NHL’s 30 in 30: New Jersey Devils

For the month of June, Last Word On Sports will be covering each team in our 30 in 30 series. Once a day, we take a look at an NHL team’s past season, what their off-season looks like, and what they could hope to achieve before the start of their 2015-16 season. Everybody wants to get better and improve upon last season’s success or downfall and NHL’s 30 in 30 gives you that analysis and preview you need to get you by during another long and grueling summer season. 30 days in June, 30 teams to cover. Starting on June 1st we start from the bottom and make our way to the very top.

Today’s team: The New Jersey Devils. Check out our previous 30 in 30 articles here.

NHL’s 30 in 30: New Jersey Devils

Finishing 26th overall, the New Jersey Devils posted a record of 32-36-14 to end up with just 78 points. Their home record (19-14-8) was decent considering where they placed in the standings, while their away record (13-22-6) was abysmal. Of the teams who missed the playoffs, only the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings allowed less goals than the Devils, and Corey Schneider did all he could but the Devils could only score 181 goals, good for 3rd-worst in the league

The 2014-15 Regular Season

If there was one bright spot for the New Jersey Devils in the 2014-15 season, it was in goal with Corey Schneider. Getting edged out of a Vezina nomination by Devan Dubnyk, Schneider posted a respectable .925 save percentage and five shut-outs in 69 games. His stellar play in goal kept the Devils in just about every game and helped kick off a 5-3-2 month of October to get the season started. It looked stellar despite the team struggling to score, but their troubles offensively led to a 4-9-1 month of November, which hindered the course the rest of the way.

Mike Cammalleri, who signed with the Devils in the off-season, led the team in goals with 27 as the only player on the team to hit the 20-goal plateau. His 42 points was good for second on the team, one behind Adam Henrique. One of the bigger surprises of the season was the contribution of Scott Gomez, who finished the season with 34 points (7 goals, 27) assists in 58 games. Unfortunately with just two players hitting the 40-point plateau and 3 hitting 30, the team went nowhere in a hurry and by the time the trade deadline was looming, the Devils had just 13 wins in 2014. It was time to make a few changes and general manager Lou Lamoriello was ready to do so.

Or so we thought. Lamoriello was rather inactive, making just one trade pre-deadline and another at the deadline. Veteran Jaromir Jagr was sent to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 2015 2nd-round pick and a conditional 2016 3rd-round pick. Defenseman Marek Zidlicky was shipped to the Detroit Red Wings for a 2016 conditional 3rd-round pick. The condition clears for the Red Wings pick while New Jersey has control over whether they take the Panthers own 3rd-round pick or the Minnesota Wild’s 3rd-round pick.

Following the trade deadline, the Devils went 6-9-4 in their final 19 games and 1-6-2 in their last ten to close out the regular season. Their offense was old, slow and unable to generate and kind of attack. The only team to produce less shots per 60 minutes was the Buffalo Sabres, the worst team in the NHL.

The Off-Season and Free Agents

Heading into the off-season, the New Jersey Devils have a total of nine free agents to decide on. Of the nine free agents,  just two of them are restricted to the team; Defensemen Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas. Forwards Michael Ryder, Martin Havlat, Scott Gomez and Steve Bernier, and defensemen Bryce Salvador, Peter Harrold and Mark Fraser are the upcoming unrestricted free agents.

The Devils have a solid goaltender in Schneider, who is signed for $6 million until 2022. Their defense is young, talented and gaining experience quickly through hard times. Veteran Andy Greene was a solid, top-pairing presence for the Devils, averaging 22 minutes a night and getting dealt the tough assignments. Damon Severson got his rookie year off with a big bang, showing tons of promise in the first half of the season but an ankle injury took him out and he wasn’t as effective once he returned. With Gelinas and John Merill developing well and Larsson starting to pick things up, the Devils have an opportunity to use one as a bargaining chip to bring in some help on the wing.

The team currently needs about four top-9 forwards because what they have now is too old, too slow and can’t score a goal if their lives depended on it. Luckily enough for them, Patrick Elias and Tuomo Ruutu are both on the final year of their contracts and father time has caught up with them. Visibly slower and not as productive offensively anymore, both could attract attention as trade deadline pickups for a team that has top scoring depth and wants to add an extra something to their roster.

Four top-9 guys, possibly another top-4 and a depth defenseman is what the New Jersey Devils need in order to turn things around. It won’t be easy and a fix-up in just one off-season, but the Devils have the upcoming draft to inspire them and a bunch of young prospects that are ready to chomp at the bit.

The Draft Table

While they weren’t generally busy at stock-piling more picks for the 2015 draft, the New Jersey Devils have two 2nd-round picks and most of their own as well, making out with eight picks in total. They hold the 6th overall pick, which means they’ll hope one of Noah Hanifin, Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome slip out of the top five and into their palms. In the likeliness that this doesn’t happen, and we think they won’t, prospects like Zach Werenski, Ivan Provorov or Mikko Rantanen would be prime candidates for the Devils. Another name that has jumped up since the combine has been Lawson Crouse.

In the second round, the Devils hold the 36th and 41st picks. In a deep draft, they’ll be getting two good players with those picks if they did their homework. A name like Anthony Beauvillier could still be available for their first of two picks, while the Devils could snag goaltending prospect Mackenzie Blackwood or Mitchell Vande Sompel, who had an excellent showing at this year’s Memorial Cup, with the 41st. There’s also the option of packing both picks to move up in the draft and capture a late 1st-round pick.

Afterward, the Devils select 66th, 96th, 126th and 157th.

New General Manager, New Coach

After 27 years as president and general manager, Lou Lamoriello stepped down and hired Ray Shero to take over as the team’s general manager.

Shero has an extensive history in the managing department. From 1993 to 1998, he was the assistant manager of the Ottawa Senators and then took the same job with the Nashville Predators from 1998 until 2006. Then, in ’06, he got his big break as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Shero was around for the drafting of Jordan Staal and made the big trade with the Atlanta Thrashers to bring in Marian Hossa. After a few key signings and trades and tweaks, the Pittsburgh Penguins became the Stanley Cup winning team of 2008-09 season, thanks to some solid building and a few gems from the entry draft.

After a few more seasons of hope and failed playoff runs, Shero was relieved of his duties and head coach Dan Bylsma was fired.

As Peter DeBoer left the organization to become the new head coach of the San Jose Sharks, Shero hired John Hynes to become the new head coach of the Devils. Hynes has spent the last five seasons as head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and the team posted a record of 231-126-10-17 during that time. Making the AHL postseason every year, the best season under Hynes’ coaching was the 2010-11 season when the Penguins had the best record in the AHL and Hynes was named coach of the year.

Hynes, 40, enters his first head coaching job and is the youngest going into the 2015-16. Shero considered him the only candidate for the job and Scott Stevens may be back behind the bench at some capacity.