Coming into the 2021-22 season, the New Jersey Devils were supposed to the next steps forward. After a 2021 New Jersey Devils offseason highlighted by the signing Dougie Hamilton, things were trending in the right direction. However, instead of going forward, they remained in the basement of the Metropolitan Division and the league. A once dominant franchise has been in the dark ages for a decade, and many are wondering where the light at the end of the tunnel is. Remember when Devils and New York Rangers fans had the top two picks in 2019? While the Devils remain stuck, the Rangers have clinched the playoffs and made the Eastern Conference Finals this past season. Going into the 2022-23 season, the New Jersey Devils improvements in certain areas are a must in order to have success.
New Jersey Devils Offseason Was Focused on Areas of Improvements
If something could go wrong for the team, it did. Injuries after injuries occurred, and critical players kept going down. Johnathan Bernier went on the IR to begin the year and had hip surgery. Mackenzie Blackwood dealt with a nagging heel injury, and Hamilton missed time with a broken jaw. Star centre Jack Hughes would miss time on three separate occasions, and if not for being out, he was on pace for a monster season. The special teams play was lacklustre and so was the goaltending, however, the team was good in other areas of the game itself.
The New Jersey Devils made improvements to the roster and aim to improve on the ice. The team is looking to compete and make the playoffs and take the necessary steps. But in order for that to happen, improvements must be seen in other areas for that to happen.
The Power Play Unit
In regards to the Devils as a team, they were one of the better teams at even strength. Despite being a basement dweller, they played very well at even strength this year. The team ranked 15th in Corsi For (50.52), and 14th in expected goals (50.87). As the season ended, the Devils finished 10th in goals for with 182. The offence is there for this team, but when it came to special teams it became a nightmare.
Over the last three seasons, the Devils’ power play has been at the bottom or close to it. The team has finished 21st, 28th, and 28th again this past season. Management brought in Mark Recchi to run the Devils’ power play as an assistant coach. It was brutal and you wanted to cringe if the team got the man advantage. They ranked near the bottom and had a 15.6% success rate. As a unit, they managed to only score 35 (27th in the league) goals with 15 coming from the high danger area. The Devils did not have a player that hit the double-digit goal mark. The last player to do so was Kyle Palmieri in 2018-19 and he scored 11. However, giving up 14 with the extra skater is not ideal and that ranked most in the league.
While the man running it was not so great, the personnel has the firepower to be successful. Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, Yegor Sharangovich, and Hamilton form the first unit. Add free agent signing Ondrej Palat and Dawson Mercer to the mix and you got a lot to work with.
Why It Should Improve
The team made a coaching change and brought in former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette. Florida was the President trophy winner and had a fantastic season. The team ranked 5th with the man advantage (24.4%) and scored 62 goals, while only allowing eight. Brunette will be tasked with running the Devils’ power play, and him running it should see an improvement. This is an area the team needs to improve on as they were already a good team at even strength and could put the puck in the net.
This one is obvious and the bar is set low for the team this season. As a team, the Devils averaged 3.21 GA/60 and finished 31st in goals against with 216. It is safe to say that the team needs to tighten up defensively, while also being better in the crease. But just how bad were they?
I don't think the fanbase generally understands just how bad our goalies nuked us this past year
Goals saved above expected already takes defense into account and isolates goaltending
League average was 7 goals above expected
The devils were MINUS 48 LMAO pic.twitter.com/rlrVKMKVoC
— The Bratt Pack (@TheBrattPack63) July 16, 2022
The team was at the bottom. For a large part of the year, the Devils relied on AHL-level goaltending. With the injuries suffered to Bernier and Blackwood, Nico Daws and Jon Gillies saw a heavy workload. Daws posted a 3.11 goals against average and a .893 save percentage. Gillies did not fair any better as his numbers were worse (3.70 GAA) and (.887 save percentage). Every goaltender that took the crease had a negative goals saved above expected. Here’s a list of all the goalies and their respective numbers:
Goals Saved Above Expected
Brutal is an understatement. And if the Devils got at the very least average goaltending, things could have been different
Tom Fitzgerald got to work this offseason. He still believes in Blackwood and is hoping that he bounces back. On day two of the NHL draft, a trade was made, and the team acquired Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals and awarded him a three-year contract. Vanecek has posted a consistent .908 save percentage. To get hat kind of goaltending is an improvement and gives relief to Blackwood. With a healthy Blackwood and a stable Vanecek, this could be the answer the team has been searching for.
State Of The New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils made improvements. All the hype surrounding the team feels familiar. But this season there is a reason for optimism. This off-season has seen its fair share of additions in Palat, Vanecek, and John Marino. On the back end, the Devils could have a top 10 defensive unit if all goes right. Every position got valuable upgrades, and if everyone stays healthy, this should be a better team during the 2022-23 season.
If the Devils can be better in these areas, it should translate to a climb in the standings. The offence was never the issue and was not their downfall. The biggest X factor found in the season is goaltending, and as long as that and the powerplay improves, so will the Devils as a whole.
Stats credited to Evolving Hockey