With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the New Jersey Devils .
P.K. Subban‘s tough season
The addition of Subban (via trade with the Nashville Predators) was one of the highlights of the Devils’ offseason. He is a big name, a superstar player, and even if he was starting to hit the downside of his career he was still an impact player as recently as last season.
Add in the fact he fit a huge need (a top-pairing defender) and that Devils gave up almost nothing of significance to get him, it seemed like a no-brainer move.
It just did not work out.
At least not for this season.
In his first year with the Devils Subban struggled through what is certainly the worst single-season performance of his career. Everything across the board for him is not only down, but is also pretty much at a career-low for him. A lot of things backfired for the Devils this season and did not go as planned, and Subban’s year is at the top of that list.
He is still signed for two more seasons at a salary cap hit of $9 million per season.
Nikita Gusev was exactly what they hoped he would be
This was the one big offseason move that worked as they hoped it would.
The Devils acquired Gusev as a restricted free agent from the Vegas Golden Knights and hoped he could provide some much-needed skill and production to their forward group. And he has.
At the time of the NHL’s pause Gusev is the Devils’ second-leading scorer (just one point back of Kyle Palmieri) and has already proven to be an outstanding playmaker.
Of the 334 forwards that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Gusev is 20th in the league in assists per 60 minutes (1.66) and sixth in the league in primary assists per 60 minutes (1.32). He has not only been the Devils’ best playmaker this season, he has been one of the best playmakers in the entire league. He only cost a couple of mid-round draft picks to acquire and has a very manageable $4.5 million salary cap hit through next season.
The end of the very brief Taylor Hall era
There were a lot of reasons for optimism this season for the Devils, from the drafting of Jack Hughes with the top pick, to the offseason additions of Subban, Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds. But one of the biggest reasons was the hopeful return of a healthy Taylor Hall.
Two years ago he was the league MVP and helped single-handedly carry the Devils to a playoff spot.
A year ago his season was decimated by injury, limiting him to just 33 games and the Devils just didn’t have the depth to overcome that.
Getting him back, plus all of the offseason additions, seemed as if it could have helped fix that.
The Devils didn’t do enough to solve their goaltending issues, Subban had a down year, Hughes struggled through some rookie growing pains, and the team itself just wasn’t anywhere near as good as it was expected to be. Their dismal start — driven by an inability to hold onto multi-goal leads early in the year — put them in a position where they had to make a decision on Hall. From the very beginning of the season there was uncertainty about his future with the team given his contract status as an unrestricted free agent after this season. The decision was eventually made to trade him to Arizona in December, igniting an in-season fire sale that also saw Andy Greene, Blake Coleman, and Simmonds all be sent elsewhere.
Hall ended up spending three-and-a-half years in New Jersey, and while he lived up to expectations the Devils were never able to consistently build something around him.
Cory Schneider‘s strong finish
It is not much, but it is worth at least mentioning the way Schneider returned to the Devils’ lineup in February and put together what was probably his best four-game stretch in years.
At his peak Schneider was one of the NHL’s best goalies and one of the most overlooked top-tier players. But things had started to fall apart for him the past couple of years.
The way he finished the season after returning to the lineup was a brief reminder of what he once was and a small bright spot in an otherwise dismal season for the Devils.