For the better part of the last decade, the New Jersey Devils have been one of the poorer teams in the NHL, and even in a year where it felt like there could be a few reasons for excitement, the club once again seems destined to miss the postseason.
After adding players like Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, and Jonathan Bernier in the offseason, it felt, at least to me, as though the Devils had the potential to make massive improvements defensively, and therefore in the standings.
That has been anything but the case, however, as New Jersey is positioned above only the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division, though the Isles have a better point percentage than the Devils. New Jersey has not finished higher than fifth in its division since the 2011-2012 campaign when a fourth-place finish eventually propelled the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final.
That trip to the Final marks the last time that New Jersey won a playoff series. The team has qualified once since then, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round in 2018. Yet, the annual arrival at the bottom of the standings comes in spite of the fact that the Devils have made efforts to improve.
New Jersey has had five top ten selections in the NHL Draft since 2015, including the number one overall pick on two occasions, which would, ideally, yield enough talent to pull a team out of a rut. The club also saw forward Taylor Hall win MVP in 2018 as a member of the Devils.
Unfortunately, offseason acquisitions have not yet been any more impactful than drafted players. Guys like P.K. Subban, Marcus Johansson, and those listed in the opening paragraphs, have come in, had varying levels of individual success, and equal amounts of team failures.
Why do the Devils continue to struggle?
The key issue for the Devils seems to be goaltending. Bernier, who I thought could temporarily solidify the position for New Jersey, has posted a 3.06 goals against average and a .902 save percentage in only ten appearances so far this year. Moreover, in the time since legendary goalie Martin Brodeur left the team in 2014, the Devils have seen 16 players suit up between the pipes. Only three of those players have recorded a save percentage higher than .910 during their tenure with the team.
In terms of team defense, only the Seattle Kraken have conceded more goals this season than the Devils. That falls right in line with the last three seasons, when New Jersey owned the sixth (2018-2019), third (2019-2020), and fourth (2020-2021) worst defenses in the NHL. Clearly, keeping the puck out of their own net has been an ongoing problem and perhaps the biggest reason that the Devils seem destined to underachieve season after season.
Personally, I had picked the Devils to qualify for the playoffs in 2022, so seeing that they once again are struggling to stay afloat is disappointing. The defensive woes have not been suppressed, and until the goaltending is fixed, losses will continue to pile up in New Jersey.
In fact, this team is beginning to remind me of the Philadelphia Flyers in the sense that overwhelming defensive deficiencies restrain the team as a whole from finding success. Both teams have offensive firepower and capable players on defense, but lackluster goaltending has been crippling.
If one goalie could turn the tide, is this an easy fix or a difficult fix? Perhaps one player could change the Devils’ fortunes, but that player may not be easy to find. Either way, something needs to change, and in the meantime, 2022 does not appear to be New Jersey’s year.