“When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true...from a certain point of view.” - Obi-Wan Kenobi in Return of the Jedi
The master Jedi force ghost goes on to tell Luke that a lot of truths that we hold depend on our point of view. I’ve always thought that this is why humanity is so complex and angry all the time. Because we have such a hard time viewing anything from any other point of view other than our own.
I’ve been fairly negative about the Devils so far in 2023-2024, deservedly so. They’ve been inconsistent to put it nicely, wildly bad at times to put it more bluntly. They’ve lost at home to teams like the Sharks, Blue Jackets, Canadiens and Ducks. They rarely ever show up in the first period when the puck drops. Nearly 72 percent of the time, they surrender the first goal:
#NJDevils have given up the first goal of the game for the 33rd time in 46 games.— Daniel Amoia (@daniel_amoia) January 26, 2024
The goaltending is atrocious. Every time you get a decent game, the next game Vitek Vanecek or Nico Daws or Akira Schmid have an awful one. Devils goalies are ranking 60th (Daws), 70th (Schmid) and 91st (Vanecek out of 91 goalies) this year in terms of goals saved above expected on Moneypuck.com.
But here’s where “from a certain point of view” comes into play. The team has played 46 games this year and sits at 24-19-3. They’ve resembled more of a science experiment this season than a hockey team. How many players can you fit inside the injury clown car? Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, Ondrej Palat, Timo Meier, Brendan Smith and Tomas Nosek have all gone down. Heck, even the coach took one last night in Carolina and missed the third period because of it. You know it’s bad when even the coach isn’t safe.
If you’re looking at it like a rational human being, it’s hard to believe that the team is even in the playoff hunt right now with the goaltending being what it’s been. Jack Hughes is about as important to the Devils offense as Connor McDavid is to the Edmonton Oilers. He’s a one-man offensive generator. And he’s missed a ton of hockey this year and the team has remained afloat. Yes, a part of it is none of the other Eastern Conference teams, particularly in the Metropolitan Division, have run away and hid from the red and black. Even the Rangers, who got off to an insane start, have dropped back down to earth.
So the team will head into the All Star break likely within spitting distance of a playoff spot. The assumption is that the Devils will likely get Jack Hughes and possibly Tomas Nosek back coming out of the All Star break. After the team put Dougie Hamilton on long-term injured reserve yesterday, Devils fandom went into a frenzy, assuming that it meant that the team was about to make some deal for a goalie or a defenseman...or maybe even both. Kevin Weekes jumped in and made it seem imminent, even if he was just drawing the same conclusions most fans did immediately...meaning the Devils were making room for something.
So a good portion of the fanbase spent the day yesterday, refreshing insider feeds, hoping some kind of news would follow. At least that’s what I did. Thanks to Weeksie for my utter lack of productivity all day.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t doubt seeing Tom Fitzgerald make a move over the All Star break. He has the cap room to do it and putting Dougie Hamilton on LTIR means they have room to add a lot without demanding retention. Especially if it’s a deal for one of the goalies that people deem to be too expensive, i.e. Jacob Markstrom or John Gibson.
Regardless, from my certain point of view, I’m optimistic. I’ll be even more so if we found out Jack will be back immediately following the break, hopefully 100 percent healthy. If Fitz can fix the goaltending with a deal and possibly add a steadying defensive presence. The team up front with Jack in the lineup is capable of outscoring any team in the league. The issue is figuring out how to keep the puck out of their own net and I fear that will remain an issue until Lindy Ruff is no long...wait, this is supposed to be a positive piece!
The biggest good news is the play of both Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec. The defensive issues with this team haven’t really revolved around these two. Yes, they’ve had momentary glitches and have given up chances, but they’re playing well beyond their age. In fact, I loved the two of them together. They appear to completely control play when they’re out there together. And that is probably the biggest development of this entire season. Sure, everyone expected Luke to play the full season, but because of Dougie’s injury, Nemec got tossed into the ocean and asked to swim. Not only swim but basically try and save the other players in the ocean from drowning. He’s largely flourished (though had a couple of miscues lately). If anything should leave Devils fans feel like this season will be a success from a certain point of view this year, this is it. Developing two cornerstone pieces on defense through a season of adversity can only bode well for this franchise moving forward.
And that’s how I’ll leave it. I need to go back to refreshing my news feed and see if Fitz is throwing the team a lifeline...or just letting it sink with the anchor.