The New Jersey Devils have spent the summer so far augmenting their roster to make a deeper playoff push in the upcoming season. With important forwards re-signed or traded for, the defense set to inject some youth, depth pieces being acquired and the goaltending...certainly existing, the Devils have positioned themselves for another run. There could be, however, some improvements to be made, or that might come about due to personnel changes.
With the Devils defense shifting a bit, as well as the hiring of Travis Green to be an assistant coach, the team could be in line to see the special teams percentages fluctuate. Now yes, his could be true of any NHL season, but looking at the numbers from last season indicates at least one area that could use an overhaul. While the aforementioned coaching hire could have an impact on that via possibly implementing a new system, the personnel chosen for the units and their deployment can also determine the success or fail of those units. Today we’ll look at how special teams performed last season, and if/how they can be improved going into 2023-24.
Devils 2022-23 Special Teams Success Rates
Power Play (Regular Season): 21.9% (13th in NHL)
Penalty Kill (Regular Season): 82.6% (T-4th in NHL)
Power Play (Playoffs): 16.7% (13th out of 16)
Penalty Kill (Playoffs): 82.5% (5th out of 16)
If there’s one area that played out strongly for the Devils last season, it would be the penalty kill, that was Top 5 for both the regular season and the playoffs. The system the Devils play along with having some strong defensive forwards aided the success. There might be some concern here due to the departures of Ryan Graves and to a lesser extent Damon Severson, but John Marino, Jonas Siegenthaler, Kevin Bahl, and newly acquired Colin Miller should be able to jump in and fill those minutes.
Overall, the PK doesn’t have me overly worried; while Graves ate some big minutes on the back end, I don’t think he was as integral to the kill as those minutes would have you believe. As I’ve written about in past articles, some of his deficiencies were exposed repeatedly as we drew closer to what would be the end of his Devils tenure. Miller and Siegenthaler should be able to replace a good chunk of what Graves brought on the PK. Additionally, the Devils still have their main penalty killing forwards in Nico Hischier, Erik Haula, Dawson Mercer and Michael McLeod, which means the support from up high will remain the same. Said support should help to keep the Devils killing penalties at a high percentage.
As per the power play, Travis Green may have the most one of the most unenviable jobs in the hockey world right now. While Brunette’s power play wasn’t bad in the regular season, it absolutely hit a brick wall in the playoffs. With all of the offensive talent the Devils now have to boast of, there’s zero reason for the Devils power play to be as mediocre/bad as it was for extended periods in 2022-23. The team now has Tyler Toffoli, plus a full camp/offseason for Timo Meier and Luke Hughes to go along with incumbents Hischier, Mercer, Haula, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Dougie Hamilton.
Maybe it depends on how those players are placed across units; maybe it depends more on maximizing each player’s role in their spot on the ice when they’re out there. Whatever the solution is, the Devils absolutely can’t have the fourth worst power play in the postseason again. While it certainly wasn’t the only reason they were eliminated, it certainly didn’t help the team as much as it could have either. Hockey is a game of momentum at times, and being able to crush your opponent’s via a timely man advantage goal can sometimes be the difference between coasting toward a win and seeing the opposition make a comeback.
While a repeat performance from the penalty kill would be welcome, the power play needs to improve, at least once the regular season ends. 13 out of 32 isn’t bad, but 13 out of 16 isn’t good enough to have a team make a deep postseason run. Maybe Green needs to make the adjustments, maybe it’s Ruff, maybe it’s both of them or heck it could be on the players; any way you slice it, the Devils need to establish their power play as a formidable weapon if they want 2023-24 to be even more successful than 2022-23 was.
Do you think we see improvement from the Devils’ special teams this season? Do you think we see a decline instead, either due to player departures or the coaching change? Is the Devils playoff success hinged upon the power play improving, or are there other areas you think will have greater impact? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!