Sports fans generally realize that a team cannot be judged by their record only, but if you’ve been paying attention to the New Jersey Devils, you know that they have issues. It’s not happenstance that New Jersey sits at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division at 8-11-4 — which, for players, coaches, and fans alike feels a lot more like 8-15. Everyone is sick of it, and with each loss everyone becomes less and less enthusiastic. In the minds of the fans, Taylor Hall was out the door and around the corner 10 games ago.
So what now? Give up on the season? Trade former MVP Taylor Hall to save our future? It’s hard to say because the Devils were building towards the future… a future surrounding Hall. At least I think that’s why general manager Ray Shero took the offseason by storm, trading for P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev, and signing Wayne Simmonds. So forgive Devils’ fans for expecting progress, because things looked pretty good before the season started; Taylor Hall was coming back healthy, Cory Schneider was regaining confidence, Jack Hughes was ready to play, Pavel Zacha was set to break out, and Ty Smith was predicted to make the jump to the NHL.
Now, the Devils have a demoralizing 20 points in 23 games, and if you think it’s the result of a lack of talent, you should go back and read the last paragraph. No, this is the fault of John Hynes. Who changes the lines constantly, and scratches two of the teams’ best forwards. Who has failed to motivate his team enough to win three games in a row once this season, while the less hyped New York Islanders rip off win streaks like it’s a walk in the park. Surely, if I told you this would happen before the season started you would raise questions.
But objectively, no one has raised questions, even though they have among the worst special teams’ percentages in the league. Or that they’ve been outscored in the third period 31-14 this season. I’m sure many of the writers covering the Devils know John Hynes personally or work for the Devils, so I understand the territory that comes there. But does any informed hockey mind think the Devils should be losing like they do with the team that they have? It feels like we’re staring at the answer in the face and ignoring it.
One hockey analyst that actually has raised questions is ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. On October 14th, when the Devils were 0-4-2 (0-6), Wyshynski said this:
The Devils went 2-2-2 (2-4) on that homestand, so the front office said “good enough” and Devils’ writers preached that “the system” is not the problem. Fine, the system isn’t the problem. The problem is that now it’s late November, and New Jersey is still playing this “half-motivated” hockey (well put, Greg). And while other organizations with more pressure or higher standards may have moved on, the Devils have yet to make some kind of change. Just for reference, the Stanley Cup defending St. Louis Blues fired head coach Mike Yeo when they were 7-9-3 on Nov. 20 of last year.
Sure there have been flashes of the Devils’ team we expected this year, like the 5-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. But there have been way more headscratchers like we saw last night against Minnesota, a team struggling just as much as Devils, with a coach that’s on the hot seat in Bruce Boudreau. And they were coming into New Jersey for the second game of a back-to-back. The Devils lose 3-2, and the post-game player interviews would lead you to believe that somebody literally died in the locker room. It’s hard to watch, and harder knowing that change may not come with the holidays looming. After all, New Jersey has proved to be incredibly sympathetic thus far.
Positives for the Devils
I feel obligated to include this paragraph because it’s not fair to say that everything about the Devils stinks. In fact, there have been many positives about this season, even if New Jersey’s record wouldn’t portray that. For example, Blake Coleman is still Blake Coleman, and we are all not appreciative enough of him. It’s seriously inspiring how hard this guy works regardless of the situation.
Additionally, if you needed reminding, Jack Hughes is awesome. He’s fast, shifty, creative with the puck, and now he’s got a deal with Gatorade. Pavel Zacha has also looked great and could fill a need for the Devils as a power forward. Lastly, amid Cory Schneider’s struggles, Ray Shero got a goalie from Tampa Bay in Louis Domingue for just a conditional seventh-round pick in 2021. Domingue has taken some pressure off of Mackenzie Blackwood, posting a .926 save percentage in his first two starts with the team. So let that be the silver lining of a so-far disappointing Devils season, as we all wait for some sort of change.