The New Jersey Devils preseason is now less than a month away. This is a post that will tell you something you probably already know. Good preseason results do not necessarily lead to good regular season results. This is true for the New Jersey Devils as it is true for every professional sports team that undergoes a preseason.
This is already known for a multitude of reasons. No one celebrates “winning the preseason.” No one signs with a team or joins an organization to win the preseason. No one says they dream of winning the games before they count. Very few of the People Who Matter - the Devils fans - are look The purposes of preseason are as follows: Get players closer to game shape for regular season action, give players on the fringes of the roster and/or prospects a chance to make the roster, give the coaching staff and management an idea of setting up an actual depth chart, and pray for no injuries in the process. Winning games is nice but not at all essential. If you want to be excited about anything about preseason, then be excited that it is competitive hockey - albeit competitive hockey that will not count for anything after October 6 this year.
So if this is known and I, among many others, point this out regularly, then why am I writing this post? Simple. To show with some objective data that preseason results do not necessarily lead to regular season success. Neither for the Devils or the Devils’ AHL affiliates.
Natural Stat Trick actually has preseason data going back to 2010-11. It is a bit incomplete as there is nothing stored before then. Plus, there was no actual preseason before the lockout shortened 2013 season or the COVID-shortened 2021 52-game season. Still, NST has the team and player preseason stats for the previous 11 preseasons. I pulled the record data from there by season and put it next to the team’s NHL record (from NHL.com) and the AHL team’s record (Albany, Binghamton, and now Utica). It is pretty clear from there whether there is a sign of a correlation and there is not.
The Devils, believe it or not, have done quite well over those 11 preseasons. They have played a total of 63 preseason games (1 was cancelled due to a power issue, if I recall correctly). They have went 35-21-7 over the last 11 seasons for a points percentage of 61.1%. Which is quite good. They have also have been steady. They never swept or got swept in a preseason. Their point percentage ranged from 40% to 75%, with the point percentage being above 50% more often than not. If you are familiar with the Devils over the last 11 seasons, then you already know that preseason results do not lead to regular season results. Here is the chart showing that anyway:
Seasons highlighted in green are when that season’s team made the playoffs. You can see that the Devils’ three playoff seasons are associated with one of their poorer preseasons in 2011 and two really good ones in 2017 and 2022. However, the team also had a very successful preseasons in 2014, 2019, and 2021 too. Not only did all three of those season’s teams did not make the playoffs, the 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons were just miserable. The former saw Taylor Hall traded, John Hynes fired, and Ray Shero fired in subsequent months as the season was effectively over by Christmas. The 2021-22 season had one of the worst regular season records in franchise history and the first sub 40% point season since 1985-86. The more “meh” results in 2013, 2015, and 2016 were followed by playoff-less seasons where only one of the three was even close in the wild card race (the infamous “win a dang shootout” season). That right there further shows how little preseason matters to the regular season that follows.
I included AHL season results as multiple (most?) preseason games feature AHL-bound players. Those would be veterans on NHL contracts with the understanding that they will be in the AHL, prospects trying to make it but are not quite ready, and others in the organization. Since the rosters for most of those 63 preseason games were only partially filled with NHL players, maybe the preseason success meant something for the AHL affiliate?
The chart gives the same answer: no. While the AHL affiliate has been more successful in terms of qualifying for the playoffs (five times, nearly making it in 2014-15 and COVID denied 2019-20’s roster), the results in New Jersey’s preseason does not really flow with the AHL season’s record. While the two Comets teams made the postseason after two successful preseasons, only one was dominant in the season and the 2022-23 just got in. The other three playoff appearances - then the Albany Devils - followed a 3-2-0 preseason and a pair of 3-3-0 preseasons. The 2015 one was followed by the best AHL season record in this chart. So even if the AHLers and prospects helped get a few extra wins in other preseasons, it did not mean the AHL was going to be all that. I will say that they have been more consistently competitive. Then again, AHL teams do not really re-build like a NHL team would.
This is short but sometimes it is all that is needed. Preseason results are as good as the grain of salt that is to be taken with some takes and plans. They may be nice to have. It may be good to know for the People Who Matter who intend on attending a preseason game that they will win some games. But it will not mean anything when the real games begin in Newark on October 12 and in Utica on October 13. Yes, the real games are less than 50 days away. Start making plans; they will be here before you know it. Thank you for reading.