The New Jersey Devils will finish either seventh or eighth in the Metro, meaning they will miss the playoffs in the 2021-22 season. The Devils battled inconsistencies that prevented them from advancing beyond the bottom-tier teams in the Metropolitan Division.
The Metro is a talented division. If the New York Islanders did not get off to a slow start, it would be even tougher for the Devils to compete for a playoff spot with the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals. General manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald has another offseason of changes to make. The goal will be to help improve the Devils to help put them in a good position to get off to a good start and increase their chances of making the playoffs in 2022-23.
But for Devils fans interested in cheering on a playoff team, there are a few options to choose from. Do fans gravitate toward a franchise with a former Devil on its squad? Should Devils fans consider rooting for an organization in the Metro? Let’s take a look at three teams Devils fans should consider rooting for in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Devils have a defenseman in Dougie Hamilton that played for the Calgary Flames for three seasons. Flames forward Blake Coleman has spent playing time with New Jersey for over three years, and his club has emerged as the top team in the Pacific Division led by head coach Daryl Sutter.
Sutter has previous Cup-winning experience with one of the Flames’ competitors in the Pacific — the Los Angeles Kings. He coached two championship teams in Tinseltown during the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons. I understand if Devils fans are conflicted with rooting for him due to the Kings defeating the Devils in the Final to win their first Cup. However, the Kings did beat the Devils’ arch-rival, the New York Rangers, to win their second championship in three seasons. I’m sure there is a fair share of Devils fans who found the Rangers’ defeat in the 2014 Cup Final satisfying.
However, the Flames have an exciting lineup featuring Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Jacob Markstrom, in addition to Coleman. Tyler Toffoli, who is a member of the 2014 Cup-winning Kings team, has 18 points in 21 games since the trade that sent him from the Montreal Canadiens to the Flames. The Flames have an outstanding record in their last 25 games and are playing well at the right time. With Toffoli and Sutter’s championship experience, the Flames are a favorite to compete for the Stanley Cup in the 2022 playoffs.
The acquisition of playoff-tested goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has helped make the Minnesota Wild a competitor for the 2022 playoffs. Fleury and forward Mats Zuccarello played for the Penguins and Rangers, respectively. Their histories as members of teams in the Devils division may prevent some fans from supporting the Wild. However, the Wild are one of the hottest teams in the league and are competing with the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues for second place in the Central Division.
Besides Fleury and Zuccarello, the Wild have a good core of players in Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jared Spurgeon, Cam Talbot, Matt Dumba, and Ryan Hartman. Hockey fans will find out over the following two weeks if the Wild are capable of sustaining their momentum against playoff teams on their schedule. They will have their work cut out for them as they face off against the Penguins, Hurricanes, Capitals, Predators, Blues, Kings, Edmonton Oilers, and Dallas Stars.
With the depth the team has, the Wild are capable of being a worthy competitor in the Western Conference. They have an experienced group of goaltenders in Fleury and Talbot. The defense is led by Spurgeon and Dumba, and they have multiple players at forward, defense, and goaltending that are exciting to watch, which makes for entertaining playoff series. Fleury is one of the most likable players in the league, which should serve as motivation for fans to want to see him win another championship.
Claude Giroux, a former member of the Philadelphia Flyers, has a good chance of reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in his career. He is a part of a Florida Panthers team that contains Hart Trophy candidate Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Sam Reinhart. Giroux, like Fleury, is a popular player among hockey fans, and fans are supporting Giroux in the hopes that he wins his first championship.
The Panthers have a deep team, but they do not have much playoff success throughout their history. Despite being tied with the Hurricanes for the most points in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers have an underdog mentality. They have not won a playoff round since the 1995-96 season, which was their third season in the NHL. The 1995-96 year is the only season in which they won a postseason series, and they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, in which they lost to the Colorado Avalanche.
The Panthers are an easy team to rally behind due to their lack of playoff success and their deep roster. Giroux looks like he will fit in well with the rest of the team, too, as he has five assists in the four games he has played for them since the Panthers acquired him from the Flyers. If the Panthers are still in the postseason once Aaron Ekblad returns, he will add depth to a good defense. And they have an exciting offense that averages the most goals per game in the league, which will be challenging for many teams to defend against.
Devils fans have their share of teams to support in the 2022 playoffs. Former Devils players such as Coleman and Wayne Simmonds will participate in the postseason with the Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. Even though the Hurricanes are in the Metro, they are an exciting organization with a former Jack Adams Award-winning coach in Rod Brind’Amour. It will be interesting to watch during the postseason if an organization can win its first or second Stanley Cup in team history this year.