Our New Jersey Devils 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
New Jersey finished last in the Metro Division with a 28-29-12 record and 68 points. The Devils were 25th in the league for goals for and 29th in the league for goals against. They had a -41 goal differential.
The team had two major storylines this season.
The first was the long anticipated trade of Taylor Hall, a pending UFA at the end of the year. After a lot of rumours he was finally traded to Arizona in December in exchange for a 2020 1st (Dawson Mercer), a 3rd in 2021 and three prospects. The Devils acquired Nathan Schnarr, Nick Merkeley and Kevin Bahl. Kevin “Baller” Bahl is a young defenseman who played for Canada in the World Juniors tournament in 2019-20. He actually was traded while at the team Canada camp before the tournament. And that nickname is phenomenal. The initial reaction was it was a bit of an underwhelming haul, but I think a mid-first round pick and three prospects is exactly what the New Jersey Devils needed. Good job on this one GM Ray Shero!
The second story line was was the changes in coaching and management. After the team lost seven straight, head coach John Hynes was fired. I had Nikita Gusev on my fantasy team because I thought he’d be a large contributor to the offense on the team and was pulling my hair out when Hynes was putting him on the fourth line. Needless to say I wasn’t surprised by this firing. Alain Nasreddine took over as interim head coach and the team eventually went 19-16-8 with him for the remainder of the season. General Manager Shero fired 13 days after Hynes. Bad job afterall on this Shero! Tom Fitzgerald, who was assistant GM took over as interim, and in the offseason would remove interim from his title. He stepped in as the next official General Manager for the team. Let’s take a quick look at some of the trades he made, which will make it obvious to see why they wanted to keep him around.
Fitzgerald realized that New Jersey could really benefit from selling at the deadline and so he began to move out whatever wasn’t bolted down. He traded away team Captain and veteran defenseman Andy Greene to the Islanders for David Quenneville and a 2021 2nd Round Pick. Blake Coleman was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 2020 1st (Shakir Mukhamadullin), and 2019 1st round pick Nolan Foote. Foote also played on the Canadian World Junior Championship team on the top line with Alexis Lafrenière and Joe Veleno. Foote is an amazing addition to the prospect pool, and this trade is unbelievable. They essentially got two first rounders for Blake Coleman. He also somehow convinced Buffalo to be a buyer at the deadline and traded them Wayne Simmonds for a 2021 5th. Fitzgerald also sent Sami Vatanen (while he was injured no less) to the Carolina Hurricanes and earned depth dman Frederik Claesson, prospect Janne Kuokkanen and a 2020 3rd (Nico Dawes).
I thought Nasreddine did a fairly good job with the team, especially since a lot of talent was traded away. However, Lindy Ruff was the next head coach and he brought along Mark Recchi as an assistant. Ruff seems a bit of an odd choice, having been out of the league for a bit of time. Maybe he’s got some new tricks though so we’ll have to wait and see on that.
At the draft Fitzgerald sent a talented prospect Joey Anderson’s rights to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Andreas Johnson. Love the move. Johnson was a cap casualty from the Leafs and should be able to slot in the top six in New Jersey. He also acquired Ryan Murray, another cap dump, from the Blue Jackets for a 2021 5th. Another solid trade to take advantage of the cap strapped teams.
On the free agent front I also like what he did. He brought in Dmitry Kulikov on a 1 year cheap deal, so could flip again at the deadline. He also brought in veteran successful goaltender Corey Crawford to backup Mackenzie Blackwood. There must always now be a Corey in the house in New Jersey. And with Cory Schneider getting bought out, it was good timing. But I think Fitzgerald needs to do a little more here before kicking his feet up.
The Devils have a lot of cap space left. As in $17.1 million. Sure Jesper Bratt and Mackenzie Blackwood both need contracts, but Fitzgerald should still be able to benefit from some more teams up against the salary cap after signing them both. Fitzgerald needs to utilize that cap space and take on a bad contract or two and gain some additional picks or prospects. I believe he will and honestly its refreshing to see a General Manager commit so hard to a rebuild and do everything they can to develop the young talent of the team while still managing to ice a non-tank quality squad.
- Ryan Murray
- Dmitry Kulikov
- Andreas Johnsson
- Corey Schneider (Waived and bought out)
- Joey Anderson
- Mirco Mueller
- Frederick Claesson
- Matt Tennyson
New Jersey Devils Roster Preview
The loss of Hall and Coleman will definitely hurt, but the team has some offense left in it. A brand new head coach could mean brand new line combinations too. Lindy Ruff will likely look at the top performers first. Kyle Palmieri had 25 goals and 20 assists. Nikita Gusev had a slow start, thanks Hynes, but really seemed to pick up under Nasreddine. He ended up second on the team in points after Palmieri with 13 goals and 31 assists. Nico Hischier missed a little time but continues to show he’s a valuable key piece to the team moving forward at both ends of the ice and ended up with 36 points in 58 games.
A line of Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri had some good chemistry throughout the year and I think that is the likely first line. However, Andreas Johnsson and Nikita Gusev could take one of those spots. Jack Hughes had a very whelming first season with 21 points in 61 games, showing he still needs some time to develop into his potential. He’ll likely continue to get some sheltered minutes.
Long time Devil Travis Zajac is on the last year of his contract. The 35 year old is currently sitting at 991 games played and will likely centre the third line still, unless he’s bumped down by a younger player. The second half of the lineup is rounded out by Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, Jesper Boqvist and Michael McLeod (another team Canada World Junior Championship player). We might even see Nolan Foote or Janne Koukkanen jump into the mix.
PK Subban did not play how Devils fans were hoping he would. His points per game more than halved. In his last season with Nashville, granted a better team, he earned 31 points in 63 games, and in New Jersey he earned 18 points in 68 games. However, in New Jersey he got more defensive zone starts and a little less average powerplay time per game. Regardless of a poor season, he will still likely be counted on to play a lot of minutes for the team in this upcoming season. He saw a lot of different pairing combinations last season and played a lot with Andy Greene. As a right handed defenseman he’ll either play with newcomer Ryan Murray or Will Butcher. If Murray can stay healthy, which is something he has had a hard time doing, he could really help out this defensive corps. Butcher had a bit of a down season and will be looking to bounce back
Damon Severson had a great season and is probably the teams most effective defenseman on the team. He will play on another unit with whoever doesn’t play with Subban.
Dmitry Kulikov will provide some stability on the third pairing and could see Ty Smith make his debut. They’ve got a bit of a logjam here for the sixth and seventh spot as Connor Carrick, Josh Jacobs and Colton White are also in the mix.
The Devils also signed NCAA prospect Reilly Walsh who they are hoping is the next Adam Fox. He could make the jump, or Kevin Bahl could. They probably won’t though and will see some additional time developing in the AHL.
Mackenzie Blackwood showed he was the starter the team needed. In 47 games he had a .915 save percentage and a 2.77 GAA. You have to remember just how bad the team was and how talented the other teams were in their division to see the extreme high quality of his play. He actually earned 6 votes for Calder Trophy for best rookie of the year. Plus he’s an absolute warrior.
Cory Schneider on the same team had a .887 and a 3.53 GAA. Blackwood is still an RFA, but he will definitely get paid, and should be the starter for quite some time. With Corey Crawford coming in to backup, the team should be solid in the goaltending department.
New Jersey Devils 2020-2021 Prediction
7th-8th East Division
They have a great new young core developing here and need to rebuild a few more years before they can truly compete in the stacked Metro. They are poised to elevate right as teams like Washington and Pittsburgh are exiting their cup windows, but for now will remain at the bottom of the division unless they really surprise us this year.
That concludes our New Jersey Devils 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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