Last night was the end of the 2022-23 National Hockey League regular season for the New Jersey Devils. For the first time since 2018, it is not the end of the New Jersey Devils playing hockey until the Fall. They are in the playoffs. They have clinched it back on March 25. They have secured the greatest season-to-season turnarounds in NHL history by improving by 49 points season over season. They have had the most successful regular season in franchise history with 52 wins and 112 points. The season featured a 13-game winning streak, 11 overtime wins, 29 comeback wins, and 28 road wins. There is more to come and it feels so, so, so good to write that.
That said, what are we without our traditions? They tell us who we are. It is the end of the season and so it is customary that we announce our awards for the regular season that just ended. This was decided by all of us at All About the Jersey as a collective group. We voted on major player awards similar to the major ones the NHL hands out each season. We also voted on minor awards which does cover team decisions and include more opinions. We even came up with some some offbeat superlatives that goes over what we noticed in this 82-game season. Admittedly, voting ended prior to the Buffalo game on this past Tuesday so they may not include the last two games. I do not think they would have changed any minds. I do intend on having a Month in Review for April by the month’s end as to include playoff games. This is another way to look back at the wonderful season the Devils have put together against my and many other expectations of the People Who Matter. (Note: Links go to Natural Stat Trick or NHL.com as they are linked.)
Team MVP: Jack Hughes
Jack Hughes improved by 41 points from season over season to beat Patrik Elias’ franchise record for most points in a season prior to last night’s game. He went from 26 goals to 43. Incidentally, the Devils as a team improved by 39 goals season over season from 245 to 289 prior this week’s games. Hughes was directly responsible for of a third of that improvement with his own improvement in goal production. The improvement of 26 assists season over season made him indirectly responsible for more of that gain. Many expected the Devils to become a top team one day just as many expected Jack Hughes to become a top player one day. Few expected it to be in this season. The Big Deal led the team in total production, power play production, and shots on net. He even leads the team in individual point percentage, which is the percentage of goals for that a player is on the ice that the player had a point on, with a staggering 79%. Does he push play forward in 5-on-5? Absolutely. Ditto on the power play. The 2022-23 Devils have been a relatively high-scoring team and Hughes has literally led the way on that front. The Big Deal’s ascendency - beating out Elias’ franchise record for points in a season and finishing with 99 - is a Big Reason why the Devils have put together one of the greatest seasons in franchise history. He is the Devils’ most valuable player.
Voting Commentary: Not a unanimous decision as one dissenter chose Nico Hischier. Hischier is indeed great, but not as great as Hughes was in 2022-23.
Best Goalie: Vitek Vanecek
One of the many criticisms and issues of the past few seasons of Devils hockey was their goaltending. If only the Devils just had a decent goaltender. Well, they got a decent goaltender in Vitek Vanecek. His numbers are not going to floor anyone. His season ended with a 91.1% save percentage in all situations with 52 appearances. He has had some rough nights as well as some spectacular ones, including three shutouts and ten one-goal-against games. He was expected to concede about 128 expected goals and he had conceded 119 per Natural Stat Trick. Vanecek has become the team’s go-to option in net between MacKenzie Blackwood’s injuries and inconsistent-at-best performances. Akira Schmid has a superior save percentage but did so in 17 appearances and conceded roughly five fewer goals than expected prior to April 11 - which is about where Vanecek is on that front. It can be said that the Devils just needed a decent goaltender to have some good nights and make some tough stops to win. With Vanecek in the crease, they won 32 games and counting. Job done.
Voting Commentary: Also not a unanimous decision but very close to one. That one dissenter chose Schmid.
Best Defenseman: Dougie Hamilton
Dougie Hamilton set history for Devils defensemen in 2022-23. He became the highest goal-scoring defenseman in Devils history and tied the franchise leader, Barry Beck - who had 22 goals - with an equalizer in the season ender in Washington D.C. Hamilton has become the second Devils defenseman to post over 70 points in a season since Scott Stevens set the franchise record with 78 in the 1993-94 season, in which he played 83 games in a 84-game season. While other Devils defensemen have had better on-ice rates at 5-on-5 in some categories, they did not always draw attention like Hamilton did and they did not produce offense like Hamilton did. Hamilton was involved in just over 53% of the points produced when he was on the ice; no Devils defenseman has come close. The latter cannot be ignored as the Devils’ systems under Ruff involve defensemen activating in the offensive zone and joining rushes when possible. To that end, the offensive production really is significant to how effective the Devils’ system has been. The Devils’ defense has saw a lot of growth between Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, Damon Severson glowing up in lesser minutes, John Marino absorbing a lot of pressure, and depth defenders Brendan Smith and Kevin Bahl being good from a big-picture point of view. The most impressive among them has been Hamilton and so he has this award.
Voting Commentary: Unanimous. Dougie got all of the votes.
Best Offensive Forward: Jack Hughes
This goes to the guy who put up 99 points in 78 games, a record broken prior to last night’s game. The same guy who has been involved in nearly 80% of the points produced when he is on the ice. The same guy who won MVP. You are not shocked by this and you should not be.
Voting Commentary: Unanimous. As it should be, really.
Best Defensive Forward: Nico Hischier
Nico Hischier has been touted as a future Selke candidate. This season has shown why that could be the case once Patrice Bergeron retires or declines. When Hischier is on the ice in 5-on-5, the Devils have an expected goals against of 2.27 per 60 minutes. The only regular Devil this season with a lower such rate is Tomas Tatar. While Tatar has been amazing in 5-on-5, he does not kill penalties. Hischier does and leads the forwards in ice time. When the Devils are defending against a team with an empty net, Hischier has the most ice time among all forwards. When the Devils are in overtime, Hischier is third on the team in ice time (18:45) whereas an appearance from Tatar in 3-on-3 has been rare at 3:58. Hischier is trusted in these defensive and high-leverage situations. And Hischier has provided a whole lot of the forward part of his game between 80 points and an on-ice xGF/60 rate of 3.4. Therefore, Hischier is worthy of this award.
Voting Commentary: This was not unanimous as there was a dissenting vote for Tatar. Which is a very respectable decision! Tatar has been excellent for the Devils this season. But Hischier had the majority well in hand.
Best Rookie: Akira Schmid
This award had a fairly weak group. The eligible options by NHL rule were Fabian Zetterlund, Alexander Holtz, Nikita Okhotiuk, Tyce Thompson, and Akira Schmid. Luke Hughes did not make his debut until after the voting period was done. Tyce Thompson got a two-game cup of coffee before going back to Utica when healthy. Holtz was scratched a lot before getting sent back to Utica to play. Zetterlund and Okhotiuk were sent to San Jose as part of the Timo Meier trade; and only Zetterlund could be called a regular with 45 games played as a Devil (and 20 points in a bottom six role). To be fair, not even Zetterlund could claim to have been as valuable as Akira Schmid. When Blackwood went down with injury in Edmonton back in November, Schmid has emerged not only as the #3 choice in New Jersey over Nico Daws but has many of the People Who Matter hoping he replaces Blackwood entirely. The season ender in Washington D.C. provided one more argument for that replacement. After an abysmal six games last season, Schmid posted an 91.8% overall save percentage and a 92.5% even strength save percentage over 17 appearances with 14 starts prior to last night’s game. Also prior to last night’s game, Schmid was expected to concede just over 37 goals and he actually gave up 32. Schmid was a good goaltender in his time with the Devils. Clearly superior to Mackenzie Blackwood. Perhaps enough for Devils management to move on from #29 and give #40 the #2 spot in the crease for next season. For this season, Schmid was a superior rookie to the rest of a not-so-impressive group of rookies; hence, he gets this award.
Voting Commentary: Unanimous. As expected, really. Only the Swole Swede had anything resembling a close argument and it was not that close. Plus, he is in San Jose now anyway.
The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Nico Hischier
I had to break the tie for this one (see voting commentary), but Hischier was an all-situations player for the second Devils team ever to win at least 50 games in a season. I do mean all-situations. Hischier was one of four forwards to play over 1,100 even strength minutes, one of four to play over 200 power play minutes, and one of two to play over 150 shorthanded minutes. None of the forwards in those other groups were in all three like Hischier was. Additionally, he played over 20 minutes in overtime situations too. Hischier also had a variety of teammates. He played over 100 minutes with Tatar, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, Ondrej Palat, Fabian Zetterlund, and all regular defensemen except for Kevin Bahl in 5-on-5 play. That he played as much as he did and had a variety of teammates in 5-on-5 while excelling in 5-on-5 speaks to his versatility. It is valuable to the team that Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff can utilize Hischier in a number of different ways - even with in-game line changes - and he can still contribute. This warrants the Brylin.
Voting Commentary: Hischier received 3 votes. This put him in a tie with Erik Haula. Haula’s season could also be described as versatile. He was in a top-six role taking draws on Jack Hughes’ line for much of the first half of the season. He was moved down to a third line and was utilized differently in the second half of the season. His 5-on-5 teammate list is more varied than even Hischier’s in terms of He played a lot on the penalty kill, second only to Hischier. And Haula was on a power play unit all season, albeit on the secondary unit. I broke the tie in favor of Hischier because Hischier was on the primary power play and primary penalty kill units, Hischier also was used more in 5-on-6 situations, Hischier was used more in 3-on-3 situations, and Hischier had a better season than Haula. Mercer picked up two votes and Tomas Tatar received one.
Best Comeback: Tomas Tatar
On Monday, Mike pretty much made the case for Tatar better than anything I could sum up in an extended paragraph. Go read his post to understand how much Tatar has improved in terms of what he has provided to the team. Since that post, Tatar put up a brace against Buffalo to reach the 20 goal mark for the first time since 2018-19 - another mark in favor of his big bounce-back season after a “meh” 2021-22.
Voting Commentary: This was a contentious vote. Tatar won it with just three votes. The remainder was split. Two chose Dougie Hamilton. Dougie’s debut season with the Devils was rough at times between injuries and playing on a real bad hockey team. Coming back with a healthy campaign that will have Hamilton among franchise leaders among defensemen scoring is a massive one. One chose Jesper Boqvist, who did win it last season but had to re-earn his spot in the lineup amid a now-glut of bottom six forwards. One chose Erik Haula, who has overcome a run of really rotten puck luck when it comes to shooting to have provided 14 goals this season to fewer and fewer surprised reactions from the People Who Matter when he does score. The brace in Washington last night only helped his cause. One chose Schmid, who had a miserable six games on a real bad Devils team in 2021-22 with a real good 18 games in 2022-23. One chose Lindy Ruff, a very valid choice in that I called the award Best Comeback and, well, he bossed the Devils to the greatest season-over-season improvement in league history during an 82 game season. As the voter put it: “Going from ‘Fire Lindy’ to ‘Sorry Lindy’ to ‘Extend Lindy’ in one season. Not bad.”
Best In-Season Move by the Devils: Timo Meier Trade
One of the big gaps in the roster that General Manager Tom Fitzgerald did not really fill ahead of the 2022-23 season was a top-six scoring winger. Alex DeBrincat and Kevin Fiala were traded to teams. Matt Tkachuk was available, but Calgary made the deal with Florida. Johnny Gaudreau was pursued, but he signed with Columbus. Fortunately, the improvements of various core players and a strong start beyond the first two games showed that the Devils were more than capable of filling the net. Of course, they started to win a lot of games and so the expectations shifted from “it would be nice to play meaningful games in March” to “this is a playoff team, make the team better.” San Jose’s terrible season made it likely that Meier was available and Meier was, on paper, exactly what the Devils needed. A scoring winger in his mid-20s who wants to be on a good team in what remains of his prime years. A big body with soft hands and smooth moves. And Fitzgerald got him. Not only did he get him, he did it without giving up Dawson Mercer or Luke Hughes or Simon Nemec. The trade saw plenty of bodies go both ways to make the numbers work, but the trade saw Andreas Johnsson come off the books as he was buried in Utica, a bunch of picks that will likely be low picks now even with all of the conditions, Zetterlund, Okhotiuk, and Shakir Mukhamadullin - a prospect defenseman likely blocked by the aforementioned Hughes and Nemec (and maybe even Topias Vilen). Fitzgerald got it done and Meier has since put up 9 goals and 14 points in 20 games with the Devils prior to the season ender in D.C. All while being great in 5-on-5 play. Meier still needs to be signed and signed long term after this season, but this is the move that showed that the Devils are done with the development and they are now fully in competition mode. So far, it has been an excellent move.
Voting Commentary: This was a unanimous choice. As expected, really. Meier is a Devil and it has just been so right so far.
Worst In-Season Move by the Devils: The Management of Alexander Holtz
The New Jersey Devils went into this season with a tantalizing prospect pool. One that will not be so tantalizing between prospects no longer being prospects. One of the reasons for that was 2020 seventh overall pick, Alexander Holtz. On paper, a winger with a fantastic shot would be an ideal fit next to someone like Jack Hughes. On the ice, it has been a rough 2022-23 season. He did start the season with the Devils. He was sent down on November 22 for some extra time around Thanksgiving, recalled on November 28, and then sent down on February 17. The team played 54 games from October 7 to February 17. Holtz played in just 19 of those games.
Holtz’ skating and play off the puck may have improved a bit, but still remain as weaknesses at the NHL level. However, Holtz did not always get a chance to work on that as the coaching staff opted to keep Holtz to limited minutes (average ice time of 10:16 per game) when he did play and often scratched him when he was with New Jersey. He was up with the Devils for more than the 19 games he did play. It is one thing to not gain the coaching staff’s trust. It is another not even get much of a chance to do so. A bizarre decision to keep him around instead of going back to Utica to actually play hockey and work on those parts of his game that needed it. He certainly was not going to get better at skating or playing away from the puck or defense in general by watching games from a suite at the Rock. Since returning to Utica, Holtz has only been able to get into 14 games between illness and injury. He has 11 points, so he is productive; but how much more prepared could he be for next season if he was given opportunities to play somewhere instead of just eating chicken fingers in a suit? The record shows that the coaches and management did a lot of things right this season. Undercutting Holtz’s second season in North America was not one of them. It remains an open question of what Holtz could be in his third season with New Jersey - and whether he will remain in New Jersey for long.
Voting Commentary: Despite the team’s awesome campaign, there was some competition for this one. How Holtz was managed received five votes. Two picked the Curtis Lazar trade. A bit harsh as Lazar has been hurt and he was acquired for a fourth rounder, but, again, they were voted by those people on the basis of “what else can I pick?” One person went outside the box and voted “none.” One person voted for playing Mackenzie Blackwood during the stretch run, which, well, is also another outside the box choice.
Best 2022 Offseason Move by the Devils: Trading & Signing Vitek Vanecek
One of the major issues of the 2021-22 Devils was goaltending. Logic says: Go get a different goaltender then. Tom Fitzgerald did so by correctly observing that Washington was moving on from their tandem. On the second day of the 2022 NHL Draft, Fitzgerald sent their second and third round picks to Washington for Vitek Vanecek’s rights and Washington’s second rounder. I thought Vanecek had a decent season with Washington and given Ville Husso’s recent contract, he would get something similar. Fitzgerald was able to sign Vanecek later in July for a three-season contract worth $10.2 million, yielding a cap hit of $3.4 million. Not only did this secure Vanecek for less than Husso, but Vanecek would go on to have a very fine season - far better than Husso had in Detroit. Those who wanted the Devils with a decent goaltender got to see it and got to see how Vanecek fit that need. He was named Best Goalie earlier in this post, after all. Fitzgerald addressed a major need, did so efficiently, and it helped the team become much better.
Voting Commentary: Vanecek received six votes with some mentioning the trade, others mentioning the signing, and so I made the decision combine both as splitting that hair does not mean much. The point was that getting Vanecek was the best move in the offseason. Two voters went with the John Marino trade, which has turned out to be a big upgrade for the defense and a very good one for the Devils in general. One voter chose the Andrew Brunette and Ryan McGill hires, which were also good for the Devils - upgrades over Mark Recchi’s statuesque power play and Alain Nasreddine’s over-reliance on overloading.
Worst 2022 Offseason Move by the Devils: The Ondrej Palat Contract
This was another tie for me to break. I understand that this seems harsh as Palat did suffer a significant injury and came back after surgery. I also understand that he is a playoff veteran and that could be useful real, real soon. However, I have to remind everyone that he was signed by the Devils after the Gaudreau thing fell through and the signing was announced after midnight of the first day of free agency. This was very much a Plan B signing with a very concerning contract structure. It is always a concern if you Mind you, I like Ondrej Palat as a player. Yet, at age 31 and a front loaded contract that carries a $6 million/season cap hit, it is not wrong to expect more than eight goals and 23 points in 49 games. (And the 79 shots points to him not shooting a whole lot.) Sure, he has been helping to drive the play forward but the finish and the results have not always been there. Especially recently with just two goals and nine points in 22 games since March 1 - well after he returned from his injury and recovery period. We shall see soon whether Palat really does turn it up in the playoffs. If he does, then this looks sillier and the Devils are better for it. If not, then this contract is going to weigh a lot more as Palat gets older.
Voting Commentary: This garnered three votes. Three voters chose the signing of Brendan Smith, who has recently fallen out of favor with the coaching staff in favor of Kevin Bahl. To be fair, Smith really has not been bad at all in the run of play (the penalties are an issue) and he was intended to be a #6/#7 defenseman since his signing. Which he is. His deal ends after next season; Palat will likely still be on the books. One person picked the Marino trade on the basis of not knowing what else to pick. One person picked the re-signing of Miles Wood; an interesting choice as he was a RFA and arbitration was on the table. One person picked failing to extend Jesper Bratt, who repeated his very productive last season with another one. Which means Fitzgerald gets to “enjoy” that process once more.
Best Surprise: Dawson Mercer
In a season full of surprises, Dawson Mercer emerging to have a whole lot of DAWG in him is among the best. It is not uncommon for a rookie to struggle a bit in their second NHL season. Maybe they have more to figure out. Maybe they do not get the bounces their way to help them go from strength to strength. Maybe they picked up some bad habits that need to be removed. Not so with Mercer. While not nearly as strong in 5-on-5 as some of his teammates, his on-ice xGF% of 55.7% and actual GF% of 56.7% going into the Washington game points to Mercer still being a very positive player for the Devils. Mercer improved his production over his rookie season with 10 more goals, 3 more assists, and 4 more shots going into the final game of the season. Mercer picked up his first hat trick, continues to play in every game, and trails only Tim Stutzle and Lucas Raymond for the most points out of the 2020 NHL Draft Class as of April 12 per HockeyDB. The apex of Mercer being a surprise was his astonishing and awesome eight-game goal streak wherein he scored 10 goals. That streak broke a franchise record and put him a game behind Wayne Gretzky for the longest goal streak in the NHL by a 21-or-under player. That may be a specific mark but coming close to The Great One in, well, anything involving scoring is something absolutely nobody would have predicted any Devil to do. Mercer did it in one of the many achievements in a season full of them. All while showing he is as much a part of the core as Hughes, Hischier, Hamilton, and Bratt.
Voting Commentary: Mercer won this with just two votes as everyone else picked someone or something else. Which makes sense as the whole 2022-23 New Jersey Devils season has been a wonderful surprise after one of their worst seasons ever in 2021-22. The other selections: Vitek Vanecek, Akira Schmid, Goaltending as a whole, Jack Hughes (a strong contender given he broke Elias’ record), John Marino, Tomas Tatar, and the whole team. Valid arguments exist for each.
Most Disappointing: Miles Wood
How can a season so good have disappointments? The reality is that a disappointment can mean that more was expected and it did not happen. The arguments in favor of Miles Wood is that he is fast enough to breakaway, he goes into tough places, he can be tough/gritty/energy/etc., and he can pot in some goals. The arguments against is that Miles Wood is just not a smart player on the ice. He can be lax off the puck, especially on defense - something that led him to be one of the worst 5-on-5 players on an otherwise fantastic 5-on-5 team. He takes some remarkably dumb and unnecessary penalties, which hurts the team’s cause. He does not fight all that much or is all that big for all of the talking up of his grit. Plenty of other Devils go to the “dirty areas” for goals and pucks; and Wood seemingly shoots from wherever he wants away from said areas. Oh, and while Wood can still streak in a straight line, recent attempts at breakaways either end up with the defense catching up to him or the goalie making a stop on a not-so-difficult attempt. I understand Wood is a fourth-line winger and he has 12 goals. But these goals have come few and far between. Wood had a legitimately great game against Buffalo on April 11 and scored his first goal in 14 games. It was not his first 10+ game goalless or pointless streak of the season either. Add to all of this is that Wood is a fourth line left winger on this team for $3.2 million per CapFriendly and will likely command at least that much as am unrestricted free agent. The ‘W’ in the BMW line is a luxury on the roster - and something the Devils could replace for about the same (or more!) level of contributions for far less. I understand Wood was coming back from practically missing all of the prior season, but I think the 2022-23 Devils have shown that they can absolutely move on from Wood and keep moving forward. (Yes, I know he had goals in back-to-back games, that’s two games and this is a season award.)
Voting Commentary: Wood won this with three votes. Mackenzie Blackwood and his sub 90% save percentage garnered two votes. Had voting included the last two games, maybe this would have been flipped? Yegor Sharangovich also received two votes and he has been yanked around the lineup with mixed results at best. Palat did receive one vote, helped by his recent lack of production.
Best Utica Comet: Graeme Clarke
After storming through 2021-22, the Utica Comets have had a rougher time of it in 2022-23. As of the morning of April 13, they are still a point away from clinching a playoff spot. A far cry from running away from the North Division last season. What stands out is a drop from 246 goals to 208 goals. That team had four 20+ goal scorers. Zetterlund graduated to the NHL, Chase De Leo and A.J. Greer were not retained and signed elsewhere, and Holtz, well, you know what happened with Holtz from this post. Short of a late surge, only two Comets will finish with 20+ goals. Both improved quite a bit over last season, but Graeme Clarke’s glow up out-shined Nolan Foote’s. Foote is still under 40 poins this season. Clarke went from 10 goals and 24 points in 2021-22 to 24 goals and 56 points to lead Utica in both categories. He has shot 100 more pucks to be the only Comet with over 200 shots on net, and, as a result, has grown to be an important player for Utica’s forward group. It remains to be seen if Clarke will get a shot in New Jersey in next season’s camp. But the team’s top scorer improved by such a huge amount in his third AHL season to at least consider the possibility. The team’s scoring may have went down, but Clarke was one of the few to grow as a leader in that role.
Voting Commentary: Nearly unanimous. Holtz got a vote for going to Utica and crushing it in his short time there. But Clarke has done it all season for Utica. May the Comets clinch a spot and the squad continues to do damage in the postseason.
Best Prospect: Luke Hughes
This award is generally for prospects outside of the NHL and AHL. It was also voted on before Luke Hughes signed an entry level contract and made his NHL debut on April 11. Of course, I do not think anyone would dispute this status. Luke Hughes was a force for a very, very good Michigan team in the Big Ten. Think of his older brother Quinn, only bigger and with way more production. Luke wore an ‘A’ for Michigan, improved on his freshman point total (17 goals, 22 assists) of 39 point to put up 48 (10 goals, 38 assists) in two fewer games. This warranted Hughes making the NCAA West First All-American Team. Luke captained the American WJC team and put up four goals and an assist as one of their top three players with a Bronze Medal finish. When Michigan lost to Quinnipiac in the Frozen Four semifinal, it did not take long for Luke Hughes to sign the ELC and play in New Jersey - not Utica. His skating, his skill on the puck, and his mind for the game are all enough reasons to be excited. James said he was one of the best prospects in the NHL, not just New Jersey’s best prospect. He is right. Now Luke is here. And he already has a glorious highlight for his first NHL goal.
Voting Commentary: Nearly unanimous. One voter gave credit to Avangard Omsk winger and 2019 fifth round draft pick, Arseni Gritsyuk. Gritsyuk has established himself in the KHL and improved over his rookie KHL campaign with 66 games played and 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) over the 39 games and 28 points as a rookie wherein he was named the best rookie of the KHL. Gritsyuk will be out of contract shortly. It will be interesting to see whether the Devils are able to sign the 22-year old this summer.
These are offbeat awards by the individual writers, identified by their initials. They’re not binding. They are for fun. It is how these award posts are closed out. Some of them were determined days before this post. Initials indicate who came up with what.
Secret MVP (DR): For providing the trade capital to make this team what it is today, Taylor Hall
Best Streak of the Year (NP): Dawson Mercer’s eight game goal streak. Of course.
The 2nd Annual “I’ve Seen Enough” Award (JM): To the player I don’t need to see or hear from ever again, Mackenzie Blackwood. Once again, Blackwood was oft-injured. Once again, Blackwood was barely in the lineup. And once again, he was not particularly effective when he managed to stay healthy for longer than 10 minutes. With the emergence of Akira Schmid as a viable NHL goaltender along with Vitek Vanecek, there is little reason for Tom Fitzgerald to continue this charade that Blackwood is a franchise goaltender. Maybe he can be one, but it can be somewhere else at this point now that the Devils have better options.
Ken Daneyko Award for Most Penalty Minutes (AP): Miles Wood. 76 PIMs in 76 games, 13 more than the next Devil. Way to go!
Best Crow-Eating (JT): Everything I said negatively about Jesper Bratt before last season. Can I have admin powers to delete all that from the record? [JF Note: No.]
The Hüsker Dü Prize (JF): Tyce Thompson. I can recall Andreas Johnsson because he was in the Timo Meier trade. I’ll bet you forgot about Tage’s brother until the Best Rookie section, right? I know I almost did.
Jack Hughes Doing Jack Hughes Things Award (NP): Jack Hughes victimized Charlie Lindgren on November 26, 2022 against Washington with a goal-line shot off the helmet and in.
The 2nd Annual “Ozzie Smith Falls into the Springfield Mystery Spot” Award (JM): Given to the player who has inexplicably vanished off the face of the Earth, Yegor Sharangovich. We all like Sharangovich, but his production dropped off this season and with him due a new contract in the offseason and a diminishing role on this team going forward, he is an obvious trade candidate. Hopefully, you bounce back next season when you are playing in Anaheim.
I’ll Take That (AP): Nico Hischier. Nico had 64 takeaways in 81 games to lead all Devils.
The Zakhar Bardakov Award for Underappreciated Prospects (JT): I am going to give this award to Zakhar Bardakov, who finished last in the AATJ 25 Under 25 last offseason. Despite two injuries, Bardakov still broke out a bit this season in the KHL. He’s not going to be a big point producer at any level, but he’s proven capable enough offensively in a bottom six role, which is all you can really ask for with what he brings defensively and physically. Bardakov has got another year left on his KHL contract. Then I hope the Devils bring him over. The Devils just traded for Curtis Lazar. I think Bardakov brings more than that across the board in a similar role.
The 2nd Annual “I Don’t Blame You, I Blame the Person Who Hired You” Award (JM): Alexander Holtz. He earns this award for the inexplicable amount of time he spent in the Devils scratch suite instead of on the ice somewhere. Hopefully the Devils mixed up the catering so the poor kid didn’t have to eat chicken fingers every night before getting sent down to Utica where he should’ve been in the first place. It is kind of your fault you are not a great skater, which is holding you back as a player; but Tom Fitzgerald and Lindy Ruff did not do your development any favors either.
Physicality Award (AP): Michael McLeod. Mike has 127 hits on the season. Only Wood reached triple digits with 100. Say what you want about the BMW Line, but McLeod made it a physical line.
Most Confounding Player (MS): Damon Severson, for the 8th year in a row.
Never Finnished with Achievements in This Season Full of the Them...Award (JF): I missed this earlier, but with 41 points after the Washington game, Erik Haula has the most points in a season by a Finnish forward in Devils franchise history. He blew past Janne Ojanen’s 30 points in 1989-90. Why forward? Unless he has a Patrik Sundstrom special against the Caps, he will finish behind defenseman Tapio Levo’s 47 points from 1982-83. Unrelated: The Devils history with Finnish players remains unimpressive.
Biggest Breakout for a Prospect (JT): Josh Filmon has been tearing up the WHL. At the time I wrote this, Filmon was at 45 goals with two games left to play. Not bad for a sixth rounder in his +1 season. If Filmon fills out his lanky frame, he could be a beast with top six potential. If he doesn’t fill out his frame, then he may not be a NHLer at all. He could really fall anywhere, but this season was a giant leap for him. Hit the gym, Mr. Filmon! [JF Note: Filmon has been signed to an ELC starting next season and joined Utica on an ATO.]
The “Dwight Schrute Statement of Regret” Award (JM): Lindy Ruff. Like most Devils fans, I was done with the coach last year. I did not agree with the decision to bring him back this year, and I was particularly annoyed during the home opener, along with everyone else in attendance. But he proved us all wrong. So for how vocal I was against Ruff continuing to be the coach, I’d like to state my regret.
The “I Wish You Well” Award (JT): Fabian Zetterlund, Nikita Okhotiuk and Big Shak. Someone had to go in the Meier trade. I wish them well in their future endeavors.
The Congratulatory Video of the Regular Season (JF): It was a late entrant, but Devils legend Patrik Elias congratulating Jack Hughes for breaking his franchise record for most points in a season easily won this one.
Dikembe Mutombo Award (AP): Ryan Graves. A close one this year! Siegenthaler was ahead a bit, but finished the season with 151. Graves edged him off with 151. The only other one over 100 is Severson with 115, so this was a two horse race.
Most Twitter Spaces Joined While a Game is Ongoing (MS): Miles Wood.
Most Helpful Goal Call (JF): Bill Spaulding encouraging you to schedule a mammogram as Jesper Bratt scored a power play goal on October 25, 2022.
The “Turd Ferguson” Award (JM): Whoever in the organization that decided to make the oversized “Hat” hat a part of the postgame celebration festivities. It’s funny because its bigger than a normal hat.
The Rattlesnake Award for the Most Snake-Bitten Devil (JT): Erik Haula wins this by a country mile. Good lord, if posts counted as goals, Haula would be Wayne Gretzky. [JF Note: I added
Shootout Cheers and Jeers (JF): Cheers to Timo Meier for scoring a shootout goal to beat the Capitals after taking a penalty in overtime. That was redemption. Cheers also to Yegor Sharangovich for scoring on his only attempt this season. Jeers to Jesper Bratt for going 0-for-5 in shootouts. The shootout was not a major issue for the Devils this season and the Devils even avoided them until the 2023 portion of the season.
The “Maybe We Should Be Talking More About This Guy Being Part of the Future Going Forward” Award (JM): Kevin Bahl, who has continued to get better and better the more he plays to the point where I do not really need to see Brendan Smith anymore going forward. Bahl is an restricted free agent after the season, but presumably will not cost a ton to resign. That may be key for a player who might be asked to play a bigger role should Ryan Graves depart as an unrestricted free agent.
The “Yeah, OK, He’s a Player” Award to the Fringe Player who Establishes Himself as a Legit NHLer (JT): Jesper Boqvist. This was a tough one. I gave Kevin Bahl and Akira Schmid serious consideration, but I don’t think their sample sizes are large enough yet. I’m going to go with Jesper Boqvist. Although the points have not broken out in a big way, he’s learned to do the little things that make a strong defensive forward and has even killed penalties. The knock on Boqvist has always been that he’s an offensive forward who wasn’t good enough offensively for the top lines or good enough defensively for the bottom lines and he didn’t play special teams. He’s developed his defensive game enough to go along with his speed and high energy that he’s a player. Good for him.
The “It’s a Metaphor” Plaque (JF): This goal by Jack Hughes sums up the Devils season.
The “Grimace” Award (JM): Nico Hischier. It’s not a Nico Hischier game until he’s hunched over on the bench and a painful grimace on his face. But the captain only missed one game all season and was arguably the Devils best all-around player once again. He’s as tough as they come.
The ‘Wait, What?’ Certificate for Most Surprising Results (JF): No one expected a 13-game winning streak that would catapult the Devils to then first place in the Metropolitan Division and in a position of strength to make the playoffs. They did it! They were on a heater. They were a wagon. They were crushing teams, making comebacks, and/or earning phat dubs for the better part of November.
Runner up: The Devils swept Western Canada on a three-game trip, Eastern Canada on a three-game trip, and California on a three-game trip - something no one has ever done if I have that right. Those first two trips were a part of that juggernaut of a 13-game winning streak, too. Alas, a stinker in April in Winnipeg prevented the Devils from sweeping Canada.
The “Off-Ice MVP” Award (JM): To the non-player in the Devils organization who posted an MVP-caliber performance, Bryce Salvador. He has become the best part of the MSG broadcasts with his intermission film breakdowns and his ability to convey what the players were doing (or trying to do) to the audience watching at home. Salvador continues to get better and better in his role.
Most Catharsis in Victory Accolade (JF): After years of getting spoiled, heartbroken, and just plain wrecked, the 7-1 win on October 30 and the 8-1 win on April 6 over Columbus were absolutely glorious. Runner-up: The 7-0 victory over the Second Rate Rivals on February 25 given the rivalry and Philly beating NJ twice earlier in the season.
The “Wait, did that really happen?” Award (JM): Given to the most random one-off of the season, the Ryan Graves Carshield ad, which aired once and only once during a Devils game earlier this season.
The Let’s Move Past This Distinction, Devils Version (JF): Fans throwing things onto the ice after a third disallowed goal against Toronto on November 23, which ended the Epic Winning Streak of 13 games. Shameful. Simple as. Do not throw things that are not hats onto the ice because you are upset. Somehow, there are those who are who argued with me on this very basic point about behaving at a hockey game that even little kids understand.
The 2nd Annual “Sickos” Award (JM): Everyone in the Montreal media and Twittersphere who keeps insisting Josh Anderson is the perfect fit for the Devils, and then gets upset when you point out why Anderson is bad.
The Best Readers (JF): You. It is still all of you: the People Who Matter.
Thanks to Dan, Jared, Alex, Nate, Mike, Chris, Tyler, and James for their contributions to this season’s award voting. I thank all of the writers for contributing to this site throughout this amazing season. Which is not quite over as there are the playoffs. Expect a Series Preview of the first round in the coming days before the games begin. The Devils achieved much more than many of the People Who Matter expected in 2022-23. Now we will see how far they can go to make this campaign, this 40th anniversary of the team in New Jersey, even more special.
Once again, thanks to you for reading this site throughout the 2022-23 season. Please stick around for the playoffs and the following offseason. Please also have your say about this year’s awards in the comments, whether you agree or disagree with them and why. Thank you for reading.