Will Butcher

What is the Devils’ long-term outlook?

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 long-term outlook for the New Jersey Devils.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

With Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman now playing elsewhere, the Devils’ long-term outlook is in the hands of recent No. 1 overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.

The Devils thought so highly of Hischier’s development — and potential — that they signed him to a seven-year, $50 million contract that pretty much makes him the new face of the franchise. While his offensive numbers may not be eye-popping, there is a lot to be said for a 21-year-old forward that’s already established himself as a 55-60 point player while also playing a complete two-way game.

Hughes is the player that has the big-time offensive upside.

Beyond those two, Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev are very productive top-six wingers and would make an impact on any contending team. The problem, though, is that both players are unrestricted free agents after next season, and while the Devils should have the salary cap space to retain them if they wanted to, it is worth wondering if such a long-term investment would be wise, especially when it comes to Palmieri who will be 31 years old when his next contract begins.

P.K. Subban has the biggest salary cap hit on the roster, carrying a $9 million salary for each of the next two seasons.

Damon Severson and Will Butcher are also signed long-term on the blue line.

Goaltending was a question mark at the start of the season, but MacKenzie Blackwood has had a very promising start to his career (.916 save percentage in his first two years, well above the league average) and is still only 23 years old.

Long-Term Needs

When you have missed the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons and been one of the league’s worst teams over the past two seasons there are obviously a lot of long-term needs.

Goaltending has been the big Achilles Heel recently due to Cory Schneider‘s decline, but Blackwood has shown a ton of promise and provided some optimism that he could be the long-term solution. But they still lack depth behind him in the short-and long-term.

The addition of Subban was supposed to give them a top-pairing, No. 1 defenseman to lead their blue line, but he will be 31 next season, is in the middle of the worst season of his career, and has almost certainly already played his best hockey. They not only need depth on their blue line, they need somebody to be a difference-maker.

Will Butcher is an underrated player while Ty Smith has a ton of potential, but there are more questions than answers when it comes to the long-term outlook of the blue line.

The other big need is that they need Hughes to be the superstar, franchise player they hope he can be.

Long-Term Strengths

You can not win in the NHL or compete for the Stanley Cup without impact players. The best place to get impact players is at the top of the draft. Fortunately for the Devils they have two of the past three No. 1 overall picks playing for them.

They may not be superstars quite yet, but Hischier is on track to being an outstanding player while Hughes is still only 19 years old and full of potential. Do not even think about writing him off just because he struggled at times as an 18-year-old.

Along with those two, the Devils are looking at the possibility of having three first-round picks in the 2020 class, including their own lottery pick. The other two picks are conditional as a result of the Taylor Hall trade (Arizona) and Blake Coleman trade (Tampa Bay, which sent Vancouver’s pick to New Jersey). The Arizona pick is top-three protected, while the pick from the Coleman trade will move to 2021 if the Canucks miss the playoffs this season. Still, those are a lot of quality assets — and potentially another very high pick — to add to the Hischier and Hughes core.

The Devils also have very few long-term commitments at the moment and as a result have a ton of salary cap space to work with. That could help with the potential re-signings of Palmieri and/or Gusev, as well as adding pieces around their new young core Hischier, Hughes, Butcher, and Blackwood.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils
Devils biggest surprises and disappointments so far 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Devils selling with the NHL trade deadline approaching

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NEWARK, N.J. — With the NHL trade deadline a week away, the New Jersey Devils may as well have a giant “for sale” sign hanging outside the dressing room.

Interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald gave a clear indication the Devils are ready to unload when he shipped defenseman and captain Andy Greene and forward Blake Coleman in separate deals Sunday for prospects and draft picks.

With New Jersey looking at a potential second straight bottom-five finish, expect Fitzgerald to move more players.

“I’m guessing my phone will ring a little more now because of what I did,” Fitzgerald said Sunday evening. “But I’m not looking to get rid of players. I’m looking to really move the organization, continue moving forward. And there are players here that will do that and help us.”

Fitzgerald said there are several players he will not trade. Centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall selections in 2017 and ‘19, respectively, are untouchable, as is rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who has 19 of the team’s 22 wins. Centers Pavel Zacha and Travis Zajac, who has a no-trade clause he is not going to waive, also are staying.

The rest of the roster seems to be on the market. The most interesting players on that list are forwards Kyle Palmieri and Wayne Simmonds and defensemen Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen.

Palmieri is the best player. He has a team-high 22 goals and is a legit top line forward who is good on the power play. Simmonds has struggled in his first season in New Jersey with seven goals, but he remains a net-front presence.

Vatanen, 28, is in the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He is currently on injured reserve with a foot injury so that would have to heal if he is to be moved.

The 25-year-old Butcher has slipped a little in each of the past two campaigns after having a 44-point season as a rookie.

Defense is the area the Devils need to improve. They have given up 204 goals, which is third worst in the league.

New Jersey has some young players who might be ready soon. Kevin Bahl, who was acquired in the December deal with Arizona for Taylor Hall, and former first-round pick Ty Smith have had very good seasons in junior hockey.

The deal that shipped Coleman to Tampa Bay on Sunday night gave the Devils a couple of assets. They picked up a first-round draft pick this year that belonged to Vancouver and prospect forward Nolan Foote.

Foote could be the find. The 6-foot-4 son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote, has all the tools at 19 years old.

“I saw him in the summer at the world junior camp and was impressed with his size and hands around the net and definitely the shot,” Fitzgerald said. “So those type of players don’t grow on trees, so when that’s being offered to you, you have to think.”

If Vancouver makes the playoffs and Arizona does not get a top three pick in the draft lottery, their first-round picks will go to the Devils, giving them three in what is considered a good draft.

The problem is New Jersey has a long way to go. It has made the playoffs once since going to the Finals in 2012. Its coach, Alain Nasreddine, and general manager have interim tags.

Ownership has shown little patience this season. John Hynes was fired as coach in early December and Ray Shero was fired as general manager a month later.

“I don’t think we’re going to snap our fingers and next year we’re going to be contending for a Stanley Cup, or the year after,” Fitzgerald said.

New Jersey has three pillars for the future in Hischier, Hughes and Blackwood, and some young players with potential.

“If I can add things in the summer, I don’t see why this team can’t be competitive and scratch and claw to that point of playoffs (next season), but continue to grow it the right way,” Fitzgerald said.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Devils vs. Flyers livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Devils opened the 2019-20 campaign dropping their first two games of the season. They blew a 4-0 lead Friday night at home, falling to the Jets 5-4 in a shootout, and were dominated the following night in Buffalo, losing 7-2.

Last season the Devils finished tied for sixth for most goals/against per game (3.30), while starting three different goalies throughout the year. Through two games this season, the same problem remains as New Jersey has allowed 5.50 goals/against per game.

“We’re playing like we want to have an easy game,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “We can talk about it nine different ways but that’s the reality of where we’re at right now.”

The Flyers dealt Wayne Simmonds to the Predators in exchange for Ryan Hartman and a 2020 4th round pick at the 2019 trade deadline. Now a member of the Devils, Simmonds makes his return to Philly and will play against his former team for the first time after spending the past seven-plus seasons with the franchise.

“In a perfect world maybe it could have worked, but for what my goal is and where I’m trying to get to, I think it was a bad fit to be quite honest,” said Simmonds. “With all the pieces they have there in place, there’s a reason why I did get traded. Obviously, I wasn’t a piece they needed anymore.”

Philly will be tacking on thousands of sky miles to start the season. The Flyers played a preseason game overseas in Switzerland against Lausanne HC of the Swiss Elite League, before traveling to Prague, Czech Republic, to open the regular season against the Blackhawks. They host the Devils Wednesday night in Philly before making their Western Canada road trip.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Devils-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

DEVILS
Taylor HallNico HischierNikita Gusev
Jesper BrattTravis ZajacKyle Palmieri
Blake ColemanJack Hughes – Wayne Simmonds
Miles WoodKevin RooneyJohn Hayden

Sami VatanenP.K. Subban
Andy GreeneDamon Severson
Will ButcherConnor Carrick

Starting goalie: Cory Schneider

FLYERS
Claude GirouxKevin HayesJakub Voracek
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierTravis Konecny
James van RiemsdykScott Laughton – Carsen Twarynski
Connor Bunnaman – Michael RafflTyler Pitlick

Ivan ProvorovJustin Braun
Travis SanheimMatt Niskanen
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

On Wednesday night’s season debut of Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, NHL fans will be able to get a sneak peek to a yet to be released Green Day song called “Fire, Ready, Aim”. The song will serve as the opening theme song of Wednesday Night Hockey throughout the 2019-20 season and will be featured on NHL on NBC Sports broadcasts throughout the season.

Produced by NBC Sports, the high-energy show open features the band playing their new song on a hockey rink interspersed with action shots of more than a dozen NHL players, including Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings, P.K. Subban of the New Jersey Devils, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, among others.

Hughes, Hall, Hischier look to lead Devils back to playoffs

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NEWARK, N.J. — If you saw what Daniel Jones did for the New York Giants, you have an idea what Jack Hughes might be able to do for the New Jersey Devils.

The No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft, Hughes has been nothing short of sensational in training camp and the preseason. The 18-year-old center has scored, set up goals and played two-way hockey. He has shown signs of being a dynamic young star forward, which the organization has lacked since moving to New Jersey in the early 1980s.

The addition of Hughes and general manager Ray Shero’s offseason moves to acquire defenseman P.K. Subban from Nashville and forward Nikita Gusev from Vegas and to sign veteran forward Wayne Simmonds to a one-year contract as an unrestricted free agent gives the Devils depth throughout the roster.

Don’t forget, center Nico Hischier is entering his third season after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft. Taylor Hall is returning after being limited by a knee injury that required surgery. Kyle Palmieri has been a solid goal scorer and there are a lot of young enthusiastic players who want to go out and play coach John Hynes’ in-your-face style of hockey.

The Devils used to be an organization that rode its defense and goaltending. Last season, they scored 222 goals and gave up 275, a differential of minus-53. They finished with 72 points. Only Los Angeles (71) and Ottawa (64) had fewer.

That has to change if they are going to move forward this season.

And just in case you missed it, Jones, the sixth pick overall in the NFL draft, replaced Eli Manning as the Giants’ starting quarterback and revived hope for the season by throwing two touchdowns and running for two others in a 33-32 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday. It was the type of spark the Devils hopes Hughes will deliver.

Five things to watch this season as the Devils try to get back to the playoffs:

TAYLOR HALL

Hall won the NHL MVP in 2017 with 39 goals and 54 assists and single-handedly got New Jersey into the playoffs for the first time since the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Hall is coming off an injury-plagued season. He appeared in 33 games and had 11 goals and 26 assists, playing his final contest days before Christmas. The left wing had surgery on his left knee in February and is looking forward to better things.

WHO’S HERE

Hughes isn’t the only new face in town. Subban was acquired on the draft weekend in a major deal with Nashville. Simmonds is a tough guy who plays in close on the power play. Gusev spent the last seven seasons in the KHL, collecting 119 goals and 213 assists.

WHO’S NOT

The Devils emptied the roster at the trade deadline a year ago, dealing C Brian Boyle, D Ben Lovejoy, F Marcus Johansson and G Keith Kinkaid to playoff contenders. After the season, forwards Kenny Agostino and Stefan Noesen were not re-signed and D Steven Santini was part of the deal for Subban, who had a career-low 31 points in 63 games. F John Quenneville was traded to Chicago for F John Hayden.

KEY PLAYERS: Hall tops the list, especially with his contract expiring. Shero would like to get the 27-year-old former No. 1 overall pick signed, but his health is a concern. Hughes has tons of talent but is going to be a marked man in the NHL. He is just 18 and will be hit. Hischier might be the surprise. He seems to be improving. If he hit the nets more, the Devils will be tough. The goaltending looks very good. Corey Schneider is back to his former level of two years ago after hip surgery and Mackenzie Blackwood impressed after coming up from the minors and posting a 6-4-0 record with a 2.37 goals-against average.

OUTLOOK: Since Hynes took over as coach, there has been a pattern of good year, bad year, good year, bad year. This is year five and with the draft and all the moves, the trend clearly indicates good year. The Devils struggled in recent seasons on the power play, scoring on less than 18%. With Hughes, Hall, Hischier, Subban, Palmieri and defensemen Will Butcher and Damon Severson, that should improve. The penalty kill should remain among the best in the league with Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman and Kevin Rooney on the roster.

PREDICTION: After finishing last in the Metropolitan Division (31-41-10) for the second time in three seasons, the Devils have the talent to get back to the postseason. There are question marks, however. The 30-year-old Subban needs to revert to being one of the league’s top defensemen. Hall has to stay healthy. Hughes and Hischier have to deliver and the Devils can’t lose their focus, which they did too many times last season. They should make the playoffs.

It’s New Jersey Devils Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

2018-19
31-41-10, 74 pts. (8th in the Metropolitan Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Jack Hughes
P.K. Subban
Wayne Simmonds
Nikita Gusev
Connor Carrick
John Hayden

OUT
Kurtis Gabriel
Brian Boyle
Keith Kinkaid
Ben Lovejoy
Kenny Agostino
Stefan Noesen
Drew Stafford
Eric Gryba
Eddie Lack

RE-SIGNED
Will Butcher
Mirco Mueller

2018-19 season review

Season grade: F
Offseason grade: A+

Yes, it appears it can all change that quickly for some teams.

Much like the Florida Panthers, who I wrote about last week, the New Jersey Devils can rest easy knowing that last season is going to feel like a distant memory after the summer Ray Shero and Co. put together.

The Devils were very bad last season, so bad that, for the second time in the past three seasons, they were rewarded (thanks to a bit of luck) with the first-overall pick back in June.

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

They came into the draft lottery with the third-best odds but moved up to spots for the honor of selecting Jack Hughes.

They then shook up the hockey world, dropping a massive trade bomb on the second day of the draft as they acquired P.K. Subban to fortify their blue line.

Getting Hughes and Subban in the same weekend helped take the sting off a poor season where they couldn’t score much and couldn’t stop the puck a whole lot at the other end of the ice.

Just two players cracked the 20-goal plateau, only one player hit 50 points and their goaltending was abysmal. It didn’t help that Taylor Hall was limited to just 33 games because of injury and then there were the rumors of his long-term future not being in Newark.

Some of those questions still remain, especially between the pipes, but there’s a reason for optimism after such a big summer.

Aside from Hughes and Subban, the Devils also added some grit in Wayne Simmonds. It’s a one-year ‘prove it’ sort of deal that will keep Simmonds hungry as he goes searching for a longer-term deal next offseason.

And they added a player some consider the best who wasn’t playing in the NHL in Nikita Gusev, a former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick who was then signed by the Golden Knights last year and then traded to New Jersey in July.

A lot of good has happened since the Devils played their final regular-season game of 2018-19. They’ve had to keep up in an arms race across the Hudson River as the New York Rangers took Kaapo Kakko right after New Jersey took Hughes and added Artemi Panarin in free agency and signed Jacob Trouba to a long-term deal.

Either way, gone should be the days where the Devils aren’t considered a perennial playoff contender.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck