Where did it all go wrong for the New Jersey Devils this season?

The New Jersey Devils will miss the playoffs after a record-setting year last season. Let's take a look at the things that went wrong in what was supposed to be a contending season.
Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils
Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils / Elsa/GettyImages

Entering last weekend the New Jersey Devils had less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs. They were officially eliminated on Tuesday following a regulation loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, plus the results of other games.

No one in Jersey imagined this after a franchise record season last year that ended with the team winning their first playoff series since 2012.

The most interesting news of the day was when the team announced Jack Hughes would be getting season-ending shoulder surgery the morning before the game against Toronto. It was the latest addition to a long list of things that have gone wrong for the team this year.

It also felt like the final “white flag” that the team itself knew the playoffs had slipped away and, for lack of a better way of saying it, they would stop trying to make said playoffs.

The New Jersey Devils have to pick up the pieces this off-season

Where did it all go wrong for New Jersey in what was their most anticipated season in recent memory? It’s hard to pinpoint an exact time. The Devils were as close to being two points of out a playoff spot following their victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in this year’s Stadium Series game.

The front office sent mixed signals at the trade deadline. Selling off prized offseason acquisition Tyler Toffoli was a seller’s move, yet general manager Tom Fitzgerald upgraded in the crease by acquiring Jake Allen from the Montreal Canadiens and shipping off a struggling Vitek Vanecek to the San Jose Sharks.

Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes both had lengthy stints on the injured list. Hughes landed there twice and limped through the second half of the season before a surgery announcement, although he continued at a high level of play.

Timo Meier got off to a dreadful start and landed on the injured list as well. Over the last third or so of the season, he has become a force to be reckoned with and looked like his old self.

Since the March 5th game against the Florida Panthers, Meier has 11 goals and eight assists in 19 games. That’s the type of production the Devils hope to see out of him next season.

Speaking of that March 5th loss against Florida, that was the Devils' first game with interim head coach Travis Green. The Devils perhaps waited too long to fire Lindy Ruff in hopes of a mid-season turnaround.

Ruff was a reigning Jack Adams finalist so likely had a longer leash and more job security than fans wanted him to have. Green has a 7-10-1 record as interim head coach following Tuesday’s loss.

Even if it’s hard to pinpoint the exact time things went wrong, we can pinpoint a specific reason. Well, this at least is a reason we can blame more than others. The team’s goaltending was unacceptable for most of the year.

Every time you thought the net minders might have turned a corner, it proved to be nothing more than a mirage as they returned toward futility. Jake Allen gave them hope with his strong post-deadline play. Trade a few weeks of Vitek Vanecek starts for Jake Allen and the Devils easily make the playoffs.

The Devils couldn’t get Jake Allen any earlier than they did because he refused to waive his no-trade clause.

The Devils kept pursuing Jacob Markstrom from the Calgary Flames, but the Flames wouldn’t sell in hopes they could make a surprising playoff run. All that wasted time chasing a goal while Vanecek and company underperformed in the net might just be what the Devils are in.

The teams seemed to think the playoffs were a goal worth chasing until the announcement of Hughes's injury.

Without Hughes, they knew their season was good as over. Why delay the inevitable anymore when Hughes could get his surgery for a healthier start and hope for a better next year? Despite their inconsistencies and other problems, every action up to the announcement seemed to say “we’re going to give this a fighting chance”. That’s an optimistic, or frustrating, mindset for fans.