What Went Wrong: 2020-21 New Jersey Devils

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As the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach, NHL teams will start getting mathematically eliminated from contention. PHT’s “What Went Wrong” series aims to analyze why each team missed the playoffs. The “What Went Wrong” series continues with the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils.

In this “What Went Wrong?” series, hockey fans will encounter enough shattered dreams to summon Goldust. Teams with playoff expectations — sometimes dreams of deep runs — instead encountered nightmares during the 2020-21 seasons. Some of these posts could very well serve as preludes to coaches and other people getting fired.

And perhaps there might be some shuffling in the Devils’ front office after the team rarely gestured toward a run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But, aside from the most daring Devils dreamers, just about everyone expected a season like this. Sure, it would have been fun to sort of stumble into a playoff run, much like Taylor Hall helped them do when he won a Hart Trophy. In the grand scheme of things, the Devils likely viewed 2020-21 as a bridge to (hopefully) better future seasons. Getting a blue-chipper in the 2021 NHL Draft wouldn’t hurt that process, either.

(Note: full season Devils stats from before the action on Saturday, May 1.)

What went wrong before the 2020-21 season

Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Devils approached a fork in the road. (Perhaps it would be a pitchfork or trident, if we’re leaning into the Devils theming.)

Instead of taking the road to contending after splashy moves for the likes of P.K. Subban, the Devils only experienced pain. (Maybe change that fork in the road into Sideshow Bob constantly stepping on rakes.)

That disastrous season set expectations way lower during the 2020 offseason, and heading into the 2020-21 campaign. (Perhaps Jack Hughes dealing with first-year struggles kept expectations muted, too.)

People were fired, players like Taylor Hall were traded, and the 2020 offseason focused on modest moves. Granted, the one bolder push to compete (signing underrated, but not always healthy, goalie Corey Crawford) ended up never getting off the ground.

Of course, the Devils couldn’t control what Crawford was going through, but it made a mild offseason more modest.

What went wrong during the Devils’ 2020-21 season

And Lindy Ruff couldn’t fit pieces together to a successful enough degree for the results to be anything better than mediocre.

Truly, the biggest health-related bit of bad luck probably didn’t revolve around Crawford retiring. Instead, the Devils slogged through most of 2020-21 without new captain Nico Hischier. Between COVID and a smattering of injuries, Hischier entered the first weekend of May with just 15 games played. Even among those 15 games, most were too-little, too-late: he played just five games before April.

With a team as mediocre as the Devils, you can point to a lot of issues.

After signing Crawford, it seemed like the Devils might form a heck of a duo alongside Mackenzie Blackwood. Instead, the Devils struggled in that area, which Ruff couldn’t help but note.

It wasn’t all on the netminders, though. From expected goals to high-danger chances and simple scoring chances, the Devils were consistently on the wrong end — sometimes dramatically so.

If you want the most dramatic description of the Devils’ dubious offense, consult All About The Jersey. Mike Stromberg described New Jersey’s offense as “an unceasing vortex of offensive ineptitude.”

You can spread that ineptitude to special teams, for sure.

On the power play, the Devils converted on just 14.7-percent of their chances. They were lousy on the PK, too, killing penalties at a far-from-nice rate of 69.92-percent.

So, a lot went wrong for the Devils in 2020-21.

What went right

Maybe the most important thing is that, realistically speaking, this is going according to plan. The Devils were better off being really bad in 2020-21, in hopes of getting better later.

Considering the extremely promising growth of Jack Hughes, and some promising development from others — especially defenseman Ty Smith — maybe this rebuild can pick up some speed? Either way, after Hughes looked dicey by even generous measures in his rookie season, his sophomore work has been superb.

Jack Hughes looks like a useful all-around player by metrics such as Evolving Hockey’s RAPM, and not just for someone who’s 19.

via Evolving Hockey

Having the player you lucked-into No. 1 overall look like a No. 1 overall pick is a nice feeling. It doesn’t solve all of your problems, but it eliminates a sort of existential worry.

While plenty of the bottom-line type metrics frown upon the Devils, there’s some evidence of improvements. They’re at 51.4-percent at Corsi For this season, compared to a troubling 46.2-percent in 2019-20.

At even strength and on special teams, the Devils need work. OK, they kind of need work everywhere. But you can find some bright sides to look on.

(And, hey, after watching former Devil Taylor Hall traded for so little, the Devils did pretty well in landing a first-rounder for Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac.)

What’s next?

Stay tuned at PHT for more detailed looks at what’s next for the New Jersey Devils. In short: they need to find more talent to help Jack Hughes, and make the most of their 2021 first-rounders. Speaking of that, follow the Push for the Playoffs to keep track of the Devils’ 2021 NHL Draft Lottery odds.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

    Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

    They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

    “We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

    Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

    With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

    “Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

    The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.


    The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

    “This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

    The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

    “Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

    They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

    “I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.


    The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

    But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

    “You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

    The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.


    Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

    “It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

    They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

    “Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”


    Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

    The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

    Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

    “It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

    Capitals sign Sonny Milano to 3-year, $5.7 million extension

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals signed winger Sonny Milano to a three-year extension worth $5.7 million.

    General manager Brian MacLellan announced the contract, adding to an already busy All-Star break for taking care of future business. The Capitals extended forward Dylan Strome for five years, $25 million.

    Like Strome, Milano has fit in as a new addition for Washington. He’s now set to count $1.9 million against the salary cap through the 2025-26 season.

    The 26-year-old Milano has been a near-perfect bargain signing for the Capitals after joining them on an NHL veteran one-year deal after this season got underway. He has eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 40 games since getting called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League.

    Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 16th in 2014, Milano split his first eight seasons in the league with them and the Anaheim Ducks. He went unsigned as an unrestricted free agent last summer despite putting up 34 points in 66 games with Anaheim.