NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The days of the New Jersey Devils being a permanent fixture in the Stanley Cup playoffs are long gone.
The postseason drought reached four years in John Hynes’ just concluded first season as coach. While the Devils were more competitive, they are still lacking key ingredients, the biggest being a superstar to carry the team.
Goaltender Cory Schneider is clearly the best player on the team that went 38-36-8, a six-point improvement from the previous season.
The relatively young defense was solid with the top pair of captain Andy Greene and Adam Larsson leading the way. The offense again is lacking despite having 30-goal scorers in Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri. It scored a league-low 184 goals.
“I think the expectations were quite low and I thought for the most part we came out and defied those. We stuck to our expectations and not anyone else,” Schneider said. “It was a step in the right direction but not the ultimate goal we wanted to achieve.”
What the Devils did in Ray Shero’s first season as general manager was changed the face of the club. It became a lot younger with the addition of Reid Boucher, Joseph Blandisi, Sergey Kalinin and Devante Smith-Pelly.
The team speed increased and there was an enthusiasm as players brought into Hynes’ system.
“The last couple years you haven’t left here with a good feeling,” veteran center Travis Zajac said. “That’s something we wanted to change this year, whether we made the playoffs or not. We wanted to leave this season feeling good about this group and our game.”
Looking back on the season, Zajac felt the Devils set the foundation for the future, playing an aggressive style that pressured the opposing players with the puck.
“We’re a quick team,” Hynes said. “We beat Pittsburgh. Washington’s a good team and we were neck and neck with them. I think we have pretty good team speed. Would we like to add some speed and some talent and some offensive players who can put the puck in the net? For sure. But I think if you look at our team in general, we’ve hung with most of the faster teams in the league pretty well.”
The problem has been the scoring.
There could be some immediate help next season. Pavel Zacha, the sixth pick overall in last year’s draft, was very impressive in his NHL debut in the season finale against the Maple Leafs. He picked up two assists and had a couple of great scoring chances.
If Mike Cammalleri can stay healthy, that’s another scorer. He had 14 goals in 42 games.
New Jersey also could get either another scorer or a puck-carrying defenseman with a top 10 pick in the draft.
“There’s been some times where there’s been some key games or some key situations that we didn’t come through, whether to get ourselves into that playoff hunt or stay in that playoff hunt,” Hynes said. “I think that was probably indicative of our season just in the sense of there was a lot of good, but we have to get over that hump; that’s the difference between winning and losing.”
Shero has some decisions to make on his unrestricted free agents, the biggest one involving soon-to-be 40-year-old Patrik Elias. The team’s all-time leading scorer missed most of the season with a knee injury. Defenseman David Schlemko also is unrestricted and played well.