Monday, May 01, 2017

Pool Outlook for New Jersey

The New Jersey Devils were certainly one of those enigmatic teams on paper, as they had made some moves in the off-season last year, acquiring a top scoring forward for a steady defenseman, they still have a workhorse in net, but this team fell short, more often than not.

The Devils finished last in the Eastern Conference, but they were still relatively more competitive than some of the basement dwellers in the West, as they finished 27th overall in the league standings.  Their number one goalie put up some serious minutes, but his team couldn't string together much offense to help his cause and the games they managed to stay in for a while, they still lost in overtime, as they were third in overtime losses with 14.

On the ice, the Devils did lack a lot of depth, which certainly wasn't helping them, late on in the season.  They were one of the first teams in the East to fall out of playoff contention, thanks in large part to their lack of depth and once that was decided for them, the rest of the team really fell off the map.  The Devils went 1-7-2 in their last 10 games of the season, pretty well giving their opposition the two points for the win, whether they needed it or not.

Talk about a team that no one really had any faith in, except that someone knew that their number one goalie would eat a lot of minutes.  At the draft, the 25 teams only managed to pull nine players out of 350 taken and Cory Schneider was a 1st round pick, taken 20th overall, primarily through the amount of minutes he was projected to play and I can assure you, he played them.  The Devils were one out and one in at the Week Eight switch and then one out and no one in at the Week Seventeen switch.  The math works, as there was only eight players on the Devils that were left in the pool at the end of the season.  Even the trade deadline meant nothing to them.

It was a tight race for the top point-getter for the Devils, but thanks to a 26-goal campaign, forward Kyle Palmieri took the title with 53 points in 80 games.  Palmieri finished 94th overall in pool scoring, good enough to be a late 4th round pick in the draft, if it was re-done to those numbers.  Taylor Hall, the team's main off-season acquisition last summer, finished in the tie at 53 points, but only had a 20-goal season in 72 games, which had him ranked 100th overall.

After Palmieri and Hall, the Devils did have a few more pool-worthy forwards in Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri.  The drop off in scoring past those five was fairly steep and that's where the comment about the lack of depth comes from.  From the blueline, the Devils only had a pair worth noting in Damon Severson and John Moore, neither of which could hit the top half of top 100, so there was very little scoring from the back end.  Finally, Cory Schneider finished 11th in minutes played in the league, making 60 appearances, but he only managed 20 wins and 44 points, good enough for 27th among all goalies in pool scoring, 168th overall.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Playing as the underdog played right into the hands of this Devils organization and it looks like it will be a lot of the same again in the 2017 season.  This coming season's end result will have a lot resting on the shoulders of the youth that they infuse their roster with.  A few of their young defensemen have another year under their belts, which will be a big boost in front of Schneider.  Now, if they can get Adam Larsson to play like the position he was drafted in, back in 2011, this team could really start making some headway towards the playoffs.  Still, their offense leaves something to be desired, so don't jump ahead of their roster, on paper, anyways.  I still feel a lottery pick coming on for them next season.

Well, instead of waiting for Adam Larsson to come around, they were able to flip him for Taylor Hall last summer and that immediately changed the dynamic of the team, trying to infuse some extra scoring,  Still, that wasn't enough to make this team a whole lot better and they were certainly doomed for that lottery pick in the end.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Taylor Hall 6.000 John Moore 1.667 Cory Schneider 6.000
Travis Zajac 5.750
Michael Cammalleri 5.000
Kyle Palmieri 4.650
Adam Henrique 4.000
Devante Smith-Pelly 1.300 Andy Greene 5.000 Mackenzie Blackwood 0.678
Miles Wood 0.925 Ben Lovejoy 2.667 Ken Appleby 0.635
Michael McLeod 0.925 John Moore 1.667
Pavel Zacha 0.894 Dalton Prout 1.575
Nick Lappin 0.843 Jon Merrill 1.138
John Quenneville 0.812 Steven Santini 0.925
Nathan Bastian 0.734 Michael Kapla 0.925
Blake Speers 0.718 Yaroslav Dyblenko 0.843
Brandon Gignac 0.718 Joshua Jacobs 0.726
Ryan Kujawinski 0.693 Colton White 0.718
Brandon Baddock 0.673 Colby Sissons 0.663
Ryane Clowe 4.850

The table above represents the players with deals and they have been separated by the pool worthy players and then everyone else that currently holds a contract with the Devils.  As you can see, the Devils really lack depth in signed talent, ready for pool consumption next season, so it will be their mission to really add that scoring depth and they really need to shore up their defense in front of Schneider, before this team can really make some noise in the Eastern Conference.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

The Devils don't have any no-movement clauses in their stable to weigh them down anywhere, which does offer the team some flexibility at the expansion draft.  Looking at their team, their lack of depth at forward leads me to believe that they will be one of those teams that protects an extra defenseman, going 4F/4D/1G in their protection scheme.  The Devils could leave a lump of salary like Mike Cammalleri exposed and they could still lose a defenseman like Jon Merrill or Dalton Prout, depending on how the Golden Knights draft around.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Devils will still have Ryane Clowe on their books for one more season, but if anything, he will help the team reach the salary cap floor and even if they somehow made it to the cap ceiling in the 2018 season, he could hit the Long Term Injured Reserve and come off.

Restricted free agency will be the real key, with Damon Severson and Beau Bennett up for new deals this summer.  Severson is the only pool worthy free agent on their side, but Bennett does have some upside, if the Devils can find someone to play with him.  Back-up goalie Keith Kinkaid leads the parade of unrestricted free agents, but his numbers were also a good reflection of the team in front of him and he may not generate too much buzz.

The Devils are not exactly deep, when it comes to their youth, as there are some reports out there that their top prospect, 2016 1st rounder, Michael McLeod, may not be ready until the 2019 season.  New Jersey brought John Quenneville up to the bigs this season and he was able to play in 12 games this season, picking up 1 goal and 4 points and he, if anyone, is one to watch for next season, but the Devils won't exactly give much confidence in any young player in this off-season, leading up to the 2018 season.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

Well, these lucky sons of bitches were the winners of the draft lottery over the weekend, moving up from, potentially, the 5th overall pick to 1st overall and there isn't a spot in this organization that couldn't use touching up.  Nevertheless, they have the pick of the litter and there has been some debate in the final few weeks of the regular season, as to who the 1st pick could be.  The Devils may have stockpiled a bit down the middle in their youth movement, but I don't think that is any argument to not take Nolan Patrick with the pick, as he has been touted as the best player in this draft class for a while, he's a centre with lots of offensive upside and I think they'd have a much better time building around a franchise centre than a winger.

The Devils are still retooling and there isn't a lot to hang their hats on in their organization, past the 1st overall pick this summer.  Hall, Palmieri, Severson and Schneider do give the team a reasonable core group of players to start from, but some inconsistencies in their other pool worthy players continues to hurt this team.  Even if the Devils can insert their top pick into the lineup next season, there isn't enough evidence to suggest that this team will improve by leaps and bounds and will likely continue to suffer for lottery picks.  The blueline should be their biggest focus in the off-season and it will likely be the balance point between improvement and still being last in the Eastern Conference.
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