Writer’s Twitter: @ChrisMottHockey
“Welcome back.” That is a phrase many will hear from time to time in their lives. From the first day of school, from coming back from being sick, to coming back to work, or coming back home to see friends and family.
The New Jersey Devils’ last season was one of the toughest seasons die-hard fans have suffered through. This is especially true given many fans, myself included, were spoiled growing up watching names such as Stevens, Elias, Brodeur, Neidermayer, Daneyko, Parise, and the list goes on.
I read somewhere this off-season about how Devils’ fans need to be patient and basically, the premise was to be okay with losing. And accept the fact that to try and build towards the future that was needed. I would counter with growing up watching three Stanley Cup Championships in nine years and 13 straight years of playoff appearances, turns your fan base into one that is not thrilled with losing.
We expect excellence and view our team as one of the premier franchises in the league. For all the pain Devils’ fans went through and how dark everything became, we noticed a dim light that slowly began to glow brighter and brighter. So to all the Devils’ fans, Devils’ players, Devils’ haters, Devils’ rivals, and everyone who has been waiting to get into Devils’ hockey for the first time this season. We made it, it is here! Welcome back New Jersey Devils’ hockey!
The Off-Season of Uncertainty
Those words from Taylor Hall above had every Devils’ fan going into the off-season heavily concerned for the future of the franchise. With the Devils finally making it back to the playoffs the year prior – but drawing a tough matchup against a dominant Tampa Bay Lightning – expectations were high last year, and the next steps were expected to be taken. Unfortunately, that did not happen. And the only hope fans could cling to was that the sources for the Devils’ struggles were a heavily injured team, bad goaltending, and overall bad luck.
These were the dark times, fans would reminisce back to the glory days and the year prior. Others would wonder how the Devils would pull themselves out of the situation we were in. This moment in time was the darkness. Then one Mr. Ray Shero got to work, and the dim glow of hope that seemed lost appeared. It all started with the video below:
Bringing In the Talent
While last season was considered a disappointment for Devils’ fans, general manager Ray Shero started making his off-season moves at the trade deadline last season. He traded away players such as Keith Kinkaid, Brian Boyle, and Ben Lovejoy while in return bringing many assets such as draft picks and players such as defenseman Connor Carrick.
Then the NHL Draft came this past June, and the Devils drafted Jack Hughes first overall. In another move, the Devils traded for defenseman P.K. Subban the second day of the draft. They followed this up by drafting a lot of young, promising prospects. Some of whom were impressive throughout training camp, the rookie showcase, and early preseason.
Shero was not finished quite yet. He acquired Nikita Gusev in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights. Gusev averaged well over a point per game in the KHL this past season and has been regarded as the best international player. To top it off, Shero brought in a face many Devils’ fans were used to cheering against in Wayne Simmonds.
This Team is Built to Win
The roster has also received plenty of reinforcements in the form of NHL players returning from injury and AHL players taking the next step. One of the
There are also young, talented players on the roster that are expected to continue to take steps forward. Names that come to mind are Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Jesper Boqvist, MacKenzie Blackwood, and Pavel Zacha. Cory Schneider also appears to be on track to be the goalie he once was before injuries. He was solid towards the end of the season last year, great for team USA at the World Championships, and exceptional in the preseason.
For all the talk of the Devils being a young team, there is a good amount of veteran experience as well. There is no shortage of veteran leadership on the Devils’ roster. Travis Zajac and Andy Greene are the only remaining players from the Devils’ roster that made the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. And Cory Schneider made it to a Stanley Cup Final as a 1B to Roberto Luongo’s 1A with the Vancouver Canucks. There is a good spread of young talent, solid professional players, and experienced veterans to help lead the way this season.
The Devils will need every player to contribute their part as this team is expected to compete in the playoffs. Taylor Hall has allowed his agent to have negotiations with Ray Shero on an extension and the number one concern for Hall if he were to resign was to see that this team will be a competitor if he stays. Hall reportedly loves all the moves Shero has made and also understands, he is a part of the puzzle Shero is putting together.
The Devils have finished their roster cuts including sending Ty Smith back to the WHL which, while it may have been disappointing to fans to not see Smith being considered ready for that next step forward, is a decision everyone can get behind if it means that Smith will continue to progress.
The Hudson River Rivalry will also have much more intensity this year especially with the new rivalry between the number one and two overall picks in Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. Devils’ fans will certainly be cheering for Hughes not only in this rivalry but to hopefully play at a level where he could win rookie of the year. Devils’ fans are also cheering for Taylor Hall to be back to MVP form which he certainly looked in the preseason.
|Left Wings||Centers||Right Wings|
|Jesper Bratt||Jesper Boqvist||Kyle Palmieri|
|Nikita Gusev||Blacke Coleman||Wayne Simmonds|
|Taylor Hall (A)||John Hayden|
|Miles Wood||Nico Hischier|
|Travis Zajac (A)|
|Will Butcher||Mackenzie Blackwood|
|Connor Carrick||Cory Schneider|
|Andy Greene (C)|
The Present and Future is Bright
The only item left to do on general manager Ray Shero’s agenda is the extension of Taylor Hall. He has done a great job adding talent to the organization for both now and in the future and an extension will further this objective.
This will be an exciting year for the Devils and the fans. Their first game will be Friday, October 4th against the Winnipeg Jets at The Rock. And they’ll follow it up with a game against Buffalo the next night.
As for the division, the Devils will have tough competition this year as the Metropolitan is loaded and looks to be the toughest division in hockey.
Buckle up Devils’ fans, this should prove to be a fun season where a push to the playoffs is very much possible. Enjoy watching the talent we have, oh and welcome back!