Objectively, it’s hard to argue that this was a good season for the New Jersey Devils.
The club is out of playoff contention, trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets by 21 points as of press time and sitting at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. They’re currently third from the floor in the Eastern Conference, with only the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings coming up with worse showings this season.
Yet as general manager Ray Shero sat down with Deb Placey for the 10th episode of the “NHL Executive Suite” podcast, there was a sense that this wasn’t a lost season. In fact, the GM wouldn’t even say that 2018-2019 was a disappointment.
At the outset, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
The Devils have fallen prey to atrocious goaltending and injuries this season and it’s hard to imagine a silver lining given how much has gone wrong.
Goalie Cory Schneider was one of the major issues. He was among the worst goaltenders – possibly the worst players – in the league for a long stretch of time since the Devils exited the post-season last time around. The 33-year-old has just five wins this season in 19 starts, with a .901 save percentage and a 3.13 goals against average.
When you consider Schneider’s career mark of 2.39, that’s kind of a big deal.
And Taylor Hall’s been out since December. He had knee surgery at the end of February, which finally answered some questions about what on earth was wrong with him.
Some players made an exit. Keith Kinkaid was traded, along with Ben Lovejoy, Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle.
And a lot of other players had missteps in the Garden State, too. Pavel Zacha looked less confident and skaters like Stefan Noesen glided through second-rate campaigns. Noesen is supposed to be better than his eight points in 34 games suggests. Ditto for John Quenneville, who has just a point in 18 games.
The good news came in the form of Nico Hischier, who has 44 points in 62 games and looks ready to emerge as one of the team’s best. The 20-year-old’s sophomore season is as impressive as his 52-point debut, but the first overall pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has to have some support outside of Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.
Luckily, Damon Severson and Blake Coleman also had good years. Coleman has 21 goals in 60 games this season and he’s been a quality player on the penalty kill, which gives the Devils options.
But in the end, it’s a season of discontent for the Devils. It’s clear that Shero is trying to put a good face on the end result, but it’s also clear that nobody likes to occupy the league’s basement. At least New Jersey has a future, however, and that may be worth a lot – especially as Shero tries to sign Hall to a much-anticipated contract extension.