The unfortunate familiarity of an early April exit has retruned in the Garden State. After being a surprise team in the NHL last year, culminating in their first playoff berth in five seasons, the Devils will miss the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons. The club was mathematically eliminated on March 15–10 games prior to the end of their season. In a trying season and with their season finale coming against the Florida Panthers, here are 13 running thoughts on the club and some from around the NHL.
Ray Shero’s most notable acquisitions since assuming his post as GM–Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Sami Vatanen combined for nearly 90 games lost to injury. Had Palmieri not missed as much time, he’d have a shot at 30 for the second time in a Devils’ uniform. He’s still questionable versus Florida as of Saturday morning, but a hat trick could still get him there. He’s got one of those in his career.
Hall’s lengthier absences was trying on the team. Minus last year’s Hart Trophy winner, the team struggled to score in key situations. They had seven one-goal regulation losses and 15 losses by three or more goals in 48 games without # 9. He’ll miss the final game of the season, but he’ll be the focal point of New Jersey’s offseason.
Vatanen, who is expected to miss Saturday’s game in Sunrise will finish the season with 32 games lost to injury. He was averaging nearly 22 minutes-per-game. Say what you want about his season–which wasn’t great, but that’s a tough loss too. It forced some players into 20+ minute territory–and it was a noticable struggle for most.
Regarding the lottery, in which as of Saturday has the Devils picking anywhere between first and sixth overall. The Devils (or anyone else) cannot catch Ottawa (who won’t reap any reward for their poor season–pick goes to Colorado) for best lotto odds. If the Kings, who host the Golden Knights on Saturday, win or get a point coupled with no points by NJ, then the Devils finish with second-best odds. Same occurs if L.A. gets a point. If NJ wins in any fashion, they slot third. An NJ point with an L.A. regulation loss also keeps them in third.
Suppose the Devils fall outside the top-five. It’s reasonable to assume the best players available are: Centers, Trevor Zegras and Alex Turcotte; Left Wing, Matthew Boldy; Blueliners, Bowen Byram and Philip Broberg.
Goalie, Spencer Knight at sixth would be a big reach, but when I suggested the notion for Knight at sixth or seventh to a pool of people tied into amateur scouting, I didn’t get nearly the pushback I expected. That was interesting.
Staying with the Draft: I’ve heard Russian winger, Vasily Podkolzin is the most likely of the top 5, which also consists of Jack Hughes, Kappo Kakko, Kirby Dach and Dylan Cozens to fall out completely.
On the outside looking in–Byram, a big, mobile WHL D-man could easily go in the top-five or four. Especially if Colorado’s lotto ticket slips to fourth overall. P.S. before I finish with the Draft–Ray Shero is attending for the Devils. He’s gone every year since being GM.
For only the second time in his career, Zach Parise will not play an NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs game. His Wild were eliminated from the playoffs this week and he won’t play the rest of the way. Prior to the start of the season, I wondered if the ex-Devil was going to be able to return to hockey–and I wasn’t the only that wondered that. I also thought, if he did, was he entering his final season with the Wild with retirement or with new GM, Paul Fenton trying to move out his contract. All Parise did was score 28 goals and lead Minnesota in points. He’s still got six more years left on his contract. It’s a steep contract, but the money will start to decline after next season. Owed $8 million in 2020-21; $6 million in 21-22; $2 million in 22-23; $1 million in 22-23 and 23-24.
The Wild have a projected $15 million in cap space this summer with a few key RFA’s in Kevin Fiala and former first rounder, Joel Eriksson-Ek. Ryan Donato, the 22-year-old who has 16 points in 21 games since being acquired in the Charlie Coyle trade, is also an RFA with arbitration rights. If Fenton wants to go shopping in the offseason, I suppose he could look at moving a contract, but Parise’s still looks like a tough ticket to move. Number 11 also has a No-Move clause.
Good on the Blue Jackets and Jarmo Kekäläinen for taking a series of gambles, including not trading Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky while also acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingle. They clinches on Friday and now will try and go as far as they can before the expected purge begins. Panarin and Bob’s plans have been known for awhile now. Can Duchene be enticed to stay? Dzingle, who spent three years as a Buckeye, might have the best shot at staying around.
Wonder if Saturday is the last game for Jason Pominville? What about Drew Stafford? Troy Brouwer? Chris Kunitz?
Bob Cole will call his final game on Saturday night as the Canadiens host the Maple Leafs. Growing up in the U.S., I’m sorry to say I didn’t hear enough of Cole regularly. Always appreciated when I did though, and still enjoy hearing his voice whenever I play NHL 2K games circa 2007–2008. Maybe even more so come next season when the icon isn’t part of the Saturday night audio.