The New Jersey Devils came out of October boasting a 6-4-1 record. Although they stumbled out of the gate in their first November matchup, this revamped Devils squad has shown a lot of good encouraging signs. Having said that, this team has plenty of room for improvement, and plenty of time to work out the apparent kinks they’ve exhibited throughout the first 11 games of this early season.
With Hockeybuzz.com’s Devils writer Todd Cordell as a guest participant, the writing staff at Devils Army Blog weighed in on some of the different aspects that attributed to the team’s turbulent but encouraging October play. The participants in this edition (Alex Chauvancy, Brett Minieri, Sam Britt, Nick Papadimas, and DAB’s founder Taz) of Writers Roundtable looked at the Devils’ early road success, how their newer acquisitions are panning out, and gave their month’s three stars.
When the Devils’ away record (4-2-0) was brought up to him, Mike Cammalleri said it’s too early in the season to declare the Devils a winning team on the road. How much longer do the Devils have to keep this success up before they can be awarded that title?
TC: I’d say half the season at least. With so few games having been played their road record probably has more to do with factors like being rested or facing a tired team more than anything else. Of their six road games only once were the Devils not rested and they lost that game.
TZ: I agree with Cammalleri in that it is way too early to be awarding titles such as that. That kind of title should not be awarded until much later in the season, in late March or early April. There are too many factors that could contribute to the team losing its winning ways on the road, such as trades or new signings for the Devils or their opponent, injuries, or even just losing the “luck.” IF the team can continue to get victories on the road at least through February, then we can begin to analyze their winning tendencies at home and away.
AC: If the Devils are 5+ games above .500 on the road once November ends; I think it’s safe to say that the Devils are a formidable team on the road. The Devils are a lot younger than they were last season, so finding success away from Newark will be important for a team that’s looking to build for the future. It’ll also play a big part in the playoff run later in the season. If the Devils are getting wins on the road, they could be in good position to grab one of those finals playoff spots.
BM: Not sure that there are a specific number of games needed to define yourself as a “good road team.” In fact, the Devils have enjoyed a lot of success away from the Rock over the past few years. If anything, it’s testament to the fact that they’re focused and play hard, which isn’t always easy to do in some arenas. I think this new group is eager to gel and it’s sometimes easier to do so away from the distractions at home. That moniker will be put to the test over the next few weeks however, as they visit Chicago and then take off for their longest (Western Canada) road trip of the season. The good news is there are some winnable (CGY, CBJ, WPG, EDM) games on the table for them to continue to build upon.
NP: I believe the Devils have until the end of the first 20-30 games of the season to declare themselves a winning team on the road. If they continue to succeed on the road early on in the season, I feel confident their success on the road will roll over to the remaining games during the regular season.
SB: I think the Devils need to play this well on the road for another month before we crown them a great road team. The Devils will be traveling to Chicago to face Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks and then they will embark on a Western Canadian road trip through Calgary, Vancouver, and Edmonton. If they can come out of those 4 games with a winning record it will not only be very impressive but will also cement the Devils as a great road team.
New Jersey’s roster has a lot of low profile pickups (Kalinin, Schlemko, Farnham, Stempniak) that are paying dividends for the team. Lou Lamoriello, as we all know, loved resorting to these types of acquisitions, but didn’t have much success towards the latter years of his time in New Jersey. What would you say is different about this year’s cast of under the radar pickups compared to ones from recent seasons?
TC: To me the thing that stands out the most is the Devils’ use of analytics to help with decision-making. Ray Shero and John Hynes have both openly said they will use analytics and it shows in several of the moves they have made. In my opinion the two most impactful additions of those mentioned were David Schlemko and Lee Stempniak and those two players have one thing in common: they are well regarded by the analytical crowd. The latter is obviously more of an impact guy than the former, but the numbers suggested both were solid NHL players and that has proved to be true. The Devils brought them into the fold for peanuts and they’re now reaping the rewards for that.
TZ: It’s too early to call Bobby Farnham a player that is “paying dividends” for the team. He’s had an impressive first two games, but let’s see if he can maintain the production and strong play before calling him an impact player. Kalinin has been impressive so far in his very young NHL career, and he seems to be getting more and more comfortable every night. He just needs to start finding himself on the score sheet, but his play is making a difference so far. Schlemko and Stempniak have been exactly what the Devils needed them to be coming into this season; fast and attacking complete with strong defensive play while occasionally putting the puck in the net. What I think all of the players mentioned have in common though have been speed and grittiness that also have some offensive upside. We cannot discount John Hynes’ system either, as many players, including the ones mentioned here and countless others, seem to be thriving in the new system.
AC: One of the biggest changes that Ray Shero has made is getting input from the Devils analytics department headed by Sunny Mehta. Schlemko, Stempniak, Tlusty and John Moore were all guys who had favorable advanced stats going into the offseason and were possibly due for bounce back seasons in 2015-16 and so far most of those guys have been playing quite well for the Devils through the first twelve games of the season. In the case of Kalinin, it’s a good job of scouting and finding a young player from overseas who has some potential upside.
BM: Lou was forced (partially by his own doing) to patch holes in this manner. It’s hard to speculate why experienced guys like Ryder and Havlat didn’t find success in NJ. I’m sure it’s a combination of various things like roles, ice time, line mates, declining skills, age, etc. On the other hand, players like Jagr and Gomez thrived. Some of this year’s pickups are no different. Tlusty is still trying to find his game while Stempniak, who’s bounced around the league over the years, is a smart, hard-working guy who’s proven he can contribute and had been rewarded for his efforts with a sport on the top line. Too early to tell what Farnham can do and Kalinin has shown some flashes while adjusting to the North American style. Their roles and individual success will be determined as the season continues.
NP: Compared to recent seasons, our low profile pickups this year have seemed to thrive in New Jersey thus far. I believe they provide a mix of young and experienced talent to our roster. I am impressed by what I am observing from Stempniak, Kalinin, Schlemko, and Farnham compared to what I saw out of our previous acquisitions like Martin Havlat, Michael Ryder, and Rostislav Olesz during recent seasons.
SB: The difference with these signings and the signings made in the Lou era is the upside of the players. Lou’s signings never seemed to have much upside. Ryan Clowe was injury prone and was coming off an awful season with the Rangers. Trading for Ruutu also exemplifies this. At this point in his career the best Rutuu can bring is 10-15 goals and grit. Shero has gone after players with much higher upside. Kalinin was an exceptional player in Russia and maybe can get comfortable and become a high caliber player in North America. Stempniak is coming off a successful season with the Rangers and Jets where he was able to put up 15 goals and 28 points with limited ice time. This all probably leads back to the change in philosophy. There is a greater emphasis on speed and skill, no more slow grinders are being brought in.
The Devils finished October with a 6-4-1 record. While they’re not exactly a powerhouse they appear to be playing better than advertised. Who are your three stars for the month of October?
TC: I’d have to say Cory Schneider, Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique. If the Devils are going to accomplish anything this year they’re going to need quality goaltending and Schneider has given them that so far. As for the latter two they have looked very good together and have turned out to be a very potent offensive duo. Honorable mention goes to Travis Zajac who has stepped it up offensively while logging big minutes against top competition.
TZ: Adam Henrique claims third star honors from me. He has contributed on the score sheet a lot and had a handful of game winners for the Devils, potting goals when they were needed most in regulation or overtime. He’s also been a consistent threat in the offensive zone and has played soundly on defense. He’s second on the team in scoring as of writing this, and deservedly so. Second star goes to Adam Larsson. While paired with Andy Greene on the top line, he has been logging an average of about 23 minutes per game and playing in all situations for New Jersey. Although he isn’t making as big of an impact on the scoreboard as some may have hoped thus far, he still has a goal and an assist and has been everything the Devils have asked him to be. And last but certainly not least, the first star has to go to Cory Schneider. He’s kept the Devils in just about every game and almost always gives his team a chance to win. Not nearly enough can be said about the play of #35, but he definitely deserves first star of the month for this team.
AC: The Devils had a bunch of players contribute a significant amount in October, but if I had to pick three guys I would go with Cory Schneider, Travis Zajac, and Lee Stempniak. Zajac seems to have found new life under John Hynes while Stempniak is producing points at a rate he hasn’t seen since 2006-07 when he scored 27 goals and added 25 assists for St. Louis. Schneider was big in October posting a .919 save percentage while going 6-2-1 in 8 starts. The Devils are not going to be the highest scoring team when all is said and done, so they’ll need him to continue to be on top of his game on most nights.
BM: If the Devils find themselves having success there’s a pretty good chance the man between the pipes will have something to do with it. This is not a powerhouse team by any stretch and while it’s been very encouraging to see them play competitively, they still have an issue (and likely will) putting pucks in net. To which, Corey Schneider will have to continue to be a stalwart and I don’t see that changing, which is good news for the Devils. Schneider often doesn’t get the league-wide recognition he deserves (mostly due to the team he plays on) but he’s arguably one of the best goalies in the NHL. Cammalleri has been playing like the man they’re paying him to be. He’s a team leader and his nearly point-per-game numbers in October confirm that. The Devils will need him to continue on this track. You can make arguments for the third star from a slew of others with Henrique, Palmieri, and Larsson garnering deserved consideration. But for me the 3rd star is Zajac. After a dismal season in 2014/15, his game is stronger and He’s been more efficient in the circle, while showing up on the score sheet on a more regular basis. It’s easy to suggest there’s no more important player to perform up to his capabilities than #19. Here’s hoping he does.
NP: Travis Zajac, Cory Schneider, and Adam Henrique. Zajac has seemed to succeed under Hynes recently, Henrique is undoubtedly set for a breakout season this year, and Schneider has kept most games competitive and exciting to watch as usual for the Devils.
SB: The 3rd star of the month goes to Adam Larsson. He has emerged as a top pairing defenseman. He hasn’t contributed many points besides his OT winner versus the Coyotes but he has been solid in his own zone. He is finally looking to reach the potential he was labeled with when he was drafted. The 2nd star is Mike Cammalleri. He leads the Devils in points and continues to be their best offensive weapon. Hopefully he can keep up this scoring pace for the rest of the season. The 1st star is obvious; its Cory Schneider. He continues to far and away be the Devils’ best player. Playing at an elite level with his .922 SV% and 2.16 GAA, he continues to be among the best goalies in the league. The team’s success will go as far as Schneider can take them.