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New Jersey Devils Stock Up/Stock Down: Structure Change Edition

It”s been a rollercoaster of emotions this season for the New Jersey Devils and their fans. One second the sky is falling, the next second the Cup dreams are back on. Nothing has exemplified this feeling more than the past two weeks. Since our last stock up/stock down, the Devils returned to action following the All-Star break. In that time they’ve gone 3-1-1 and have shown signs of life. Between system changes and the return of Jack Hughes, the Devils are right in the thick of a playoff race.

New Jersey Devils Stock Up/Stock Down

Stock Up

Defensive Zone Structure

A big point of emphasis since the return from break has been the team’s complete overhaul of their defensive zone structure. Just before the All-Star break, Lindy Ruff had reportedly made some tweaks to their d-zone structure to simplify things and give the centre more defensive responsibility. Safe to say it’s worked so far. The Devils have given up just seven 5v5 goals over their last five games, four of which came in an abysmal goaltending effort against the Calgary Flames. The change has again given the centre more defensive responsibility, which in turn is allowing one of the defensemen to stay net front. Ruff’s old system was infuriating to watch as it often led to both defensemen being below the goal line, which resulted in high-danger chances. However, this new structure has yielded early positive results and suppressed high-danger chances.

Stock Down

Acquiring A Goalie

The Devils are often in trade rumours when it pertains to goalies. It’s been the number one position of need all season, and something GM Tom Fitzgerald has struggled with. The most recent rumour has the Devils linked with Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlinkins. However, this past weekend Elliotte Friedman reported that the Devils and Calgary Flames were in deep discussion regarding Jacob Markstrom, but those negotiations have hit a skid. Fitzgerald has been searching for a franchise goalie since he first got the GM gig, and it looks like there’s no end in sight. Whether it be the cost of acquisition or salary retention, he’s been unable to upgrade the position, and it could come back to bite him at the end of the season.

Stock Up

The Return Of Jack Hughes

After a second lengthy spell on the sidelines, Hughes finally returned this past week. Since his return, he’s recorded two goals and an assist. It may be a “no duh” statement, but the Devils are a significantly better team with him in the lineup. This season they are 21-12-3 with him in the lineup versus 6-9-1 without him. Also, with both Hughes and Nico Hischier in the lineup, the Devils are 19-8-3. What makes Hughes so important is his ability to carry a line and drive the play all by himself. He has 24 shots in just his four games back and creates offence out of nothing. With a playoff spot in reach, the Devils need him AND Hischier to stay healthy for the remainder of the season.

Stock Down

The Power Play

What was once an elite unit clicking at over 40%, has now become a source of misery. The Devils power play has now plummeted to 10th in the NHL at 23.7%. And while that looks good on paper, it doesn’t reflect how poor it has been over the last month. Since the beginning of 2024, the Devils have gotten 47 power play opportunities. They have scored on four of them, two of which came in the same game on the same power play. Their power play is clicking at a horrendous 8% since the turn of the calendar and it is costing them valuable points in the standings. Chalk some of it up to Hughes being out with injury, but with him back to full health, they need to start scoring at that 23.7% rate at a minimum if they want to start stacking wins down the stretch.

Main Photo: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports


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