Over the next month, we at NHLnumbers are going to be taking a look
at where each team in the league currently stands based on what we
learned from them last season, and where they realistically can and
should go this summer with the resources and cap space they have.
It’s the end of an era in New Jersey.
With Cory Schneider taking the reins of Martin Brodeur in net, who left two years ago, Ray Shero taking over as general manager for Lou Lamoriello, who left for Toronto last year, and now with Patrik Elias contemplating retirement, the last of the late 90s, early 00s dynasty have left the team. All that remains are the three Cup banners hanging from the rafters, and the arena that they played in.
The team was notorious for consistently making the playoffs during their dynasty, but they haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 2011-12, when they made the miracle run to the Finals. This is a team that doesn’t have the greatest prospect pool, and while the team was contending for a playoff spot for most of the year, they still need some work in the big club to get something done.
The 2015-16 season was a step in the right direction for the Devils. After a 32-36-14 record last season, the team knew they had to make some changes. So, they revamped their blueline, giving Adam Larsson a bigger role, and adding a couple of analytically good defensemen in John Moore and David Schlemko.
The team was solid right out of the gate, hanging around in a playoff spot for a majority of the season, until they began to falter at the very end. They finished off the season on a 9-14-1 stretch, which cost them a chance to end their playoff drought. It was a suitable ending for the team though, as a majority of the season they were a team that the analytics did not favour. They finished with the second worst Score Adjusted Corsi For, with a terrible 45.8% last season.
They’re offense did them no favours either. They scored the fewest goals in the league, despite having two 30 goal scorers on the team. Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique led the way with 57 and 50 points, but after that, players either weren’t producing enough, or the ones that were sat on the IR for a good chunk of the season.
The defense didn’t help much either, as the blueline contributed with just 20 goals, a total that three defensemen on their own have passed (Brent Burns, Mark Giordano, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson). On the other end of the ice, Damon Severson and David Schlemko were the only consistent blueliners for the Devils that had a positve Corsi Rel this season, so they weren’t good there either.
The team basically lived died by Cory Schneider, who could have been a Hart candidate if he had managed to drag the team into the playoffs. He had the fifth best save percentage among goalies with at least 40 starts, an impressive .924%. Much like the past Devils with Brodeur, there is no issue in net with Schnieder, with him being one of the best in the league right now.
New Jersey: We could pay people, but why? pic.twitter.com/IIwPxvzAEc
— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) June 4, 2016
— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) June 6, 2016
The Devils will have a chance to really impact the franchise this summer. With over $30 million in cap space, and the free agent pool that there is this, they could really improve the team. Among their pending free agents, the only one that would cost a bit of money is Kyle Palmieri (assuming that Elias retires or signs a cheap one year deal), but even then I could see the Devils locking him up to a cheap long term deal.
So, what do the Devils do? Do they want to improve their league worst offense? Well, they could probably afford both of the top free agent forwards in Steven Stamkos and Kyle Okposo, while still having room to improve the blueline with some one like Keith Yandle. It would be a tight squeeze, but it could be done.
Even if they don’t want to go that route, they can still go about their recent trend of signing quality underrated players to cheap deals to help the team’s cap management in the future. Whatever they do, this might be the offseason that could greatly impact the team’s future.
The Devils aren’t the old team that they used to be. They’ve done a much better job of getting younger, and now their core is just about set for the future.
However, this offseason is probably the most important offseason for them. They can very easily shift the roster to what they want, and they have the cap space to make some big signings if they choose to. Whether or not they make the right ones could hold back the franchise. That’s how big this offseason may be.
But, they could do nothing, and just try to make it to the cap floor this season, and they’ll still have the cap space next offseason. The Devils have all of the right cards in their hands, it’s just a matter of how they play them.