The Devils have an improving forward group, led by a motivated Taylor Hall, but have the worst defense in the league. They’ll go as far as Cory Schneider can take them.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN’s Prediction: 8th in Metro
Stanley Cup odds: 70-1
Key additions: Taylor Hall, LW; Ben Lovejoy, D; Beau Bennett, RW; Vernon Fidler, C; Luke Gazdic, LW
Key departures: Adam Larsson, D; David Schlemko, D; Jordin Tootoo, RW; Ryan Clowe, RW; Bobby Farnham, LW
-How much motivation doest Taylor Hall have? Oh, it’s going to be fun seeing what Hall does in New Jersey. He took his trade from Edmonton personally, and now he’s heading to a team in need of a marquee name up front. Hall will have one heckuva chip on his shoulder and a familiar face to play with in junior linemate Adam Henrique. Expect big numbers from Hall, especially Jan. 7 when Edmonton and Adam Larsson come to town. The fact Hall won’t be subjected to as rigorous a travel schedule as he had out West may also add some jump to his already powerful stride, so it’s a good situation overall.
-Did the Devils do enough on defense? Ben Lovejoy replaces Larsson, and no, that will not be enough. New Jersey also lost David Schlemko via free agency, so the hope is that youngsters Damon Severson and Steven Santini will pick up the slack. That’s a lot of pressure on a pair with a combined 124 NHL games – especially since only one of those contests belongs to Santini. Brandon Gormley was signed, but he has failed to make a dent with two other franchises, so he’s more of a flyer than anything. Cory Schneider is going to be busy again in net.
-Will Kyle Palmieri repeat his career season? Not with Hall in the fold this season, but Palmieri did lead the Devils in scoring last year, while hitting the 30-goal mark for the first time. Technically, he’s always been this good. In terms of points per 60 minutes, Palmieri has averaged around 1.84 for the past four years. He just didn’t get the ice time in Anaheim. So really, New Jersey simply unlocked what was already there by giving him top-six minutes.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Devils made a huge splash in July during that half hour that shook the hockey world, and they came out on the better end of it. Nothing against Adam Larsson who’s a fine defensemen now that could blossom into something great, but Taylor Hall is one of the best wingers in hockey right now.
Hall was extremely under-appreciated during his time with the Oilers and should shine once the Devils start building something decent around him. Kyle Palmieri and Mike Cammalleri are solid, and Adam Henrique could reignite some old Windsor chemistry with Hall, but it’s not a stretch to say that the forwards in New Jersey are pretty weak as a whole.
Despite that, it’s somehow not even the weakest part of the team. That honour belongs to the defense which is extremely sketchy. Game Score tends to underrate defensive contribution, so Andy Greene doesn’t get a fair shake here, but even with that in mind this is a pitiful group. Damon Severson is an okay second pairing guy and he’s the best of them all which says a lot about just how bad this group is. The Devils are one of two teams in the league whose defense is collectively below replacement level.
That leaves Cory Schneider with a lot of work to keep the team afloat. Without Schneider, the Devils would easily be the worst team in the league, but he keeps them in respectable territory. It also keeps them out of the basement where good players are given out like candy on Halloween at the draft. So his presence is both a blessing and a curse.
Schneider is one of the league’s best goalies and is criminally underrated for his talent level. Once the Devils begin putting the pieces together in front of him, he has the ability to carry them to the playoffs and beyond on his own. Looking at the roster though, they’ve got a lot of work still to do and with Schneider already at age 30 not much time to do it.
Up next: Ottawa Senators
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