They aren’t yet mathematically eliminated, but the sun is certainly setting on the New Jersey Devils season, a season that was better than a lot of us anticipated and a season that was (hopefully) a first step in the right direction to rebuild/retool/reboot this franchise. With 82 points they have already surpassed last season’s total (78) and with five games left there are still some important and interesting questions left to be answered.
If not for a losing skid at the worst possible time — 1-6-0 from February 16-March 1 and a mystery season-ending wrist/hand injury to their leading scorer Mike Cammalleri (38 points in 42 games) on January 26 — things may have been different in New Jersey during the 2015-16 season, but it was still a step in the right direction for the team. GM Ray Shero has been on the job for just about 11 months and his overall evaluation of the holdover players and prospects from the previous regime should be just about done; expect the Devils to be an active team this summer with a lot of expiring contracts and draft picks on the horizon.
Here are five reasons Devils’ fans should be paying attention to the final five games of the season, whether or not they make the playoffs as an extreme long shot or not. If you have any others feel free to leave them in the comments section below.
5. Will Tuomo Ruutu record his first point of the season?
Ruutu has played the most games (32) this season of any NHL player that has yet to record a single point. His season has been full of stops and starts due to injuries mostly, but he has also been a very expensive fourth line player, despite the fact the Carolina Hurricanes are paying part of his salary still. With only 21 points (10 goals and 11 assists) in his 128 games with New Jersey, it would be a major surprise if the pending unrestricted free agent is back in red and black next season.
4. Will we see Patrik Elias’ last game as a Devil/NHLer?
After winning two Stanley Cups, playing in 1,237 games and scoring 1,022 points — all with the Devils — is this the end of the road for the franchise’s all-time leading scorer? This season, the soon-to-be 40-year-old has only skated in 13 games (none since December) due to various lower body injuries, and finally made it back to a team practice on March 30. He likely won’t play in either of the two road games, but the regular season ends with three home games at Prudential Center aka a perfect way for the fans to (possibly) say ‘Thank-You Pat-rik!’ one more time. Our guess is that he suits up for the final two games on April 7 and 9; Elias will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
A great highlight package of a handful of Elias’ 408 career NHL goals, all with the Devils:
3. Will Kyle Palmieri reach the 30 -goal plateau?
Palmieri is one of four Devils (Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, Stephen Gionta) to play in every game this season and he has a career-high 29 goals with five games left. Unless Adam Henrique goes on a crazy tear it appears that Palmieri will lead the team in points and goals, and he’s three assists away from tying Travis Zajac for the team lead. All of his totals are career highs this season, including his 11 power play goals. Aside from their starting goalie, Palmieri has been the team’s MVP; not bad for a guy acquired from the Anaheim Ducks this past June at the NHL Draft for a pair of draft picks.
2. More experience for the kids.
A lot of potential future New Jersey Devils saw some time with the NHL club this season — Joe Blandisi, Sergey Kalinin, Blake Pietila, Vojtech Mozik and Scott Wedgewood all made their NHL debuts while Reid Boucher, Mike Sislo, David Warsofsky and Seth Helgeson all saw significant time at one point or another. All of these young players gained valuable experience at the highest level and it will be interesting to see how hard they compete over the final five games.
Joe Blandisi shows a glimpse of what he’s capable of with a great goal for the Devils vs the Rangers:
Most if not all of these players will be joining the Albany Devils for the AHL playoffs once the NHL season ends, where they will be able to continue their development while continuing to get comfortable in the new regime’s system. Some of them may get sent to the AHL before the season ends if some injured players return, but they already have made some good impressions in New Jersey.
1. How is Cory Schneider’s right knee?
After going down with a right knee sprain on March 4 in Dallas, many didn’t think Schneider would suit up again for the Devils this season — but the all-star netminder battled through his rehab and was activated on March 30 before the team took off for Florida to embark on its final road trip of the season. Best guess is that he starts four of the final five games, which will be very important just for the piece of mind that he can go into the offseason with if there are no lingering issues related to the sprain.
It will also be as shorter than normal summer for Schneider, who will be representing Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey tournament in September. If the Devils are to make the postseason for the first time since 2012 next season, they will need to rely on a healthy, franchise goalie for at least 65-70 games.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.