Fantasy Hockey

NHL Season Review: New Jersey Devils

Welcome to NHL season review: a brand new series that will breakdown every NHL team this offseason. You can expect to see a new post everyday until the end of July, starting from the 30th place team, and finishing with the Stanley Cup champions. With so many changes coming in the offseason, some teams will be improving dramatically, while others will be forced to make some tough decisions for the future. It’s going to be a fun month of hockey talk, so sit down, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Year in Review

 2014-2015 Stats

  • Record: 32-36-14 (78 points)
  • Goals per game: 2.15 (28th)
  • Goals against per game: 2.55 (14th)
  • Power play: 19.3% (8th)
  • Penalty kill: 80.6% (21st)
  • Shots per game: 24.5 (29th)
  • Shots against per game: 30.7 (24th)

I’m not sure where to start with the Devils. If it weren’t for goaltender Cory Schneider, this team would have finished at the bottom of the NHL. No one on the team cracked the 50-point mark (Adam Henrique lead the team with 43 points) and only Buffalo finished behind the Devils in shots per game. New Jersey has always been known as a defense-first kind of team, but when Scott Gomez finishes fourth in team scoring with 34 points, there’s a problem. The fact that this team even won 32 games last season is astonishing. With so many holes on this team, GM Ray Shero will have a busy offseason trying to find any help for his team.

New Jersey missed the playoffs for the third year in a row. It’s almost impossible to believe that this team went to the Stanley Cup finals four years ago. Defense can help you win games, but averaging just over two goals per game isn’t going to cut it. The team is starting to get older, and with very little up-and-coming talent in their system, it may be time for the Devils to pull the plug and start rebuilding.

The Devils had the seventh overall pick in the draft and selected Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting. According to Elite Hockey Prospects, Zacha is exactly what New Jersey needs — a big, physical, offensively talented player that can score a bunch of goals. In 37 games with the Sting, the Czech totaled 34 points and racked up 56 penalty minutes. At 6-foot-3, 212 lbs., the kid could become one of the best power forwards in the league. He’s going to get the opportunity to make the team in October, but management might want to give the 18-year-old some time in the minors to improve.

Offseason Game Plan

There’s no question that the Devils need help scoring goals. According to CapFriendly, the Devils have $51M committed to the cap next season. With so much cap space available, New Jersey can afford to add some top notch forwards to their team, but it may be impossible to find any.

With the free agency pool of players being pretty much empty, if the Devils want to add anyone to their team, it will need to come via trade. The problem is the Devils have nothing any other team needs, expect for some aging players with bad contracts. Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri and Ryan Clowe are all signed for next season at a combined cost of $20.6 million. All four combined to score 52 goals last season. To make matters even worse, three of the four are signed until the 2018-19 season (Elias’ contract expires in 2016-17). With so much money wasted for the foreseeable future, the Devils are unlikely to be able to move any of these players.

It may be just an idea, but if New Jersey really wants to add some goal scoring power to their lineup, signing Russian winger Alexander Semin would be the guy to target. The recently bought-out winger is coming off one of his worst seasons in the NHL, and despite his reputation of being lazy, he has proven he can score goals at the NHL level. The Devils have the cap room to sign him and Semin would get every opportunity to return to his goal-scoring ways. It’s not ideal, but it’s still better than Ryan Clowe.

The one area New Jersey doesn’t have to worry about next season is goaltending. This table pretty much sums up how good Schneider was last season and how bad the Devils really were.

Games Played Minutes G.A.A Shots Faced Saves SV% Loses
Schneider 69 3,924 2.26 1,982 1,834 .925% 31
League Rank 4th 5th 9th 3rd 3rd 5th 2nd

You could argue that Schneider is an elite goalie and not get too much opposition to that thought. The goals against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%) show that he was one of the best goalie in the league, but the 31 losses show that his team just wasn’t able to provide him with any support. That may be the case again next season. Much like Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, Schneider will need to be the best player every time he takes the ice, but if his team can’t generate any offense, it won’t matter very much.

On defense, the Devils are in trouble. If Adam Larsson and Damon Severson are going to be the players the Devils count on next season to shut down opposing teams, you might as well just give up. Don’t get me wrong — I love both of them, and I expect them to become very good NHL defensemen (especially Larsson), but they’re still 22 and 20 respectively, and that’s a lot to ask of two young defensemen .

Shero has some options available if he decides he wants to add some depth to his blueline. With names like Cody Franson, Christian Ehrhoff and Johnny Oduya still out on the free agent market, signing anyone of those three would be a huge upgrade.

Of those three mentioned, Ehrhoff and Oduya both make a lot of sense for the Devils.

Oduya played for the Devils from 2006-2010 and fits every part of the New Jersey style of play — a defensive defenseman that is good in his own zone and can kill penalties. The two-time Stanley Cup champion isn’t going to wow anyone with his offense, but his experience and leadership is something the Devils blueline is missing and adding Oduya would help take some pressure off their youngsters.

Ehrhoff is coming off a disappointing season with the Penguins that saw him play just 49 games. The 33-year-old would get a chance to quarterback an already successful power play and could easily put up 40 points (if he stays healthy). The cost to acquire Ehrhoff wouldn’t be more than a one-year deal at around $3-4 million. He’s still got some hockey left in him and would help make an average New Jersey defense even better.

For Devil fans, next season may be another difficult season to watch. Shero and his staff will have their hands full trying to turn this team into a playoff contending team, but it may take more than one year for that to happen. It’s more likely that the Devils have another disappointing season and become sellers at the trade deadline. If that’s the case, the Devils could possibly finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and be in a good position to get the first overall pick. Fans may not like it, but they should expect things to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

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