It’s not fair to say the New Jersey Devils are hopeless because no team is truly hopeless. Time corrects the path of all wayward franchises and pushes them back toward relevance. But it might be a while before the Devils are interesting or competitive or good.
I won’t call New Jersey boring, but the team ranks 30th in Corsi events per 60 minutes by a wide margin. Essentially, they don’t take or allow many shots on net. They’re also a bad possession team (29th in Corsi for percentage) so what few shots do get taken are mostly going against them.
If I would have told you all this in September, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise. Aging team, no top talent, very thin prospect system (Pavel Zacha seems like a good piece) and a goalie that was too good to make finishing bottom five realistic. So, it’s not much of a surprise the Devils will finish with somewhere between the 8th and 12th best lottery odds. As longshots to grab one of the three lottery spots, they’ll find themselves firmly in “hit or miss” territory. There are no guarantees at those spots.
But the Devils briefly had a glimmer of hope. For more than half the season, New Jersey looked like a legit contender. Cory Schneider was playing well as always. The offseason acquisitions of Kyle Palmieri and Lee Stempniak paid off immensely. Adam Henrique put up the best goal total of his career.
It’s not fair to say the wheels fell off or the team had some sort of collapse. Sure, Schneider missed time, but the team had begun to trend downward before then. The results just started to better reflect the team’s play. This team doesn’t have the talent to compete for a playoff spot, as evidenced by a fifth playoff miss in six years.
So, where do the Devils go from here? That’s difficult to answer. The front office showed a keen eye this summer picking up Palmieri and Stempniak (trying Jiri Tlusty was a good low-risk move too). These are the types of moves smart front offices make. Unfortunately for the Devils, these types of moves usually exist to build quality depth around an existing core. That core does not exist in New Jersey right now and there’s no indication it will in the near future.
Tanking is not the only way to build a team, but it’s the easiest and most foolproof way. The Devils don’t have the asset cache to make a splashy trade (not that great players are always available) and hoping mid-first rounders turn into stars is a risky proposition.
There’s not much of an indication they’re willing to trade Schneider, but it should be considered. He’d bring a great haul and it’d allow the team to bottom out. Tanking isn’t always the solution but it seems like an obvious one here. There’s no point in wasting a superbly-talented goalie’s prime on finishing 22nd instead of 30th.
Of course, they could win the lottery, grab Auston Matthews and make this whole article moot.
But they probably won’t. And that’s why it’s time to go all in on a rebuild.