2023-24 will be the seventh season that I write for All About the Jersey. Thinking about it can be a bit mind boggling. I remember when I first applied to be a volunteer game previewer, way back in July 2017. I had been reading the blog for awhile by that point, and I decided, why not? Being, at the time, a young Devils fan who had not been old enough to remember their last Cup victory, but having the memory of Lou’s last years fresh in my mind, I had some kind of delusional hope for the Devils during the early Shero years.
Then, they traded for Taylor Hall and played their worst season I had seen to that point. I was honestly a bit tired of watching them by the end of that year, and I might not have had the urge to apply at the time had the Devils not won the Draft Lottery and drafted Nico Hischier. Just like that, the hope was back. I even went to the Devils’ rookie camp that year to see Nico play (and that is where I told Ray Shero that he should sign Jagr back, which he unfortunately rejected out of hand. “Jagr? He’s a dinosaur,” he said). So when I saw that the blog on which I had become a somewhat active commenter was looking for a game writer, I jumped at the opportunity.
I cannot say that I was entirely confident at the time. Surely, I thought someone more experienced, or someone who could even remember the dynasty years would be a better candidate. But damnit, I was opinionated — and still am — and I spent way too much of my life typing on computers and phones. Sure enough, I was able to join the writing team that year.
The 2017-18 New Jersey Devils surprised, I think, quite a few people by making the playoffs. It was a thrill to write about. Taylor Hall was an absolute monster, and Nico Hischier proved the Devils right in selecting him first overall. At the time, I could not imagine the Devils pulling off a single-season swing better than plus-27 standings points. What a fool I was.
What has made this experience interesting was really the years that followed. In summer 2018, I was simply satisfied with making the playoffs, and was at peace with the team’s fall to Tampa. It was just a taste of what was to come. In some respects, that is still true. But at the time, it was the thought that Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Kyle Palmieri would lead the forwards while Ty Smith grew into the top left-side offensive defenseman, playing with guys like Damon Severson and Will Butcher. All the while, Cory Schneider would have a chance to make his return to the number-one spot after his excellent playoff performance and an offseason hip injury.
Oof. I do not need to rehash the whole history, but that is what 2017-18’s team showed was possible. Instead, Taylor Hall blew out his knee in December 2018, and Cory Schneider’s hip gave out on opening night in 2019 after a disappointing return from hip surgery the year prior. While I will say to my dying breath that the buyout of Cory Schneider was an unforced, unnecessary mistake — one that both robbed Schneider of a chance to prove his 3-0-1 February return in 2020 was not a fluke as well as one that deprives the present-day Devils of $2 million in cap space — the need to blow it all up again was apparent.
So, we had the four lost years. I am glad I continued to cover the games in that time, even though it would have been easy to fall into utter apathy. The 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons really tested me, though. But knowing that Bratt, Hischier, and Hughes were about to be great together softened the anger that had built out of watching the teams’ poor defense and terrible goaltending. It at least softened that anger enough to keep me here to write about this past season, which was a reinvigorating experience.
I have never thought to keep track of the team’s record in games I recapped, but I have to imagine that the record between October 2018 and April 2022 was pretty bad. At times, it took a toll on me. Watching doomed games all the way to the end and then trying to dissect what went wrong and where made it all too easy to be angry. That anger made it easy to probably be a bit more unfair to the players on the ice than I should have been. Sometimes, at least.
To that end, I hope everyone here welcomes Caleb, who published his first game preview this morning, as well as Jackson, who will be recapping our first preseason games tonight. I think handling previews and recaps is a tough job. It is time consuming, there is a lot of writing, and you feel the need to get the details right. And even in good times, there will be tough-to-watch stretches where your local game recapper will be thinking about pulling their hair out. So go give Caleb a shout — he’s already posted an excellent article.
But today, I feel more relaxed. I have no pressing matters in my mind going into this season. The New Jersey Devils are about to play some hockey, and I am going to be happy watching them. While I did not know, going into last year, how much longer I would stay writing about the games, I do not think I will really want to “hang it up” until I write about the Devils winning a Stanley Cup. I think that’s a good bar to cross.
Of course, I have also begun to write Monday articles. And if you missed them, my first was on Dawson Mercer, my second on Connor Hellebuyck and the goaltending situation, and my third compared each top six center duo in the Eastern Conference. Ever since I started writing here, I have always wanted to hear from the readers, so always feel free to put your two cents in.
As a game writer here at All About the Jersey, you feel the ebb and flow of the team’s successes and failures. You cannot turn the TV off and call it an early night. You have to know everything, see everything, and account for everything. I’m not complaining — this is a feature of the job, not a bug. I think it has made me an even more energetic fan, despite the Lost Years. But in committing the history (beyond the numbers) of their play to the record, and seeing the change from the Hynes and Shero era to the team led by Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Dougie Hamilton, Lindy Ruff, and Tom Fitzgerald — it is impossible to not be optimistic.
So here’s to a seventh year writing for this blog. It makes me happy knowing that so many of the readers from when I started are still here now, and I think I speak for everyone when I say to the Devils: go get that Cup.