Following the New Jersey Devils since 1993, I was too young to remember the 1980s. Yet, I’m guessing the 2016-17 campaign ranks up there with those dark days. Not many thought these Devils would raise the Stanley Cup but the way the season concluded was in vast contrast to last.
The feel-good vibes at the end of 2016 were clear as day. Patrik Elias skates off into the sunset with a goal. Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri both registered 30-goal campaigns. Prospects on the farm were close to emerging.
The summer brought a productive draft. A blockbuster Taylor Hall trade. Plus, Cory Schneider was being mentioned as a serious Vezina Trophy contender.
What transpired during the season was brutal. A ledger of 28-40-14, 70 points, produced the worst record in the Eastern Conference and tied with the third-fewest points in the league. A lack of scoring, coupled with the departure of Adam Larsson, contributed to a minus-61 goal differential.
Below we take a look at what went right and wrong with the Devils in 2016-17.
The Devils’ lone All-Star representative had a solid initial season in the Garden State. Even missing ten games with an injury, the star left winger managed to tie for the team-lead with 53 points and notched 20 markers.
Despite a rough first half, Palmieri surged in the second half. The Devils right winger topped the squad with 26 tallies and tied for 53 points. Palmieri garnered a team-high 19 power play points.
A Great Start
Until about Nov. 15, the Devils looked like they would carry the good vibes from last season into a competitive run. Up to mid-November, the Devils were 9-3-3-0. A 0-3 west coast trip coupled with a knee injury to Hall throttled those hopes.
Playing the Flyers
If nothing else, the Devils beat up on one of their chief rivals and likely kept them from reaching the postseason in the process. The Devils were 4-1 against the Philadelphia Flyers. They outscored their turnpike foes by 15-6 and blanked them twice.
Calder Cup Playoffs
For the second consecutive season and third time in four years, the AHL Albany Devils qualified for the Calder Cup playoffs. At least 16 players spent time in both Albany and New Jersey this season. John Quenneville, Joseph Blandisi and Vojtech Mozik were all named AHL All-Stars. Had the parent club not essentially gutted the team in late February, the A-Devils could have won the North Division title. Holding on late and reaching the playoffs was an accomplishment nonetheless.
— Albany Devils (@AlbanyDevils) April 17, 2017
The Devils finished by only winning three of their final 24 contests. Twice against the Flyers and once versus the New York Rangers. As “good” of a “tank job” as those numbers would suggest, it still wasn’t enough for the Devils to increase their draft odds to their full potential. Maybe they can sign some more Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and increase their odds for the top pick next season.
Lack of Scoring
Even with the acquisition of Hall, the Devils and their 183 tallies ranked third worst in the league. If the Devils are to improve in this department, they need some of the big money guys like Michael Cammalleri to score and some of their prospects such as Pavel Zacha, to start scoring like some of the other major lottery picks around the circuit.
This area was the most perplexing for the Devils, who like to build their club from the net out. Chalk it up to frustration, but Cory Schneider looked far from the Vezina Trophy expectations heaped on him during the summer. Plus, it turns out Adam Larsson was more valuable than most gave him credit for. Allowing 244 goals and posting a minus-61 goal differential isn’t going to get the job done.
The Devils are a minimum three years away from competing for a playoff spot. After racking up multiple draft choices from dealing stopgap veterans, they’re going to need to be creative with the plethora of selections. If I were the Devils, I would double down on playing prospects regularly. Enough with the retreads and journeymen players. Your future players are the Quennevilles, Blake Colemans, Blake Pietilas, Miles Woods, Ben Thomsons and Steven Santinis of the world. If you’re not going to the playoffs, go young or go home.