In the wake of the season ending Thursday night for the New Jersey Devils, a night of frustration and sadness overall for a team that definitely had the ability to go further if it could have put it all together, there was nonetheless some positivity surrounding the team and its potential for the future. Here is a tweet from Pierre LeBrun from TSN:
And here is a response to that tweet from analytics guys Andy & Rono:
And another, well, sort-of-positive tweet, from Evolving Wild:
It is frustrating to see the team bow out so easily in round 2 after figuring it out and breaking through in the first round against a tough rival. Carolina plays a very different game than New York, and they’re frankly a better team everywhere but in net, but it wasn’t like the Devils haven’t seen them before. They played 4 times in the regular season, and played well against them, so to see such a lopsided ending is definitely unexpected.
However, the positive to take away right now is that, even in hockey circles, it is clear that most people think the Devils have a bright future. This team is headed somewhere. This isn’t a Calgary situation where things were supposed to come together for a short window to win something. If all goes well, this is the opening of the window, this is the first year of many. Yes, the team has some free agents to deal with, the biggest being Timo Meier who needs to be signed long-term ASAP, but a lot of core guys are in place on this team for years to come.
Among forwards, you have Jack and Nico who are signed long-term to be the cornerstones of this franchise, and they will continue to be just that, perhaps still improving more with the talent around them. You also have veteran Ondrej Palat signed to a similar term, and while that contract may already be looking like an albatross, he can certainly provide some experience and veteran play for this team to balance out the youthful energy. On defense, you have Dougie, Marino, and Siegenthaler signed for decent term, and all are still under 30 years old, the latter 2 both still under 27. They represent a strong core for this blue line, and that isn’t even to mention Luke Hughes, who will obviously be up with the big club next year and has 3 years of a team-friendly ELC before getting a long-term deal himself. You already have 4 defenders locked in, and it’s a good group to have.
And finally, these playoffs really cemented the fact that this organization might have its future in net. Akira Schmid is still only 23 years old and has already proven that he has ice water in his veins and can play in any type of pressure situation. If he can cement his place as the #1 goaltender next year by proving that he can maintain that success over a full season as the declared top guy, then that is another major piece of the puzzle that will be in place for a long time.
The next step is of course to fill in the rest of the pieces, and the forward group is the biggest need here. 9 guys on the active roster have contracts expiring right now, and that will need to be addressed. The big two are obviously Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt, but it goes down the list too with the role players. Tatar, Wood, and Haula are all UFAs this offseason, while you also have Sharangovitch, McLeod, Bastian, and Boqvist who are all RFAs. Those are a lot of names to deal with, and they might not all be back, especially the three UFAs who I can see all being on different teams next season. But that also provides opportunities for Tom Fitzgerald to enhance the roster by bringing in guys who might be better fits and who might have bigger roles playing alongside the likes of Hughes, Hischier, and Mercer.
In the end, it is tough to see the Devils fall so meekly to a team that they proved they can hang with during the regular season. But the future is most definitely bright, and with an eventful offseason ahead, the action is far from over.