THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS WIN THE 2017 DRAFT LOTTERY

THANK YOU, HOCKEY GODS! THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS (YES, THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS) WIN THE DRAFT LOTTERY AND GET TO PICK FIRST OVERALL IN THE 2017 ENTRY-LEVEL DRAFT IN JUNE. CAN YOU HEAR ME YELLING?

Okay, so now that that’s out of the way… alright, I’m still crying, give me a moment.

For the first time in team history (and only the second time in franchise history when the Colorado Rockies selected defenseman Rob Ramage), the Devils get to pick first overall in this year’s entry-level draft. Their last highest pick was back in 2011, when they selected defenseman Adam Larsson fourth overall. The 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft will take place at the United Center in Chicago on June 23-24 and I plan on somehow being there.

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And the Devils are officially on the clock. The debate over who goes first overall this year has been highly contested and will come down to the very end and what the team wants. Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier will go 1 and 2, not necessarily in that order, and anyone after that could be picked whenever.

Here are how the Top 15 draft picks panned out:
1) New Jersey Devils
2) Philadelphia Flyers
3) Dallas Stars
4) Colorado Avalanche
5) Vancouver Canucks
6) Vegas Golden Knights
7) Arizona Coyotes
8) Buffalo Sabres
9) Detroit Red Wings
10) Florida Panthers
11) Los Angeles Kings
12) Carolina Hurricanes
13) Winnipeg Jets
14) Tampa Bay Lightning
15) New York Islanders

The Devils had just an 8.5% chance of picking first overall and I didn’t expect them to choose Top 3, let alone pick first. I was expecting Top 5 or even 6th but not 1st. My heart stopped when they announced that New Jersey had jumped to the Top 3 and I don’t think I could breathe until they announced that the Devils won the lottery. I still don’t think I’m breathing, to be quite honest.

No matter who the Devils decide to pick (I have a slight preference of one over the other), they’ll get an incredibly talented young hockey player. The draft might be “weaker” than other years because there’s no generational talent but there are still plenty of good prospects and whoever the Devils pick will help the team go a long way. And because the Flyers pick second, we’ll get to see both Patrick and Hischier face off in the Battle of the Turnpike.

We’ll have plenty of time to discuss who the Devils should choose and debate the pros and cons of both players, but for now, we should enjoy the moment. This doesn’t happen that often (unless you’re the Edmonton Oilers, of course). New Jersey will have plenty to celebrate in the upcoming years with whoever they decide to pick.

And whoever they choose will help in the rebuilding process. The Devils are closer to playoff contention now than they were before the draft lottery. And who knows? Maybe they’ll sign Kevin Shattenkirk or another puck-moving defenseman in the offseason, and maybe they’ll sign Ilya Kovalchuk, and maybe a few of their talented young prospects will make the opening roster next season. This team is a hell of a lot closer to where they want to be and where fans think they can be.

Buckle up and settle in, everyone. It’s going to be a fun summer.

NHL: 2017 Draft Lottery

The 2017 Draft Lottery takes place tomorrow night at 7:30 PM in Toronto, and it will be followed by Game 2 of the Stanley Cup playoff series between the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. American viewers can watch on NBC, while Canadian viewers can watch on both CBC and Sportsnet. The 2017 entry-level draft itself takes place June 23-24 at the United Center in Chicago.

There are 15 lottery teams this year in contrast to the usual 14; the Vegas Golden Knights have the same odds as the third-lowest team (the Arizona Coyotes, this year). The Devils have the fourth-best odds of picking first overall at 8.517%. The Avalanche have about an 18.0% chance of picking first (they finish with just 48 points. The Canucks are next with a 12.1% chance; they finished with 69 points (nice). The Coyotes and Devils fall next (ignoring Vegas for a second) but Arizona has better odds (10.3%) even though both teams ended up with 70 points (the Coyotes had two more regulation losses).

Here’s an awesome chart of each team’s complete odds, courtesy of Sportsnet:

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There is a handy NHL lottery simulator here http://nhllotterysimulator.com if you’re interested in going through it over and over again to see how the Devils (and other teams) might pick. It’s a good way to combat boredom (or waste time). Personally, I don’t expect the Devils to pick first overall but Top 3 would be nice as would Top 5.

Just for fun, I ran the simulator 100 times (during class) this morning and these were the results:

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The Devils picked first six times, second ten times, and third six times so they picked Top 3 22% of the time (I’m okay with those odds).

The Devils do have 10 picks in this year’s draft, including seven in the first four rounds.

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Nolan Patrick will likely go first overall, with Nico Hischier going a close second. The next several picks aren’t as certain but there are a few players who could go anywhere in that range: Gabriel Vilardi, Michael Rasmussen, Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, and Owen Tippett. Yes, there may be no generational talents in this draft but they’re still talented kids and can help teams out tremendously. A lot of analysts talk about the “lack of talent” in this year’s draft and that’s just not true. They need some development but they can become pretty decent NHLers.

Here’s to hoping the Devils get to pick Top 3.

The Return of Ilya Kovalchuk?

Yeah, remember him? It’s hard not to.

Ilya Kovalchuk’s return to the New Jersey Devils and the National Hockey League has been rumored for a while but speculation reached its peak yesterday, when Elliotte Freidman (Hockey Night in Canada) confirmed that Kovalchuk does, in fact, want to return to the NHL after spending the last five years in the KHL.

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Freidman talks more about it here: http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/headlines-kovalchuk-considering-nhl-return/

Kovalchuk’s career numbers in the NHL are pretty impressive. He has a point per game: 417 goals and 399 assists (816 points) in 816 games played. He had 89 goals and 112 assists (201 points) in 222 games with the Devils, including 11-20-31 in 37 games in the 2012-13 lockout season. He did go to the Stanley Cup Final with New Jersey in 2012, and tallied 37-46-83 in 77 games that season.

He’s been good in the KHL too. He has 124 goals and 173 assists (297 points) in 299 games played between 2012-17. He signed a temporary contract with them back during the 2012-13 lockout season but opted to return on a four-year contract when the Devils season ended just short of the postseason. He’s won the Gagarin Cup twice with SKA (Saint Petersburg), once in 2014-15 and the other just recently (2017). Devils prospect Yegor Rykov also plays for SKA. Kovalchuk tallied 32 goals and 78 points during the 2016-17 regular season, and six goals (nine points) during the postseason.

But it’s hard not to be bitter. He signed a monstrous contract with the intention to stay in New Jersey but left the team instead. Remember that 17-year deal he inked in 2010? Worth $102 million? He would have theoretically been with the team until 2027. 2027. He also signed the longest ever NHL contract at the time, and it was unfathomable. He rejected a 12-year, $101-million contract with the Atlanta Thrashers (yeah, remember them too?), the team that drafted him 1st overall in 2001, before they traded him to New Jersey. A player only signs and an organization only offers a contract that big if the player intends to remain the team for the entirety of their career and even then, 17 years is a bit much. Kovalchuk would be 44 at the contract’s end.

The rumors of his return have been there ever since he left but this is a confirmation. His intention is to come back to the NHL (whether this means coming back to the Devils too is something else entirely) and his return could go any number of ways. The Devils could sign him to a new contract because his old contract would be invalidated. New Jersey can opt to keep him; the hockey gods know that the team could use someone with his offensive capabilities. Imagine a top line with him and Taylor Hall, just imagine. Kovalchuk’s production hasn’t dropped since going to the KHL and he definitely isn’t past his prime. His numbers make it hard not to entertain the idea of him returning to the team and helping them out offensively (a category in which they’ve struggled virtually since his departure). The Devils could also ink him to a new contract just to use him as a trade piece. I’m sure there will be plenty of teams interested in trading for him with what he brings to the table (to the ice?) and because the Devils are still in a rebuild, he could bring back a nice (and useful) return (think players and picks). And if his intentions are not to stay in New Jersey and he wants to play elsewhere from the get-go, he would have to get every single NHL GM’s seal of approval (which, realistically, probably won’t happen).

As a Devils fan, I’m torn. I’m still bitter about him leaving and I don’t know if I’ll ever not be bitter. But he’s a good trade chip, especially for the Devils and with the upcoming Vegas expansion draft. The team could net a lofty return for Kovalchuk, players and picks that could help them in the long-run. If they don’t trade him and instead keep him, his offensive production would go a long way to help New Jersey return to the postseason for the first time since 2012. Any team would be lucky to have a player of his caliber.

Looking at the bigger picture, let him come back. Let him play for New Jersey. Let him play for someone else. I really don’t know how I would react either way. I can see every argument for and against him returning. I’ll come to terms with him eventually. The Devils can really only benefit from him returning, whether it’s him helping their offense or getting traded for picks/prospects/players. It’s a win-win situation for the team but for the fans? That’s a little harder. All I do know is that if he does come back, the NHL better be paying attention.

What happened to Adam Henrique?

It was a rough season for one of the longest tenured members of the New Jersey Devils. Adam Henrique, one of the Devils’ mainstays over the past five years, had a bit of a down year and it was obvious to those who watched him play. He didn’t play badly by any means; he just looked off and there could be a number of reasons behind that. And before anyone complains, I’m not ripping him apart. He’s my favorite player.

Henrique played all 82 games for the first time in his career. He wasn’t noticeable in all 82 games but he stayed healthy and was on the ice every night, which could go a long way in the future. He’s definitely not injury-prone and hasn’t missed a significant chunk of games in a while. He played all but two games last year, 75 the season before, and 77 the year before that. The year before that was the lockout-shortened season, in which he played 42 of 48 games.

Despite playing all 82 games, he finished with his lowest point total since he scored just 16 points in 42 games played during that lockout-shortened season (which is about 0.38 points/game). He finished with about half a point per game this season, tallying just 40 points in 82 games. Of those 40, one half of those was goals and the other was assists. his point total was the fourth best on the team (which isn’t saying a whole lot). His +/- rating was a -20, the worst of his career and second worst on the team (just ahead of defenseman Damon Severson).

And if it felt like he took a ton of ill-timed penalties, he did. He finished with 38 PIM, the highest total of his career, good for 7th on the Devils (3rd if you discount defensemen, unsurprisingly behind just Miles Wood and Kyle Palmieri). The difference between him and Wood/Palmieri is that he took no major penalties, which makes the stat that much worse.

To expect Henrique to replicate his 30-goal, 53-point season from last year was not entirely a sound decision, mainly because it’s hard to score that many goals in one season if you’re not one of the NHL’s best or if you’re not on an offensive-minded team (which the Devils are trying to become). I maybe didn’t expect 30 from him but 25 would have been a nice number. Add that point total to a decent number of assists and he’d have another career year (but he didn’t).

And if it feels like Henrique was invisible for a bunch of games, it’s because he was. I was surprised to find out that he played all 82 games (the only other Devil with all 82 played was Ben Lovejoy) because it didn’t seem like he did. This number doesn’t mean a whole lot but there were nine games where he didn’t have a single shot on goal (a single shot on goal!); he went shotless for three games straight in March.

So let’s look at his shot count. He had 142 shots on goal this year, which isn’t bad considering his shot totals over the past few years: 149 (2015-16), 127 (2014-15), 137 (2013-14), 78 (2012-13), and 130 (2011-12). His shooting percentage is at 14.1%, down 6% from last season so maybe that’s where the problem lies.

He had 51 games without a point (he had nine multipoint games) and honestly, most of these are pointless statistics. The point is that there were games that he played that he didn’t actually play and as a spectator, it was noticeable.

It’d be easy to point fingers and say that he was battling with an undisclosed injury. Maybe he was but he still played all 82 games. He wasn’t a healthy scratch ever; the only maintenance day he had (that I can think of) was the open practice on April 7th. Whether or not he actually needed a maintenance day remains to be seen; there were rumors that he joined Hall (who also had a maintenance day) with GM Ray Shero to try and convince Harvard’s Alex Kerfoot to sign with the Devils. Hall, however, has been battling some undisclosed injuries this season and will take time to recuperate.

You can argue that Henrique never had a consistent line (and I would argue this too). While he always remained the 2nd line center, his wingers changed. He spent some time with Hall (who was then injured and missed time); Coach Hynes probably wanted to see if the two of them could rekindle their Windsor chemistry. And we can go through the rest of his line combinations, the fact is that Henrique didn’t spend nearly enough time with one line combination in order to develop chemistry. Coach Hynes juggled the lines fairly often at the beginning of the season so it wasn’t just Henrique’s. He did seem to find some chemistry with Joseph Blandisi and Beau Bennett towards the end of the season (who both need new contracts and I would give it to them!) and that’s a combination I can see going forward, unless Coach Hynes opts to keep Blandisi with John Quenneville because they have chemistry. Henrique might also move to the left wing instead of center (the organization has enough centermen as it is) and that could work for him too. I’d also opt to keep Hall with Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac together on the top line.

Or maybe he just had a bad year. Most of this is probably just nonsense. With a consistent line next year, Henrique should, theoretically, have a better season. Yes, it’s unrealistic to expect him to score 30 goals again. Should he come close? Yes. He’s hungry to make the playoffs again and he’s reiterated that he wants to stay in New Jersey. He’s a leader (and veteran) on this Devils team, and will help them get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Albany Devils vs. Toronto Marlies: Round 1 AHL Playoff Preview

Well, the Devils get the rematch they (we) wanted. The Albany Devils (39-32-2-3) will take on the Toronto Marlies (42-29-4-1) in the first round of the AHL playoffs, a rematch of last year’s North Division Round 2 matchup. The Devils would have played the Syracuse Crunch but because the Crunch won on Saturday, they clinch the North Division title and will play the #4 seed (St. John’s Ice Caps) while the Devils (#3 seed) play the Marlies (#2 seed). Just six points separate the two teams in the standings.

John Quenneville is the Devils’ leading scorer, tallying 14 goals and 32 assists in 58 games played. Blake Coleman and Ben Sexton lead the team with 19 goals apiece. Quenneville and Vojtech Mozik have nine power play goals each this season; Kevin Rooney has four shorthanded.

The Devils got so much-needed roster help with the additions of Joseph Blandisi, Miles Wood, Steven Santini, and other AHL-ers who spent a significant amount of time playing in New Jersey. The Devils also reassigned forward Blake Speers and defenseman Colton White from Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) to Albany (AHL); the Greyhounds were officially eliminated from the OHL playoffs in a Game 6 loss to the Owen Sound Attack on Sunday. Devils prospects Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian are still in, however, as the Mississauga Steelheads will take on the Peterborough Petes in the Eastern Conference Final. The Steelheads finished second in the conference (Peterborough finished first) so this should be an exciting matchup as well.

Kerby Rychel leads the Marlies with 52 points (19 G, 33 A) and 11 power play goals; Toronto’s active leading goal-scorer is Andreas Johnsson with 20 (Byron Froese had 24 but is out with an injury). Cal O’Reilly has 41 assists on the year, but only 8 of those are with the Marlies (he was with the Amerks earlier this season).

The two teams have met eight times this year but have not played each other since February 12th, a 6-2 loss for the Devils in Toronto. Albany does have a slight edge in the season series; they went 5-3-0 against the Marlies this season, with overtime and shootout wins. The Devils were shutout just once, in their initial meeting of the season back in October on home ice, 3-0. They won three of four games at home, and split the season series in Toronto (2-2-0).

Toronto has one of the league’s best power plays, sitting 4th at 22.3%; the Devils are 15th at 17.9%. However, the Devils have a much better penalty kill (6th) at 84% while the Marlies are just 81.8% successful (17th). The Marlies have the 6th best power play at home (23.5%) while the Devils sit just two spots below at 22.5%; the Marlies also have a much better penalty kill at home. The Devils’ penalty kill on the road is much better at 84.5% (good for 4th in the league) while the Marlies sit at 23rd (just 78.7%).

Those home numbers are very important; the Devils play the first two games of the series at the Times Union Center but the remaining three will be played in Toronto. The playoff series is as follows:

Thursday, April 20 vs Toronto, 7PM
Saturday, April 22 vs Toronto, 5PM
Wednesday April 26 @ Toronto, 7PM
Friday April 28 @ Toronto, 7PM
Saturday April 29 @ Toronto, 7PM

If last year’s playoff series between the two is any indication, this series will go to a Game 5; they went a full seven games last season. The Devils advanced to the second round after defeating the Utica Comets in four games; their series with the Marlies was a hard, well-fought one but they fell 4-3 in Game 7. Both teams played incredibly well and three games were decided by a single goal (one was an overtime win for Albany in Game 3). The Marlies would eventually go on to lose to the Hershey Bears, four games to one.

It will be another display of some great hockey between two teams who look young and poised to make a deep run; hopefully the Devils can come out on top.

New Jersey Devils: Top Moments of the 2016-17 Season

While the season was disappointing, there were a lot of feel-good moments throughout the last several months that we can reminisce and hope we see more of in the future. So, in particular order, here are (some of) my favorite moments of the New Jersey Devils’ 2016-17 season:

  • The Joseph Blandisi/John Quenneville OT winner against the Rangers and Line Brawl Part II: okay, so you knew this had to be on here. It was a great game and could be the revival of a rivalry; the Rangers are a fun team to hate and this game only solidified just how intense the rivalry is going to become down the road. And Quenneville scored his first NHL goal while Blandisi had the game-winner
  • Pretty much any game against the Flyers: again, this one is obvious. Every single Devils/Flyers game this year has been a spectacle, and while New Jersey won the season series, it was a hard-fought one, literally. Miles Wood found his footing in the rivalry pretty quickly, having scored three goals against a team he grew up watching and fighting Wayne Simmonds (twice). All five games have been nothing short of exciting and they were all fun to watch; the Devils/Flyers rivalry is being renewed too
  • Adam Henrique’s OT winner against the Stars: remember when Henrique scored the OT winner and immediately skated to the locker room because he had to use the bathroom? Yeah, that’s on this list for obvious reasons. The pass from Kyle Palmieri was beautiful and the goal was a nice sight to see but it’s also on here because, you know, Adam Henrique
  • Travis Zajac’s natural hat trick against Chicago: so Zajac has had a great season, especially when he started playing with linemates Palmieri and Taylor Hall. Despite the Devils not getting the win, it was nice to see Zajac put up a hat trick
  • Michael Cammalleri’s natural hat trick against Carolina: Cammalleri has not had a great season and didn’t up until this breakout game against the Canes; his three beautiful goals allowed the Devils to prevail in this one
  • The shootout win against the Capitals on the Dads’ trip: enough said. Beating the frontrunners for the Stanley Cup (arguably) on home ice where they’ve been dominant all year? This one is pretty self-explanatory. The Devils were also on their Fathers’ Trip so they gave their dads something to cheer about
  • The Hall/Henrique OT winner against Minnesota: I wish we could see more of Hall and Henrique passing to each other because they do have chemistry from their Junior days but this goal will have to do for now. They passed the puck a few times back and forth, until Henrique sent a nice pass in front of Dubnyk and Hall finished it off
  • Greene’s penalty shot OT winner against Buffalo: the Captain gets it done.
  • The comeback against Toronto and winning in a shootout: the Devils were better at completing comebacks at the beginning of the season when they were able to rebound from 3-0, 4-0 deficits and this game was no exception. They went down 3-0 to the Leafs (with two goals from Auston Matthews) but they were able to stay in it and prevail in the shootout
  • The comeback against Nashville and winning in OT: the Devils were down 4-1 in the third period (on the board because of a really nicely batted goal from Hall) but got goals from Cammalleri, Greene, and Henrique to send the game to overtime, where Cammalleri scored the game-winner
  • The Hall/Zajac OT winner against Vancouver: what a beauty. It was a tight game but Zajac made a really nice back check in OT to send the puck up the ice to Hall, who sent it into the back of the net to win the game. This was a highlight reel goal simply because of Travis Zajac, what a move 
  • Bennett’s game-winning goal against Minnesota, and pretty much that whole game: it was a feel-good win, that’s for sure. Henrique almost had a goal (the puck didn’t completely cross the line) but he made up for it moments later. Palmieri’s game-tying goal was initially called no goal but was overturned. The Devils never once led this game until Beau Bennett scored late in the third period to put New Jersey up 4-3; Bennett’s goal came off a nice diving pass from Blake Coleman
  • Devils’ rookies first goals: we had a lot of firsts this season but nothing is more special than scoring your first goal. Pavel Zacha, Steven Santini, Miles Wood, John Quenneville, and Blake Coleman all had their first NHL goals this season and hopefully many, many more to come. Quenneville’s goal is in the Rangers/Devils recap at the beginning of the post but if you want to watch it again…
  • The Devils rookies in general: honestly, I can’t say enough about them. We’re watching the team’s future and it’s exciting. There isn’t even a specific moment I want to put a video in for but they’re fast and fun to watch
  • And of course, honoring Patrik Elias: the Devils’ all-time leading scorer officially announced his retirement a little over a week ago and this last week of the season found him center ice. He dropped the puck against the Flyers, skated with the team on Friday, and had one last warmup skate on Saturday against the Islanders. It’s been one hell of a ride and I won’t ever forget what he meant to this team, to this organization, and to the fans. It was an honor to watch him play

And I’m sure there are moments that I’ve missed; if you think I forgot a pretty big one, let me know and I’ll add it in! The season itself wasn’t that great but there were moments that were.

New Jersey Devils: Offseason Expectations

It’s never too early to look at the upcoming season. It will be a big one for the New Jersey Devils and should set them up to make a playoff run in the upcoming 2017-18 season. If the past two summers under GM Ray Shero have been any indication, the Devils will make some key moves.

One of the biggest needs the Devils have is a top-pairing defenseman. The Devils’ defense this past season was kinda bad. Andy Greene took a step down but he can only do so much on his own. I think John Moore will be protected so he’ll stick around and if he can produce as much as he did offensively this season, he’ll be a valuable component going forward as will young defensemen Damon Severson (who needs a new contract), Steven Santini, Michael Kapla, and even Jon Merrill who had an improved year. I would much rather have them play over someone like Ben Lovejoy or Dalton Prout but the Devils need a top-tier, puck-moving defensemen. The obvious choice here is Kevin Shattenkirk, who was traded to the Capitals at the deadline. If he wins a Cup with them, he may opt to stay there, the Devils can offer him money and location. He grew in New York but the Rangers likely won’t have the money to sign him, which the Devils do. Signing with New Jersey would be awfully convenient for both parties. Justin Schultz is also available; he’s a fairly young, right-handed defenseman but he’ll be a restricted free agent (Pittsburgh doesn’t have any cap space).

As of today, April 14th, the Devils have approximately $9 million in cap space but they’ll have about $21 million in cap space next season. Only the Carolina Hurricanes have more cap space than New Jersey (they sit at about $16 million). They can make another Kyle Palmieri-type trade and acquire a player from a cap-strapped team. There are five teams without any cap space: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Arizona, and Calgary, and there are teams with very little: Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington. Again, Washington’s lack of cap space will play a role in whether or not Shattenkirk resigns with them. The Devils have the money to make at least one major deal this summer and they should finally use it.

In addition to the cap space, the Devils have 11 draft picks this summer and 20 over the next two years. Whether or not they use all of them remains to be seen but both drafts will have good players. The Devils have a first-rounder, two second-rounders, two third-rounders, two fourth-rounders, a fifth-rounder, two sixth-rounders, and a seventh-rounder. The draft lottery won’t take place until April 29th in Toronto but the Devils have an 8.5% chance of picking first but they’re guaranteed to pick no less than 8th. And as much as “experts” say that there’s no Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews in this year’s draft, they’re doing a disservice to the kids actually in this draft. They still have a lot to contribute, and late-round picks can turn out to be diamonds in the rough.

The Devils can use both their cap space and draft picks to make trades this summer, or sign a coveted free agent, or use every draft pick. Shero has already shown that he knows what he’s doing and that there’s a bigger picture to be looked at. Whatever happens and whatever he does seem like win-win situations to me.

In addition, Sherry Darling tweeted Adam Henrique Tuesday afternoon and said “I was mistaken about the player we discussed this morning. He has a year left. I’d trade for him.” Any guesses on who that could be?

They also have seven restricted free agents and a single, very important unrestricted free agent. Keith Kinkaid becomes a UFA this summer and both parties (he and the Devils’ management) have to decide what’s right for them. If Kinkaid decides to stay in New Jersey, is he okay with the role of backup goaltender? Or will he test free agency, and try and become a starter somewhere else? The Devils need a goaltender to expose (because there’s no way they’re exposing Cory Schneider) they would have to resign him in order to do so.

The Devils also have several restricted free agents in Damon Severson, Jacob Josefson, Beau Bennett, Stefan Noesen, Joseph Blandisi, Blake Coleman, and Ben Thomson. Severson has to be resigned; you can cite his +/- all you want but he is a damn good defenseman and he’s only 22. I’d like to see the Devils resign Bennett as well; he has really good puck possession numbers and if he can stay healthy, he can a good season offensively. I would also imagine the Devils resigning Blandisi (for obvious reasons) and Noesen. Both are young but have good chemistry with the team (re: Blandisi and John Quenneville, Noesen and Pavel Zacha) and are valuable building pieces going forward. Josefson has been with the Devils his entire career and I’d love to see him come back for sentimental reasons. Coleman and Thomson also looked decent in their Devils debuts this season but they remain question marks; they would likely remain in Albany (AHL) if they did resign.

And one of the not-as-important questions the Devils still have is whether or not they’ll sign Alexander Kerfoot, a 2012 draft pick out of Harvard, to an entry-level contract but in all likelihood, he’ll opt for free agency and eventually sign with the Canucks.

Coach John Hynes also hinted at some staff changes during his breakup day press conference so expect some shakeups over the summer; I would expect them to come mainly on the offensive side because the Devils have consistently had one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the NHL but I wouldn’t be surprised with a defensive shakeup either.

All-in-all, it’s going to be a very busy offseason for the Devils and I look forward to seeing what they have in store.

Albany Devils: Calder Cup Contenders?

Yes, yes they are. The Albany Devils (the New Jersey Devils’ AHL affiliate) officially clinched a spot in the playoffs last night with a 6-3 win over the Hartford (and a 7-2 Utica loss to Syracuse). They have made the playoffs three of the last four years, and will either play Toronto or Syracuse depending on where they finish in the division; if they remain the way they are, Albany will play Syracuse. They currently have a 38-31-2-3 record (81 points, .547 win percentage) with two games left. They will play Rochester tomorrow night and Saturday to close out the regular season.

Surprisingly enough, the team has 11 active rookies, including both goaltenders, who made their debuts this season and a good number of them spent time in New Jersey. John Quenneville, Blake Coleman, Nick Lappin, Kevin Rooney, Miles Wood, and Steven Santini all had time with the Devils (Wood and Santini more significantly so) but other rookies include Jan Mandat, Josh Jacobs, Austin Cangelosi, and goalies Mackenzie Blackwood and Ken Appleby.

Quenneville leads the team with 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists) in 58 games played; he got off to a slow start, as did buddy Joe Blandisi, but both found their grooves and were named AHL All-Stars (no one attended the game because of a stomach bug). Blandisi had seven goals and 16 assists (23) in just 29 games played; he spent a good portion of his season up in New Jersey.

Ben Sexton leads the team in goals with 19 but could reach 20 before the end of the season, as can Coleman (18) and possibly Blake Pietila (17). Quenneville has a team-leading 32 assists; Carter Camper has 27. Andrew MacWilliam has 100 PIM (!) while late NJ call-up has 88. Quenneville and Vojtech Mozik have nine power play goals apiece and Kevin Rooney has 4 (!) shorthanded goals to lead the team.

With goaltender Scott Wedgewood injured and out for the whole year, Blackwood and Appleby have really stepped up and led the team. Appleby even got a call up to the NHL to backup Cory Schneider for a game. Blackwood holds a 16-14-4 record with a 2.63 GAA, a .905 save %, and a pair of shutouts; Appleby has a 17-13-1 record with a 2.55 GAA and also a .905 save %. Both have split time in Albany, with Blackwood playing just four more games.

The Devils have been pretty good overall, even with their roster being decimated by New Jersey throughout the season. As of today, they have the 14th-ranked power play at 18.3% and the 6th-ranked penalty kill at 84%. They have scored 56 power play goals but have allowed 11 shorthanded and they have scored 10 of their own. The Devils have the 8th best power play at home (22.9%) but just the 16th best penalty kill (83%); in contrast, they have one of the worst (25th) power plays on the road (just 13.4%) but the 3rd best penalty kill at 85%.

A lot of new faces will get to play in the postseason for the first time; hopefully this year goes a lot better than last year’s. They defeated Utica in three games in the North Division semifinals but fell in seven games to divisional rival Toronto. It was a great series but the Marlies ultimately came out on top. A rematch this season would not be unlikely.

My 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Bracket(s)

I never make it past the first round but the Bracket Challenge is fun anyway. I make two brackets every year, one based on facts and statistics, and the other based on intuition. However, both brackets led to the same result: the Washington Capitals winning the Stanley Cup. I know, I know. I’ve joked about them not making it out of the second round for years and they may actually do it this time. I think they’re due for their first Cup in franchise history and Alexander Ovechkin needs a Cup on his already-impressive resume; they might actually have the team to do it.

This is my not-so-fun bracket (it’s called my boring bracket); it’s based on head-to-head matchups this season, any major injuries, etc. A few teams (Chicago, for example) won season series against their opponents 3-1-0, or 4-1-0 but every single matchup intrigues me. They should all be hard-fought and gritty series. I see Edmonton/San Jose going to a game 7 and possibly Pittsburgh/Columbus as well. In a dream world, Montreal beats New York in four games.

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I’m definitely looking more forward to those Western Conference matchups than the Eastern Conference ones, however.

And this is my fun bracket.

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I really, really like Calgary and I think they can go far too. San Jose has a few major injuries in Logan Couture and Joe Thornton but I think Edmonton has the edge here. I’d love to see Chicago get knocked out in the first round for the second year in a row, especially because I like what I’ve seen from Nashville and I think they can beat Chicago. I also like what I’ve seen from Minnesota and that series could go long and either way, but I’d love to see Tarasenko win a Cup soon. Edmonton/San Jose will probably be my favorite Western Conference series to watch.

As much as I don’t want New York to go far, they probably will because they have a knack for making it into the late rounds of the playoffs and falling apart. Boston looks good and I think they’ll beat Ottawa but fall to the Rangers. Ottawa seems like the least-ready for the playoffs to me. I also think people aren’t giving Toronto enough credit. I don’t think they’ll beat the Capitals but I think they’ll surprise people. At the end of the day, they’re a young team and they’ll get playoff experience. They’ll win a Cup soon enough. But my favorite Eastern Conference matchup is Pittsburgh and Columbus. I think Pittsburgh still holds an edge even with all of their injuries but it would be unwise to underestimate them in any capacity.

And with that said, I see Washington finally winning the Cup this year. Their team is poised to win so I guess we’ll find out. In all honesty, I’d love to see the Flames win, or a team that has never won a Cup (Minnesota, St. Louis, San Jose, Nashville, Columbus, and Washington). The fact that six teams in the playoffs have never won the Cup is astonishing but also amazing. And there are teams I definitely don’t want winning the Cup but I won’t divulge that information.

It’ll be a fun couple of months!

New Jersey Devils: Recapping the 2016-17 Season

The New Jersey Devils finish the 2016-17 season with a 28-40-14 record, accumulating just 70 points. They finished the season by winning just four games in their last 25. It was a rough season; they showed promise early on but had a miserable December campaign that really set them back. Inconsistent goaltending and the lack of a defense, plus scoring problems (yet again), kept them from even contending for a playoff spot within the last few months. They did show glimpses of hope and promise, but they ultimately could not find consistency and ended the season on a very, very low note.

They started the season on a Florida road trip, winning their first game in their home opener against Anaheim. They played a ton of close games within the first few months, including going to overtime about 14 times. As a side note, had the Devils won all 14 overtime losses depicted in their record, they’d be a lot better off although in the long run, they probably still wouldn’t have made the playoffs. They went 4-2-2 in the month of October, setting them up to start the season 9-3-3.

In November, they went 6-5-3, including 0-3-0 on their California road trip. Overall, they were 3-0-1 at home and 3-5-2 on the road. The Devils got off to one of their best starts at home in franchise history, picking up a point in every contest until their 4-1 loss to the Blues on December 9th. They went 8-0-2 in their 10 home games to start the season but lost that home ice advantage after losing to St. Louis. They went 8-17-6 at home the rest of the season.

The month of December was really bad for New Jersey. They went just 4-9-2 in 15 games played, including a 7-game losing streak in the middle of the month. Nothing seemed to click for them. They did lose Taylor Hall but hockey is a team sport. Had the Devils had a better December, maybe the season would have ended differently but then again, maybe not.

January was better: they went 7-5-2. Both overtime losses came against Edmonton. They picked up at least a point in every game on their Western Conference road trip, including winning three straight against Calgary, Vancouver, and Minnesota. Many of us thought that that road trip might be the turning point for the team but it was not. The Devils were much better on the road than at home, however. They went 8-0-1 up until their regulation loss to the Islanders in February, a streak that lasted the span of about two months. Had the Devils been as good at home as they were on the road, maybe things would have ended differently but then again, maybe not.

February seemed to end their playoff hopes but March effectively did. They had a home-heavy schedule in the first month, which should have worked to their advantage. Instead, they went 5-3-3 at The Rock and 1-1-0 on the road. March was even worse. They had a 10-game losing streak, starting with a 6-4 road loss to the Islanders (mentioned before) and did not win again until a month later, 6-2 against the Flyers at home. They only managed to win twice after that, both overtime wins against the Rangers and, you guessed it, the Flyers. They finished the season with just one win in their previous 10 games. They lost the last game at Joe Louis Arena (which I’m okay with, to be quite honest) to end the regular season.

Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid both got off to rough starts this season, and Schneider, especially, just didn’t look like the goaltender he has been. He and Kinkaid both did seem to find their footing in late December/early January and had been solid since then but their poor records say more about the team in front of them than they themselves. Schneider finished with a 20-27-11 record in 60 games played; he had a 2.82 goals against average and .908 save percentage, with a pair of shutouts. Statistically, he had the worst year of his career but he was still the backbone of this team and would have fared much better if had a better team in front of him.

Kinkaid finished with an 8-13-3 record, a 2.64 GAA, and .916 save %; he had a single shutout. He was playing for a new contract (he’ll officially be an unrestricted free agent this summer) and he looked pretty good to end the season.

Kyle Palmieri led the team in goals with 26, and he and Taylor Hall had a team-leading 53 points. Hall and Adam Henrique had 20 goals on the season (Hall played 10 fewer games due to injury). Hall also led the team in assists with 33 and shots on goal with 238; Travis Zajac (!) had 31 assists. Zajac had a revival of a year and I was really impressed with the way he played; he finished with 45 points (14 goals, 31 assists). That has a lot to do with the Hall-Zajac-Palmieri line that didn’t start the season together but spent a lot of time together and played really well. That’s a line that I desperately hope sticks around next season.

Defensemen John Moore and Damon Severson had career years, since we want to focus on the good things and not the bad. Moore tallied 12 goals (!) for the first time in his career; his previous career high was four. If he can keep up his offensive production next season (and actually play defense as well), he could continue to set career-highs. He did miss a significant amount of time with a concussion (looking at you, Tom Wilson) but he hasn’t missed a step since returning to the lineup.

I also can’t say enough about Damon Severson. He got a ton of slack from Devils fans this season (most of them cite his +/- rating) but he’s had a really good year too. Despite only scoring three goals, he racked up 28 assists and played 80 games this year. He had a solid year defensively and it’s easy to forget that he’s only 22. Yeah, so his +/- is one of the worst in the league, who cares? He put up career numbers and should be getting more ice time. He is going to be a really solid defenseman for the Devils in the years to come and he’ll continue to grow and learn; it’ll be great.

The defense as a whole, however, was tragically atrocious. They were just bad. Screening Cory and Keith was a recurring theme this year and I’ve lost count on how many times an opposing team scored because a Devils defenseman was screening their own goalie. None of them really know how to move the puck well; our fearless Captain, Andy Greene, took a step down this year too. But I really liked what I saw from Michael Kapla in the few games that he played and Steven Santini as well. Even Jon Merrill, who was ridiculed more than he deserved this year, saw a significant improvement in his defensive play, and while there is plenty of room to grow, he didn’t look bad, which isn’t something I can say about either Ben Lovejoy or Dalton Prout.

But the Devils had a lot of problems on offense too. They finished 28th in goals for (180) and 6th in goals against (241) which says a ton about both their offense and defense. They have consistently had one of the worst offenses in the league and even with the addition of Hall (who led the team virtually across the board in all sorts of offensive statistics), they finished close to the bottom in every category that matters. They averaged 2.20 goals for/game and took an average of 27.8 shots/game. They finished dead last in both goals for/game (2.22) and shots/game (24.4) in the league last season so there really wasn’t a huge improvement. They didn’t take enough shots and didn’t score enough goals. It’s not that complicated.

While Palmieri reached 26 goals (after scoring 30 last season), he now sits just one away from 100 in his career. He did hit the 100-assist mark. Henrique did not come close to his 30-goal mark and had one of the worst years of his career offensively. He played all 82 games for the first time but had just 40 points (20 and 20). He hasn’t had a point total this low since 2012-13, when he had 16 in 42 games with New Jersey. But I won’t harp on about him (there’ll be a separate post for that).

We saw the addition of plenty of rookies (and those who technically aren’t but can be considered rookies). We had our eyes on Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, and Steven Santini, who all made their NHL debuts at the end of last season. Zacha wasn’t a disappointment or a bust to me; he isn’t a Connor McDavid or an Auston Matthews, and he wasn’t advertised as such. He got off to a slow start but picked up the pace after he was scratched midway through the season. He finished with eight goals and 16 assists in 70 games played; he had five power play goals (!) and 13 power play points. If he can translate that power play success to even strength success, he’ll be dynamic in the years to come.

Miles Wood finished with eight goals and nine assists in 60 games played; he added a much-needed speed element to the Devils and had a couple breakaway goals. He also racked up 86 penalties in minutes (team lead) somehow and if that becomes his role on the team, I don’t know if I should complain. He does have a lot to learn (especially how to stay on his feet and maybe not fight as often) but he’ll be great too. Even his BC buddy Steven Santini had a good season since he was called up; he has a lot to learn too but he can easily become a Top 4-pairing defenseman and I want him to be.

We also saw buddies Joe Blandisi and John Quenneville spend time up in New Jersey and I hope both of them start next season with the team. They deserve to be up here more than anyone. Blandisi tallied three goals and nine assists in 27 games played, while Quenneville had a goal (his first career goal!) and three assists, including one on Blandisi’s overtime winner against the Rangers (I’m not shutting up about that any time soon). The Devils claimed Stefan Noesen off of waivers from the Ducks, and he scored six goals and a pair of assists this season. He could also become a key piece going forward (his chemistry with Zacha off the ice translates on the ice and we need more of that). We also got to see Blake Coleman (1-1-2), Nick Lappin (4-3-7), Michael Kapla, Kevin Rooney, and Ben Thomson. Even Ken Appleby was called up to backup Schneider for a game and he was just really happy to be there.

I definitely won’t blame Coach Hynes for the Devils’ underwhelming and disappointing performance this season. He can only do so much with the team in front of him and the team is the one to blame. I think he’s a great coach, and I like what he does and the way he thinks. The Devils will do well under him when they look different next season.

One of my favorite things about the team has always been the closeness. They are actually a team. There’s no bad blood. There are no locker room problems. They’re close on and off the ice. The chemistry is there. You can see it with Blandisi and Quenneville, Wood and Santini, Zacha and Noesen, all of the other guys who have spent a lot of time in Albany (AHL) together, and eventually down the road, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian.

But ultimately, the Devils failed to make the playoffs for the fifth straight season so it was a rough season. It was frustrating and disappointing, and definitely did not meet expectations. They should have made the playoffs or at the very least, been in the conversation until the very end. I would feel a little better if they had been in the Islanders’ or Lightning’s positions but they weren’t. They were eliminated a few weeks ago and it was not a fun time. There’s nothing left to do but look forward to the offseason; GM Ray Shero will make good moves. We have both the expansion draft and entry-level drafts to look forward to. The Devils have eight free agents this summer (and I’m sure they’ll look to acquire at least one from outside the organization) and as of today, they have 11 picks in this year’s entry-level draft. It should be a good summer and hopefully next season goes much, much better.