Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Pool Outlook for New Jersey

I don't think that the value of Taylor Hall to this New Jersey Devils team could be overstated, especially after taking home the Hart Trophy in last year's awards show.  Hall was huge in getting the Devils into the playoffs last year and when he went down with his knee injury this year, the good start that the Devils got off to was nothing more than a vague memory in the overall scheme of things, as the Devils finished 29th in the overall standings, 15th in the Eastern Conference.

For a lot of teams, losing their superstar leader is a hurdle that is left to the team's depth to make up for and this team, their depth is still fairly young and not quite up to speed for the rigors of the everyday grind in the NHL, especially when the opposition finally knows who you are.  There's no doubt that players like Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt or Will Butcher were now on other team's radar and their numbers certainly reflected that.

Still though, the Devils are still in the midst of a rebulding situation and their playoff run a year ago was a very positive reflection on the direction the team is going, albeit happened a little too early for some.  Nevertheless, the team is still going in the right direction and they will be an interesting case study for the 2019 season ahead, especially if they can get Hall back up to speed and 100% healthy again.

Given the direction that this team is going in, one may have assumed that this spot would have been reserved for Hall or Hischier, but an injury and a bit of a sophomore slump saw to it that it wasn't going to be the case, rather Kyle Palmieri had himself a decent season and led the Devils in pool scoring this year.  Palmieri finished 135th overall in scoring in the pool, scoring 27 goals and 50 points in 74 games played with the team and it also earned him an All-Star appearance, as an injury replacement for Hall.

The Devils didn't have a lot of scoring depth worthy of the hockey pool this season and that certainly led to their lack of wins and their placement, 29th overall in the league.  Five more forwards, including Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac, Taylor Hall, Blake Coleman and Jesper Bratt were all qualified enough to be in the top 200 in forward scoring, while three defensemen qualified for the top 100 at their position: Damon Severson, Will Butcher and Andy Greene.  Injuries and inconsistency didn't help the Devils in the crease this season, plus they dealt away their most reliable goalie at the deadline, Keith Kinkaid, as he was on an expiring contract and they wanted to get the assets for him.

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

With so many emerging rookies on the Devils roster in the 2018 season, it does make me weary about getting too high on them in the 2019 season. Sure, Taylor Hall and Keith Kinkaid did a lot of the heavy lifting in New Jersey this past season, but you can't turn away from the freshman contributions that they had as well. The sophomore curse can be a real thing and if any combination of their top rookies fall into that trap next season, they could be treading in some troubled waters next year. This Devils team could vie for a wild card spot next year, all things being equal, but I can also see them have a season of regression, only to rev the engines for 2020.

Indeed, there was a regression in there and as it has been touched on a lot already in this post, the injury to Taylor Hall was a huge reason for the team's fall from their playoff positioning the year before, but the sophomore seasons for a number of key players in Jersey didn't help either.  No one was likely going to predict that the fall was going to be as far as it was, but you just can't take into consideration the injury situation, no matter how injury prone Hall might be.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

When Will Butcher made the scene in the 2018 season, he came out with a pretty big bang of 44 points in 81 games and there was a significant drop off in 2019, going down to 30 points in 78 games, but the Devils power play wasn't as dangerous and teams knew that the Devils had new young players to key in on during certain situations.  It will be Butcher's goal next year to overcome those match-ups and bring his totals back up.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Taylor Hall 6.000 Andy Greene 5.000 Cory Schneider 6.000
Travis Zajac 5.750 Sami Vatanen 4.875 Mackenzie Blackwood 0.698
Kyle Palmieri 4.650 Damon Severson 4.167
Miles Wood 2.750 Steven Santini 1.417
Blake Coleman 1.800 Jeremy Davies 0.925
Nico Hischier 0.925 Colton White 0.728
Joey Anderson 0.925 Brian Strait 0.675
Michael McLeod 0.894
Brett Seney 0.758
Jesper Bratt 0.749
Nathan Bastian 0.728
Kevin Rooney 0.700

When it comes to the hockey pool draft, how excited are you going to be to take any New Jersey Devils?  Seven of their eight pool worthy players are signed on for next season already, which is a pretty good sign and then they would need some more depth to help their goalies get back into the hockey pool picture.  This will be an interesting summer for this team.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Currently, I have a 21-man roster above coming in well-below the salary cap floor and that includes their buyouts and recapture penalty, still needing $7.97 million to climb into the safe zone of the salary cap.  I can't see there being much of an issue getting up there, but they'll have to make it all work in the end.

Butcher is the only pool worthy player off the roster that needs to be signed and he's still young and should be qualified for restricted free agency, as soon as possible.   He'll likely command a decent pay raise, but it won't push them over the floor just yet.  Pavel Zacha and John Quenneville are also RFA roster players in need of deals this summer, while the UFA list is really unimpressive.

The Devils finished the season with 16 rookies or sophomores on their scoring list, meaning they all saw some time at one point or another in the 2019 season, so they tapped a lot of their talent to play and it didn't leave them with much we haven't seen just yet.  With that being said, it's somewhat difficult to find who will be stepping up as the guy next season, the one to watch, as we've seen a few of them and... meh!  Forward Michael McLeod has probably been mentioned here in a season previous and he'll still have his rookie status, only playing in 21 games this past season, he could get a full-time gig in 2020, if he applies himself to it.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

Well, the New Jersey Devils lucked right out again and moved up two spots in the draft lottery, winning it all and getting the 1st overall selection for the 2nd time in three years.  The scouts have been fairly unanimous throughout the whole season, as Jack Hughes has been the top prospect for the entire season and is the favourite to be the guy taken 1st overall, with the Devils winning the chance to get him.  I can't see the Devils raising eyebrows, albeit correctly, when they selected Nico Hischier a couple of years ago, but the addition of another top player is exciting for this club.

The Devils are poised to have three 1st overall selections in their lineup at the start of the 2020 season, assuming Hall can get healthy and they don't trade the pick away.  Health has to be the biggest concern for this team moving forward, as they have invested a lot into Hall and keeping their top players healthy, including their goalies, will be key to a return to the playoffs.  Most of their kids will be another year older and could be poised to breakout, but it still feels like it is a bit of a long gamble, but certainly the risks and rewards are equally high.  New Jersey can return to the competitive balance in 2020, but things have to fall in line for them, but you can say that for just about anyone nowadays.

No comments: