The New Jersey Devils failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third straight season and for the eighth time in the past nine.
New Jersey (14-25-6) was eliminated from contention when it lost 7-6 at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. The Devils can finish no higher than fifth in the eight-team MassMutual East Division. The top four teams qualify for the playoffs.
Here is a look at what happened during the 2020-21 season for the Devils and why things could be better next season:
Potential UFAs: Ryan Murray, D; Connor Carrick, D; Aaron Dell, G; Scott Wedgewood, G
Potential RFAs: Michael McLeod, F; Nathan Bastian, F; Nicholas Merkley, F; Janne Kuokkanen, F; Yegor Sharangovich, F; Marian Studenic, F; Jonas Siegenthaler, D
Potential 2021 Draft picks: 8
What went wrong
Special teams: The power play is 29th in the NHL (13.3 percent) and the penalty kill is 31st (69.8 percent). General manager Tom Fitzgerald has mentioned underachieving special teams as the primary culprit for the Devils missing the postseason.
Home ice blues: The Devils are 4-17-3 at Prudential Center, their most home losses in a season since 2016-17 (16-17-8). New Jersey has lost eight straight home games and had an 11-game home losing streak from Jan. 26 to March 14. The Devils are averaging 2.08 goals per game at home, third-fewest in the NHL, and allowing 3.46 goals per game, second-most in the League.
Hischier injury woes: No. 1 center Nico Hischier has been limited to 10 games because of injuries and illness. The 22-year-old forward was out the first 11 games of the season because of an offseason foot injury and NHL COVID-19 protocol. He returned Feb. 20, the day he was named captain, but Feb. 27 he sustained a frontal sinus fracture after being struck in the visor by a deflected puck. He was out 24 games and returned April 13. Hischier has scored five points (four goals, one assist).
Reasons for optimism
Emergence of Hughes, Smith: Jack Hughes, the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, emerged as an offensive driver. He’s scored 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) averaging 19:04 in ice time in 45 games. The 19-year-old center leads the NHL with 47 takeaways and has a 57.7 percent shot attempts percentage (SAT%), tied for 18th among NHL players with at least 30 games. Ty Smith, selected No. 17 in the 2018 NHL Draft, leads NHL rookie defensemen with 21 points (two goals, 19 assists) and 15 even-strength points (one goal, 14 assists). The 21-year-old is third among rookies in average ice time (20:15) and is tied for 11th in SAT% (54.6 percent) among all NHL defensemen having played at least 30 games.
Blackwood in goal: Corey Crawford agreed to a two-year contract Oct. 9 to share time with Mackenzie Blackwood, but retired Jan. 9, making Blackwood the undisputed No. 1 goalie. Blackwood is 9-15-3 with a 3.10 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 27 games, but his numbers don’t tell the whole story. The 24-year-old missed six games in January in NHL COVID-19 protocol and has played 14 games on one day of rest.
Youth movement: Hughes, Smith and Blackwood head an impressive group of young players, including forwards Nolan Foote, 20; Janne Kuokkanen, 22; Yegor Sharangovich, 22; Marian Studenic, 22; Jesper Boqvist, 22; Michael McLeod, 23; Nathan Bastian, 23; and Mikhail Maltsev, 23. There are others ready to earn more ice time next season, including forwards Alexander Holtz, 19; and Tyce Thompson, 21; and defensemen Nikita Okhotiuk, 20; and Kevin Bahl, 20.