What Is Wrong With The New Jersey Devils?

You know when you have an exam and you’re feeling super confident going into it and think you’ll ace it with flying colours? But then when you take the exam you absolutely bomb it and do way worse than you expected to do. Well, that sums up how the New Jersey Devils season has gone. The Devils did their homework, studied a ton, and learned all the things they needed to, but they neglected one part which may have been what sunk them. We’ll talk more about that more later.

The Devils went into this season with high expectations after a big year for them last year as they finally took a step into being a true cup contender. They had a great regular season and made it to the second round of the playoffs. However, this season they have been pretty bad. Some untimely injuries to Jack Hughes really hurt them as he was phenomenal to start the year but the first injury he had really slowed down his pace and hurt the Devils in the long run. The same could be said for the loss of Dougie Hamilton as the Devils lost their top offensive defenceman who was the quarterback of their powerplay. They do have younger guys like Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec who can fill those roles, but they aren’t experienced enough to take over Hamilton’s role effectively at this point in their careers. They will eventually, but they’re not quite there just yet.

The injuries hurt the Devils quite a bit but that might not be the main catalyst as to why they were so bad this season. The biggest problem they had this season was goaltending. Vitek Vanacek was nowhere near NHL starting calibre this season and Akira Schmid and Nico Daws were both not ready to be a full-time backup in the NHL just yet. The Devils currently have the fourth most goals against in the league and a large part of that has been the lack of good goaltending they’ve got. The Devils did eventually trade for Jake Allen and Kaapo Kähkönen who have been solid for the Devils since getting there but it’s too late for them at this point.

Another thing that has been a bit of a disappointment this season has been the play of Timo Meier who has been okay this season but not as good as you would want a player making $8.8 million to be. He’s had 48 points in 63 games which you would hope would be a bit better and hopefully, this isn’t a trend for him going forward and he can turn things around since he is just finishing up the first year of his eight-year contracts.

The Devils have also been misusing some of their younger guys in my opinion. Alexander Holtz has not been used very effectively as he hasn’t got much ice time and could be used more in different situations. He has a great shot and could be used more on the powerplay but his coaches have not given him much leeway. Holtz is a former top-ten draft pick and still has so much room to grow and he could end up being a great player for the Devils. They may end up trading him in the off-season but they really shouldn’t in my opinion and try using him in more situations to create offence. It’s a bit surprising that he hasn’t been put alongside Jack Hughes more often. It seems like a perfect fit since Hughes is a great playmaker and Holtz is a pure sniper. Those two should be a perfect pairing but they just don’t get put together.

They could also benefit from giving Simon Nemec a bigger role as well. He was the 2nd overall pick in 2022 and has looked pretty good since. However, he hasn’t been given that much of a leash. Nemec is still really young and will have plenty of room to grow, but he could use some more ice time and I think he should be manning the top power-play unit right now. He has all the tools to do so and giving him that opportunity could be great for his development. He seems ready to take on big minutes and be their number one defenceman. He will for sure have some growing pain along the way but it will be better for him in the long term. Nemec should be a big part of the Devil’s core and he should be treated as such. He’ll be one of the top defensemen in the league at some point in the future so it would be nice to see him given more of a chance.

So this season is a bit of a wash for the New Jersey Devils and all they can really do is look ahead to next season. And in doing so, they have to start with figuring out their goaltending. While getting Allen and Kähkönen is fine, they probably need to go out and find another legit goalie who can at least be a part of a tandem with one of these two goalies. It sounded like the Devils were close to acquiring Jacob Markstrom and the trade deadline so that could be an option for them. Another option could be Linus Ullmark who was also close to being traded and will likely be on his way out of Boston this off-season with Jeremy Swayman taking over as the number one guy for the Bruins.

The other thing the Devils need to do this off-season is find a way to make their defence not bad anymore. On paper, their d-core is pretty good but they haven’t been playing up to their usual standards, Having two rookies and their top defenceman be injured doesn’t help that so the hope is that with time they will just get better. They could try and add another top four defenceman if they wanted to but they don’t need to if they don’t want to.

With their offence, it’s the same kind of situation because they could add some players but don’t necessarily need to. It couldn’t hurt to add another top-six forward and then move Erik Haula down to the third line. They could go after a big-name free agent if they wanted to like Sam Reinhart or Jake Guentzel. They do have some cap space going into the off-season and no one too big to sign. This could be the perfect chance for the Devils to make their offence truly elite and an offensive force in the NHL.

The main area of concern for the Devils is goaltending and the other positions seem to be pretty good as of right now. Once the Devils figure out their goaltending situation, they should be back to being contenders for quite some time. I think they’ll be fine next year and go back to their winning ways. This is a young team after all and these types of seasons will happen.

Don’t you wish you could be like the Devils and just brush off having a bad test and then crush the next few? If only it were that easy right? But don’t worry, you’ll ace that next test just like the Devils will next season.

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