There is truth to the idea that it is better to be happy than to be right. At least in light of our predictions of the New Jersey Devils season about a year ago. We are going to begin our multi-part season preview next week for the 2023-24 New Jersey Devils. It will end the day before the home opener against Detroit with our annual set of predictions from the staff. How good are these predictions? Let me put it simply: we were so wrong about last season’s team.
To be fair to us and the People Who Matter who were similarly down about the Devils, we have to give our takes and form our opinions based on the information that we have and the knowledge we have obtained at the time. Nobody predicted a 52-win Devils team that featured a 13-game wagon of a winning streak and fell one point short of taking the division from Carolina. How likely is that going to happen again? Not likely in my opinion, but that is not to say that I am not confident that the 2023-24 Devils will be a good team. I think they will be a very good team. But there was a lot of reason to believe otherwise based on where the team was in September 2022. If there was a prediction for the team making the playoffs, it was only barely getting in. Finishing with the third best record in the NHL was not even considered by any staffer or any one in the comments to our 2022-23 prediction post.
That said, we did get a few things right. With our upcoming round of predictions coming up on October 11, now is a good time as any to show how much has changed about the perception and reality of the New Jersey Devils within a year. It is also a good time as any that it is OK to admit when one was wrong and this is one of those cases where I, for one, was happier in being wrong about what the 2022-23 Devils would do. Jared would agree as he issued his own mea culpa all the way back in November 2022. Plus, this is a good way as any to cover some of the major changes within the past 12 months. In case you want to catch up, this may suffice in part.
We Were All Wrong About the Season Prediction...
Last year’s prediction post featured eight writers giving their take on the season: Jared, Alex, Gerard, Nate, Chris, Stephen, Mike, and me. We gave our overall summary of the season ahead, we gave a bold prediction, we identified an X-factor, and a prediction. We have done this before and we will be doing this format once more for 2023-24 in a couple of weeks.
I will cut right to the chase: We were all wrong about the season prediction. And as I wrote in last year’s prediction post, we were wrong back in 2021 for the 2021-22 season. The closest of being correct was that some of the staff thought the team would make the playoffs. Here was what we said:
John - “The Devils will finish 6th in the Metropolitan and not make the playoffs.”
Jared - “The Devils finish 7th in the Metropolitan Division with 78 points.”
Alex - “The Devils will finish 4th in the Metropolitan Division and take a wild card berth.”
Gerard - “The Devils will finish fourth in the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs as a wild card team.”
Nate - “The Devils finish third in the division and make the playoffs.”
Chris - “44-29-7, 4th in the Metro: makes the playoffs.”
Stephen - “The Devils finish 4th in the Metro division and make the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-18 season.”
Mike - “The Devils finish 5th in the Metropolitan Division and 9th in the East, they miss the playoffs as the first team on the outside looking in.”
Actual: Devils went 52-22-8, finished second in the Metropolitan, third in the East, and cleared the wild card by twenty points (Florida, 92 points).
Nate came the closest to being right and I highly doubt he saw this coming. Half of the staff thought the Devils would get into the postseason and they were right about that. Again, not to the degree they actually did. As for me, I was wrong. Happily wrong, yet wrong nonetheless.
What does this mean for you, the People Who Matter? Take our season predictions with a grain of salt.
...But We Were Not Entirely Wrong About Some Details
The X-factors and bold prediction portions turned out to be more on the mark than the season predictions themselves. Again, it is a good reflection of what was on our minds about a year ago after a dismal 2021-22 campaign. I’ll go writer-by-writer, starting with myself.
A Bold Prediction: Somehow, someway, Tomas Tatar is scoring twenty goals and he does not get traded by the deadline.
X-Factor: Lindy Ruff. I wrote about him at length in Part 5. Will he continue his high-risk, not-high reward style of aggressive hockey that has undercut the Devils the last two seasons? Will he adjust his ways with the guidance of his staff, which now has Brunette in a position to take over if and when Ruff is out? Will Ruff even last the season? Which would mean the Devils’ season is going well (which I want!) or Fitzgerald isn’t willing to fire him (which I don’t want!). So many questions in my head surround Ruff and how he performs will dramatically impact how the Devils perform this season.
I turned out to be on the money with my bold prediction. Tomas Tatar scored 20 goals exactly in 2022-23. He also did not get traded. He unfortunately got squeezed this Summer as he is a player in his 30s with an unfavorable reputation (can’t get it done in the playoffs) despite some obvious uses (getting it done in the regular season) and possibly a high asking price. Colorado did well to take a chance on him.
As for my X-Factor, well, Lindy Ruff did continue his style of aggressive hockey. It worked out very well between improved players and different players. I cannot ignore that Andrew Brunette was a potentially positive factor to that. Statistically and on the scoreboard, it was very successful. He lasted the season and could get an extension soon. As much as I think Ruff was a problem for the team’s dismal seasons under him, he was a reason why they succeeded last season.
A Bold Prediction: Damon Severson is traded at the trade deadline for an underwhelming return. Yes, that feels like cheating a little bit since we know the Devils have Dougie Hamilton and John Marino locked in at RHD the next 5 seasons and just drafted Simon Nemec #2 overall, so the ‘bold’ part of that prediction will be the underwhelming return.
I expect we see the same Damon Severson we’ve always seen for the Devils, for better or worse. But I would be surprised if he was extended to a new deal and I think regardless of where the Devils are in the standings, he will be moved.
X-Factor: If the Devils are going to be good, I think having quality veteran leadership will be a big part of it. My X-factor is Ondrej Palat.
The Devils have been one of the youngest teams in the NHL for several years now, which is a good and bad thing. It is good that Tom Fitzgerald has been able to figure out who can swim and who sank, but the Devils have definitely missed not having adults in the room to help the young talent make the next step towards becoming a winning team. I think the other veterans the Devils imported this offseason will be key there as well, but Palat is the most accomplished player the Devils signed so he’s my pick.
Its not just the leadership I like from Palat. I like that he’s made a career out of being a grinder who can play with other elite talent. I like that he can do the dirty work, but also still get his offensively. To me, he’s the perfect Robin to Jack Hughes’ Batman.
Due to injury, Palat did play 49 games last season. He was moved around the lineup, but his most common teammates last season includes Jesper Bratt, Dougie Hamilton, and Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes in the playoffs. Did Palat produce a ton? No. Was he solid? Yes. Did he contribute an important moment in the playoffs? Totally. I’ll say Jared was right about Palat. He ended up being wrong in his bold prediction about Damon Severson being traded during the season. But Jared would be right in the spirit of Severson being dealt at all. Severson was signed and traded to Columbus in June. The return was a third round pick that was flipped to Calgary with Yegor Sharangovich’s signing rights for Tyler Toffoli.
A Bold Prediction: Jesper Bratt will go Aaron Judge-esque. Judge is in a contract year, and he bet on himself. And he won, bigly. He was good beforehand, but he played like an MVP this year. Bratt will do something similar. He did not turn down a big extension, but he also was not offered one. This is his year to prove that he deserves an extension as big as the one Jack Hughes got, and I think he will go out there and prove he deserves it. I can see him getting 90+ points and being in the MVP discussion. That will get him paid next offseason, and paid quite handsomely.
X-Factor: Isn’t everyone going to write goaltending here? It has to be goaltending. The offense is going to be the best part of the team this year, and the defense needs to be improved, but it doesn’t compare to the goaltending. If Blackwood is bad again, and Vanecek is a bust, there is absolutely no chance that New Jersey will make the playoffs. They probably will be playing meaningless games as early as February. However, if Blackwood rebounds to some degree and Vanecek proves that he can be a #1 goalie in this league for 40+ starts, then they are a playoff-caliber team. It really is that simple.
Alex ended up being wrong about Jesper Bratt getting 90 points and being in the MVP discussion. He put up 32 goals and 73 points, finishing fourth on the team in scoring. Alex ended up being very right about Bratt getting a huge extension. Bratt was inked an eight-season, $63 million contract extension in June. That is a contract that is just a million dollars short of Jack Hughes’ contract, too. Bratt got paid handsomely and Alex can smile about that.
Alex can also smile about the goaltending being better. Vitek Vanecek ended up showing he could be a #1 goalie. Vanecek appeared in 52 games, started 48, and posted an overall save percentage of 91.1%. Not amazing, but not bad and far, far better than anything from 2021-22. The top overall save percentage of any goalie that season was 89.3% from Nico Daws. Alex was right about Vanecek. Unfortunately, Mackenzie Blackwood did not rebound to some degree. He was about as bad in 2022-23 as he was in 2021-22. The big find was Akira Schmid, which was a huge surprise between his youth and his terrible six-game stint in 2021-22. Still, good job Alex on being right to some point on both fronts.
A Bold Prediction: Jack Hughes becomes the first Devils player to break 100 points in a season and Alexander Holtz puts up 30 goals on his wing.
X-Factor: Injuries. If the Devils stay healthy, or close to it, they will be a dangerous team this season.
The bold prediction was one point short. Jack Hughes finished with 99 points. Alas. Alex Holtz was a big miss. He only played in 19 games last season with plenty of healthy scratches before being sent back to Utica.
Gerard’s X-factor, turned out to be very important. While the Devils were not devoid of injuries, it is worth noting that 14 skaters played in 70+ games last season with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier missing fewer than five games each and Dougie Hamilton, Jesper Bratt, and Dawson Mercer playing in all 82 games. Timo Meier, once he was healthy after the trade, played in 21 games. The big injuries last season were to Palat, Nathan Bastian, and Blackwood. Hopefully this does not mean that injuries will be more damaging to the crucial players of the team in 2023-24. But Gerard’s point of the Devils being healthy, or at least their best players being healthy, did make them a more dangerous teams.
A Bold Prediction: A healthy Mackenzie Blackwood returns to the form we saw in his first two seasons in the league, and Vitek Vanecek shows himself to be a capable backup option. Goaltending becomes a strength (?!) for the Devils for the first time in years.
X-Factor: Goaltending. Surely it cannot be as bad as last season? It feels like even league average netminding gets this team into the playoffs, given the upgrades made elsewhere in the lineup. With the improvements to the defensive group, it seems very possible that we could see a big step forward in the goaltending department. Tom Fitzgerald seems to have bet his job on Mackenzie Blackwood and Vitek Vanecek. Let us hope for all our sakes that it works out.
The one season prediction closest of being right did not quite make it here. Again, Blackwood did not return to form at all. But Vanecek did show he can be the team’s top goalie. Schmid was a real pleasant and crucial surprise. To that end, Nate’s X-factor of goaltending was on the mark. The team did get better goaltending - despite Blackwood - and did make the playoffs.
A Bold Prediction: I think the Devils will have a Calder winner this season. Alex Holtz can score 30 on Jack Hughes’ wing, and I think Fabian Zetterlund is capable of a lot more than being a fourth liner. If someone gets injured, watch for Zetterlund to step up and be a rockstar.
X-Factor: I would normally point to one of the forwards, like the centers staying healthy; but I think Dougie Hamilton returning to form drives the Devils to the playoffs. We know Severson is capable of a lot this year on that side, and Marino should complement them well. But if Dougie Hamilton gets to 50+ points with the Devils this season? If Dougie Hamilton scores 15 or 20 goals? The ice will open up for the rest of the team tremendously if that happens.
The Swole Swede was capable of being more than a fourth liner. He was a decent bottom-six option that, I think, helped make the Timo Meier deal happen. That said, the bold prediction of Holtz winning the Calder and scoring 30 did not.
The X-factor, on the other hand, was on the money. Dougie Hamilton did more than return to form. He had a career year in goals (22!) and points (74!) to the point where he was chasing franchise records for defensemen. Hamilton played in every game, he played in big minutes, and he was quite good and especially important in offensive situations. He is now making the big bucks on his contract. Hamilton was brilliant last season
A Bold Prediction: Jack Hughes will be a Hart Trophy finalist.
X-Factor: Bad goaltending was the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd reason the Devils stunk last year. But reason number 4 was the power play being awful. It hasn’t been all that amazing in the pre-season, but I’m willing to see how it functions in regular season games with a full NHL line-up before making a judgement. By all logic it should be good. Hughes, Bratt, Hischier, and Hamilton are a talented, skilled group of players that should be able to score at a good clip when up a man, even if they were given no instruction or scheme. But last season Mark Recchi went with the, ‘let’s stifle all creativity and be as static and predictable as possible’ approach. If new associate coach Andrew Brunette can come up with something better than that, I think it could be the difference between the Devils being a bubble team outside the playoffs looking in vs holding down a wildcard spot. If the Devils choose to feature Alex Holtz (assuming he makes the team) on the first unit, that could also give them a different look and the type of pure shooter they haven’t really had since trading Kyle Palmieri.
Jack Hughes finished eighth in Hart voting, so not quite a finalist. He finished a voting point behind Leon Draisaitl and four behind Mikko Rantanen. Alas, I would agree he deserved more love from the Professional Hockey Writers Association. But no one was going to overtake Connor McDavid in 2022-23.
Stephen’s X-factor did come out favorably. Andrew Brunette, in charge of the power play, found much more success than Mark Recchi. While they did not feature Alex Holtz on it, the power play improved in success rate from 15.6% (35 for 225) to 21.9% (49 for 224). Scoring an additional 14 goals on the power play alone guarantees two additional wins (assuming a goal differential improvement of six equals one guaranteed win) and, in reality, led to more than that depending on their timing and score situation. The power play was one of several problems in 2021-22. While it could still improve from what it was in 2022-23, it was much better, more respectable, and it helped the Devils get more goals and wins than in the previous season. That X-factor mattered.
A Bold Prediction: A quasi-stable goaltending situation and a fairly deep defensive unit vault the Devils into the top half of the league in goals allowed after several years of dismal results on that front.
X-Factor: He has become a critical piece of this defense, especially with a somewhat thin left side behind him. If he proves that the metrics that rated him as an elite defensive d-man last season were not a fluke, it is going to go a long way towards any potential successes for this team.
Mike’s bold prediction ended up being correct. The Devils finished eighth in the NHL with 222 goals allowed.
I have realized about a year later that I did not specify the “he” in the X-factor. Given the position, that would be Jonas Siegenthaler. He absolutely was not a fluke. While his 5-on-5 on-ice rates did go up in 2022-23 compared with 2021-22, Siegenthaler was a natural fit with Hamilton on the team’s first pairing and put up very respectable numbers. Just as importantly, he did not hold back the offense whatsoever. I do not think I would call him an elite defensive defenseman, but he did not go from being amazing to being terrible and that was the concern. Siegenthaler demonstrated he was a core part of the blueline for a second straight season and that helped. I’ll count it in favor of Mike.
Overall, our X-factors and bold predictions were more successful than our season predictions. While we missed out on a number of things - such as Blackwood getting better or Holtz being a Calder candidate - we identified important parts of the team that did get better in 2022-23 and made for a better 2022-23. Some of those bold predictions had some parts right if not entirely right. While some of us - me, most definitely - were down on the Devils, we did at least have a good handle of what the problems were and what parts needed to go right for a better 2022-23. It turned out that they did go right. While it meant some of our season predictions - like mine - would be totally wrong, it was better for everyone involved.
As a quick aside, in the comments of that post, James gave us 15 bold predictions prior to his joining of AAtJ. He stated that “At least I have to get one right.” He got four. He turned out to be right about #3 (Hughes had 99 points), #4 (Haula is seen as the #3C on the team and did get re-signed), #8 (Ruff did indeed survive the season), and #13 (Devils did carry 3 goalies for at least part of the season). He was sort of right on #7 (Vanecek outplayed Blackwood, but it was well before season’s end). Alas, Clarke never played, Mercer’s offensive production was thrilling, Bratt did not get hurt, the Devils made the playoffs, Boqvist was never traded, Severson was signed-and-traded for a third, Palat got 8 goals, Miles Wood got 13, Holtz did not score 25 goals and 17 assists, and four (and a part of a fifth) of his predictions did happen. Getting four when expecting one is a positive.
Final Thoughts on Predictions
Our season predictions are just guesses based on what we know and what we think could happen. Based on a review of last year’s post, I would suggest you take our upcoming season predictions with a grain of salt. Don’t like them? Recent history shows they’ll be off to some degree or entirely, so you do not need to like them. We - especially me - are likely to be wrong. Do not put your money or too much money on what we have to say. Regardless of whatever ad you see; it is not worth it.
And that is OK. At the end of the day, this entire blog is full of opinion pieces. Some based on games, some based on plays, some based players, and some based on the team as a whole. Just as they may be reasoned or supported by facts, they can also turn out to be wrong and/or not fully correct. They can also turn out to be right and we will keep trying to do so. This means looking back and acknowledging what was right.
Again, I am happy that my own predictions and thoughts about 2022-23 ultimately turned out to be wrong. I would much rather the Devils make a leap that they never had in franchise history than be able to say “I told you so” after what would be a waste of a season. I greatly enjoyed last season and appreciated it as it was happening. The metaphorical crow was metaphorically delicious. With so much of online discourse having a root issue of someone not wanting to admit when they were wrong or mistaken, I feel oddly better for writing this up. And a little vindicated that the post was not 100% wrong.
This is all something to keep in mind when we post up our predictions in less than two weeks. A lot can change within a year. Things we did not expect could happen did happen. Things we would fear would happen did not. This happened last season and it could even happen in this one. Although, I think you may want us to be more correct for 2023-24. I, for one, will not be predicting a collapse or a repeat of 2018-19. I doubt the other staffers will, but we will find out together in the coming weeks.
Now I want to know what you think. Do you follow up on season predictions? Do you think it is a mark against a writer, blogger, content maker, etc. if their prediction for a team does not turn out to be true? What if they get other things right? Do you think we will be more correct for 2023-24 - or will you need to know what that is first? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about predictions and whether you actually do trust or even read what we predict in the comments. Thank you for reading.