franchise-best) 114 points themselves, so they are not too far off from Carolina, but I think if Carolina holds this pace and finishes with 122 points, they are unlikely to be caught. To get to that threshold, the Devils would need a whopping 54 points over their final 33 games, or a record like 25-4-4. The Bruins may have managed exactly that feat earlier this season, but that is a tall order and probably not happening.
If the Hurricanes come off that pace a bit, though, and the threshold to take the division is instead something more like 115 points (which would split the difference between HockeyViz’s 112-point projection and Money Puck’s 118-point projection), that remains a difficult target to hit but resides somewhere closer to the realm of possibility. In that case, the Devils would need 47 points over their final 33, something like 21-7-5. Still close to twice as many wins as losses, and a pretty high bar to clear, but it’s closer to being feasible and probably what it will take to be at least in the hunt at the end.
With the all-star break and the bye week now behind them, the Devils are now beginning to enter the season’s stretch run, and we have a pretty good idea what they will have to do to make the playoffs (not very much) and win the division (quite a bit). We’ll see if Tom Fitzgerald adds to this team in the next few weeks, but either way, the task is now clear for New Jersey.