While the New Jersey Devils struggled on the ice over the last decade, there were also a number of players who didn’t meet expectations once the calendar struck 2010.
Yes, New Jersey witnessed a few draft picks and free agents who were arguably labeled busts, but let’s revisit three underachieving Devils from the past decade.
After winning three Stanley Cup championships and producing a handful of Hockey Hall of Famers, New Jersey’s former general manager Lou Lamoriello signed plenty of regrettable free agents. It seemed that the legendary GM fell into a trap of signing aging veterans who were well past their primes and for an unreasonable price.
Look no further than in 2013-14 when forward Michael Ryder signed a two-year deal worth $7 million. While the Devils were left stranded without a pure goal scorer after Ilya Kovalchuk infamously retired from the NHL that offseason, New Jersey ended up with one of its most underachieving players in recent memory in Ryder.
The 1998 eighth-round draft pick portrayed a commendable NHL career from 2003-04 up until he joined New Jersey. He established himself as a consistent point-producer with the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars after recording numerous campaigns with 50 or more points.
Ryder’s first season in New Jersey entailed minimal positive highlights, and No. 17 only recorded 34 points in 82 games played. The right-handed shot also found the back of the net once during the team’s final 12 games of another playoff-less season.
Ryder’s end to 2013-14 foreshadowed what was next for him and the Devils following that first season. The expected goal-scorer appeared miserable, slow and found himself out of the lineup often with vague injuries or as a healthy scratch. The former Canadiens skater netted 6 goals in 47 games played and it was apparent he could no longer compete at the NHL level.
The hope was that Ryder could have at least been a 25-goal scorer in New Jersey given the prime opportunity and ice time that was originally presented to him. Instead, Ryder’s tenure in New Jersey marked the end of his NHL career.
Former NHL defenseman Henrik Tallinder is remembered most for being a solid two-way defenseman with the Buffalo Sabres for eight seasons. However, the Swedish native’s tenure in New Jersey was forgettable after he underachieved in a Devils sweater from 2010-11 until 2012-13.
The standards were high for Tallinder when he signed a four-year contract worth $13.5 million during the 2010 offseason. Why?
The Devils weren’t a team that normally inked notable free-agent blueliners, and recently let defenseman Paul Martin walk via unrestricted free agency that same offseason. It seemed that Tallinder was New Jersey’s way of filling the void that was created after Martin’s departure and it was a failed attempt.
While Tallinder skated in all 82 regular-season games in 2010-11, his performance level on the ice wasn’t appreciated by the fans. Tallinder’s start to his Devils career was forgettable from day one.
New Jersey suffered one of its worst starts in franchise history that season, after earning just two wins through the first 10 games. Tallinder didn’t seem to fit in with the group and it didn’t help that he experienced top playing minutes on a dreadful Devils team that first half of the 2010-11 campaign.
The Devils missed the Stanley Cup playoffs that season for the first time since 1995-96, and No. 7 later struggled with injuries which forced him to miss more than half the season in 2011-12. The veteran blueliner set a new career-low that season when he finished the campaign with a minus-11 rating. Let’s not forget that Tallinder only dressed in three games during the team’s memorable Stanley Cup run that postseason and his 2012-13 season was the icing on the cake.
The 1997 second-round draft pick skated in 25 games during the shortened 2012-13 season, and Tallinder was then traded back to Buffalo in the offseason. New Jersey hasn’t inked a notable UFA defenseman since Tallinder’s departure.
After selecting defenseman Adam Larsson with the fourth-overall-selection at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, it seemed that New Jersey acquired another future asset at the following draft and on offense.
The Devils drafted forward Stefan Matteau with the 29th pick in 2012, and expectations were high on the big-bodied winger, especially considering that his father, Stephane Matteau, scored the notorious Game 7 overtime winning goal against New Jersey in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final.
Matteau was a disappointment from puck drop in the Garden State. The former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League skater was often a healthy scratch in parts of three seasons with New Jersey, and compiled a dreadful five points in 44 career games in a Devils sweater.
The organization never seemed satisfied with Matteau’s attitude and it was evident that the youngster wanted out of Jersey. Considering that the Devils already experienced big-time draft busts such as Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson, there was hope New Jersey learned a lesson with its draft selections and that Matteau would erase the team’s recent prospect woes.
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It’s fair to say that Matteau was a bigger bust and underachiever compared to both Josefson and Tedenby and without even looking at his poor statistics. New Jersey later traded Matteau at the 2015-16 NHL trade deadline to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Devante Smith-Pelley.
Matteau didn’t see NHL action in 2016-17 and experienced limited time with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights the following season. Since 2017-18 the 6-foot-2 forward has dressed in nine NHL games (Columbus Blue Jackets) and appears he’s destined to retire sooner rather than later.
Given the players that the Devils signed or drafted over the last decade, it shouldn’t be a surprise on why the team has struggled to achieve consistency in the standings.
Kyle McKenna is a social media specialist & freelancer who also covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Fansided & Hooked On Hockey Magazine.