The Devils have been mathematically eliminated from being able to make the playoffs following a 2-1 Boston Bruins overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The victory came Sunday afternoon, March 29th while the Devils were busy with the Anaheim Ducks.
According to MSG+, the Devils are currently on pace to finish with the lowest season point total (in a non-locked out, full season) since 2010-11, a season in which the Devils also missed the playoffs, yet which was a dreadful season for the team. New Jersey would have to win the rest of their 14 games remaining in order to surpass the 81 points that team accumulated.
But while that might make things seem like this season was a total disaster for the Devils, it really was not. As Steve Cangialosi pointed out on the Devils broadcast that afternoon, the team never went through that long losing streak that you would associate with that kind of low point total.
They had a rough stretch for about a month or so from the loss in Calgary in mid-November up until Pete DeBoer’s firing in late December, but they never went on an extended losing streak. As they sit right now, through 75 games, they are 31-32-5, one game under NHL .500. While that record is not particularly impressive, the fact that they were in the thick of things for so long really is. They did not fold up and they have played out their schedule with pride, the way they should.
Will it hurt them in the Draft? Maybe. They will not have a really high 1st round pick, yes, and many experts have been saying that this year’s Draft falls off a lot once you get out of Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel territory. But the Devils have thrived in finding diamonds in the rough. They consistently find unsigned, untouted college players who fly under the radar of other teams. Players like Andy Greene and Brian Rafalski, guys who have gone on to become stalwarts for the Devils and the NHL as a whole. There may have been some missteps over the years in the Draft, but overall, the Devils scouting team have a pretty good track record when it comes to this.
The other important thing to remember is that the Devils have a great foundation for the next few years. Cory Schneider really came into his own as a starting goaltender for the first time in his career, being that it was the first time he has gotten the chance to be a full-time number one. After serving his “apprenticeship” in Vancouver with Roberto Luongo and here in New Jersey under Martin Brodeur for the first part of his NHL career, he has emerged as a true big time goalie in the league.
The other thing the Devils really have in their favor is their defensive corps. From young guys like Adam Larsson, Seth Helgeson (currently playing in Albany, but has gotten some time with the big club), Damon Severson and Jon Merrill to the veteran leadership brought by Andy Greene, the Devils are in good hands on the blueline.
Up front is where things have been a little bit dicey. Free agent acquisition Mike Cammalleri has been everything he was advertised to be and has provided most of the scoring for the team (leading the Devils with 25 goals). Adam Henrique leads the team with 40 points while guys like Scott Gomez and Jordin Tootoo have found their game again, especially Gomez, who has once again become a threat on the ice and has 7 goals and 24 assists for 31 points over only 62 games played. Guys like left wingers Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau represent the future for the Devils, but they may need to look at the free agent market to see if they want someone who can help them get back into the playoffs next year.
The Devils will need some work to be done on the roster in order to get back to competing in the NHL. They have a great foundation to get there; it will just take some fine-tuning. So, as fans whose teams are in the playoffs begin to dream about their Stanley Cup victory parade, Devils fans need to remember one thing: New Jersey has the building blocks to be great again and with some work, the team will get back to the elite of the NHL sooner rather than later.