New Jersey Devils

What's going to be new with the New Jersey Devils?

To say the New Jersey Devils 2023-2024 season ended in disappointment is an understatement. The team did not take a step forward after a second-round exit from the 2023 NHL Playoffs but took two huge steps back. There are many reasons and opinions: goaltending, injuries, coaching, lack of physicality, bad trades, underperforming players. There is no one correct answer, but there are lots of emotions from the fans.

It was a huge mistake when the Devils let Andrew Brunette leave to coach the Nashville Predators. His Jack Adams-nominated season with the Predators only strengthened my belief. But it wasn't the only reason. Injuries devastated this team, and the reliance on rookies to carry the workload and goaltending proved a complete disaster.

Here we are in the summer before the 2024-2025 season. Instead of adding to take this team deeper into the playoffs, the team needs to retool to get back to them. Things change quickly, even with the rest of the NHL deep into the second round of the playoffs, so naming specifics could make this article dated before it is even published. The coaching search is close to being decided. Once the Toronto Maple Leafs decide, things will quickly fall into place. The last time coaching was on the table for general manager Tom Fitzgerald, he waited too long, and the options were slim when he pulled the trigger. Many believe that before Fitzgerald makes any decisions with the rest of the team, he needs to know what coach he will have and what system needs to be implemented.

The Devils' transition game shocked the NHL during the 22-23 season, but teams quickly learned that a 2-2-1 or a 3-1-1 defensive system would quickly handcuff the Devils' game. Lindy Ruff's lack of a forechecking game or using power forwards as power forwards made the Devils' game very one-dimensional. Ruff's constant changing of lines also killed any chemistry that could have formed.

The Devils have some pretty strong pieces in place. Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, and Dougie Hamilton are all under long-term contracts and have been in the NHL long enough to quickly adjust to a new system and continue to be the core of this team. Rookies Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec are everything promised, and more and fan favorites like Erik Haula, Dawson Mercer, Ondrej Palat, John Marino, Curtis Lazar, Nate Bastian, and Jonas Seigenthalar are under contract for next season as well. Kevin Bahl had a good year but should do better with the return of Dougie Hamilton.  The jury is still out on fan-favorite Alexander Holtz, but it is possible he, along with the 10th overall pick, will be trade bait for Fitzgerald this summer.

It's Fitzgerald's job to build around that. The Devils were weak this year and often pushed around as they lacked response to the more physical teams.  One of the keys to a better 24-25 season will be to add more grit and attitude to a fourth line. Kurtis MacDermid earned much respect from the fans and could be a strong possibility of returning, but with many other free agents out there who play that gritty game, it could come down to price and experience. Players like Chase Stillman in the farm system have shown he has no fear of throwing the body around and fighting, which remains a possibility.

The hated rivals across the river managed the Devils in several games this year, and the Devils need to have the type of players to respond. Hughes and Hischier were targeted in too many games, and without a response, it led to dangerous situations. Our top lines are bursting with talent, but we need a physical fourth line to clear the field. 

Dawes and Schmid will be the future but need more time to develop. Jack Allen looked terrific down the stretch but will be more of a first backup. We all know the names dropped: Linus Ullmark, Jacob Markstrom, and Juuse Saros. Each will be an upgrade, but cost and competition will be a huge factor in which one the Devils land.

The farm system is not what it used to be. Many players have been traded or moved up to the next level. We saw many in the American Hockey League. The Utica Comets appear and will continue to do so, but the Devils need to look to free agency for another power-forward type. Although poorly used and fighting injuries, Meier showed towards the end of the season how incredible he can be when allowed to play his game. He worked well with Hischier, and another type of forechecker on the wing, along with Jack Hughes, will go a long way to adding two very dangerous lines to this team.

Tom Fitzgerald went into last season ready to take this team to a Cup final. This year, his job is just to get back into the playoffs.

About The Author