The New Jersey Devils are looking to recreate the energy found a season ago as they prepare to be playoff contenders once again in the 2023-24 NHL season.
Apart from a few minor transactions throughout the summer, the Devils return with a largely intact group of young skaters filled with elite talent across the board. Their most significant addition this past summer comes via a trade for goal-scoring right wing, Tyler Toffoli.
Despite keeping the group together and the camaraderie alive, ‘Jersey’s return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs is by no means guaranteed.
Fierce opponents like the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers made some noteworthy adjustments during the offseason, stocking up on veterans and big free agents to make their own respective runs at the Stanley Cup in the 2023-24 NHL season.
What makes this upcoming season that much more significant is that General Manager, Tom Fitzgerald, is faced with a critical decision regarding the future of his team that will dictate whether their success lasts for the short term or the long term.
Are the New Jersey Devils currently in a position to go all-in this year?
In order to answer this question, three components of the team need to be evaluated.
First, and foremost, do the Devils have their core group of players for the future? Offensively, there’s no doubt that they boast one of the stronger top-six forward units in the NHL.
On defense, already headlined by Dougie Hamilton and John Marino, Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec are poised to be the featured duo on the blue line for many years to come.
However, beyond this point, it may be wise to spend another year or two stocking up defensemen and goaltender prospects while they have the chance to do so.
When you push the “win now” button, all bets are off and the time for preparation is over. Therefore, it’s best to take advantage of the time while you have it.
That being said, in order to ensure the future success of the New Jersey Devils, it’s non-negotiable that the success of the farm team, the Utica Comets, is just as important as the success of the NHL franchise.
The reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning have dominated in years past is due to having an efficient stock of young talent that can fill in at any time.
Second, does Tom Fitzgerald have enough prospects and draft stock in reserve to keep the team stocked with young talent? In other words, do the Devils have enough trade bait to be a serious ‘Cup contender?
New Jersey has, historically, never been one to trade high draft picks for proven players. However, simply look at Pittsburgh or the Chicago Blackhawks and you’ll find that, when “the window” to win a championship is closing, GMs will do just about anything to delay the inevitable.
Third, and most important of all, do the Devils have a champion as their head coach? It’s easy to forget the start of the 2022-23 season, especially after the team set a franchise record of 52 wins when the first week for New Jersey was full of boos and distasteful chants calling for the head of Lindy Ruff.
While a contract extension is currently in the works between head coach Lindy Ruff and the front office, seeking to extend him for “years to come”, it takes more than one, albeit magical, season to convince diehard fans that Ruff is the guy who can be trusted to bring the Stanley Cup back to ‘Jersey.
Given these circumstances, there is little to gain from shifting their focus to winning championships now, as there are still a few more areas Fitzgerland can fine-tune before then.
These kinks must be worked out now because once the executive decision calls for the all-out effort to win, regardless of cost, the effects are irreversible.
Until then, the New Jersey Devils will remain strong playoff contenders, but fall just short of being true Stanley Cup contenders in the 2023-24 NHL season.