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.

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