(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)
Last Season: 32-36-14, 78 points, seventh in the Metro Division.
2014-15 Season, In One Tweet
Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?
Worse, but in an effort to get better. Veterans Bryce Salvador and Ryane Clowe finally lost battles with their bodies, and hung up the skates. Michael Ryder, Martin Havlat, Steve Bernier, Peter Harrold and Scott Gomez were all unsigned. Dainius Zubrus, a long-time top six forward, was bought out. That’s on top of their trade deadline moves (Jagr, Marek Zidlicky).
And, of course, there was the departure of a certain president/general manager/ruler of all he surveys to the Toronto Maple Leafs, as former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero takes over for the legendary Lou Lamoriello.
Five Most Fascinating Players
1. Adam Larsson, D
Larsson was perpetually in former coach Pete DeBoer’s doghouse, but once he was liberated the Devils saw enough to ink him to a six-year extension. There’s still a chance he’s a late blossoming star, and his pairing with veteran Andy Greene was beneficial for both as Larsson posted 24 points in 64 games.
2. Cory Schneider, G
The only consistent thing about the Devils last season, besides their descent down the standings, was Schneider. He posted a 2.26 GAA and a .925 save percentage with five shutouts. He’s the franchise goalie this team is going to rebuild around, even if he probably didn’t think they’d be in a rebuild when he was acquired from the Canucks three years ago.
3. Patrik Elias, LW/C
New coach John Hynes said Elias is going to be an important part of this team, but the career Devil is coming off his worst point-producing season since he was a rookie in 1997-98. He turns 40 in April and is in the last year of a contract with a full no-move. Is this the swan song for him? And how quickly will the Devils hang his number to the rafters?
4. Kyle Palmieri, RW
Mike Cammalleri produced 27 goals and 15 assists in 68 games for the Devils. On a team that appears to have the scoring potential of someone on Tinder with a profile pic of Charles Manson, he’s going to have to lead them again. But Palmieri arrives from the Anaheim Ducks, and the hope is that with an increased role he might be able to top his career best of 14 goals and help out Cammy with the scoring load.
5. Pavel Zacha, C
The No. 6 overall pick last summer, Zacha has drawn comparisons to Ryan Getzlaf as far as being a big, point-producing center. (Well, save for the dome.) Will the Devils play him with regularity in what could be a pretty terrible season?
Potentially The Best Thing About This Team
Schneider and the young defense. That’s a hell of a backbone back there in Schneider, who will put up good numbers no matter what’s in front of him. But a group that includes Larsson, Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, Eric Gelinas and other young prospects is growing together well; assisted by Greene, free-agent pickups John Moore and Dave Schlemko.
Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team
The offense. This was already a group that finished 28th in the NHL with 181 goals; and unless it’s through addition by subtraction or Hynes’ system, we’re not really seeing how that offense has gotten better. There’s some talent here in the top six – including returning centers Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac – but just not enough of it.
Dream 3-on-3 OT Group
Cammalleri and Henrqiue are creative, savvy offensive standouts. Larsson is a smooth puck-handler.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)
Six. Who knows how much slack the Devils are going to give Hynes in his first season, seeing as how this appears to be a protracted rebuild. One assumes it’ll be more than a season. One also assumes that the worse the Devils do, the better it’ll be for them in the long run.
Awkward Old School Video Break
The NHL on ESPN!
Their Best Case Scenario Is …
The Devils shock the NHL with a push for the playoffs, fueled by Vezina-caliber goaltending by Cory Schneider and an offensive energized by Hynes’s system.
Their Nightmare Scenario Is …
Eighth in the Metro, with no goal-scoring and palpable growing pains. But obviously not a total nightmare, given the light at the end of the draft tunnel.
Seventh in the Metro. Schneider is too good to allow this team hit rock bottom like it would, and definitely should.