NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, three important questions facing the New Jersey Devils.
1. Have they solved their goaltending issues?
Goaltending was an area that needed improving, so the Devils added two-time Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford, who agreed to a two-year contract on Oct. 9.
The 35-year-old was 16-20-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout in 40 games (39 starts) with the Chicago Blackhawks last season. He has won at least 30 games six times in his past 10 seasons and won the Cup with Chicago in 2013 and 2015.
Crawford joins Mackenzie Blackwood, who led NHL rookies in wins (22), starts (43), saves (1,328) and shots against (1,452) last season. He had a 2.77 GAA, .915 save percentage and three shutouts in 47 games (43 starts).
Blackwood, who turns 24 on Dec. 9, emerged after Cory Schneider struggled at the start of last season (0-6-1, 4.65 GAA, .852 save percentage in nine games) and was assigned to Binghamton of the American Hockey League on two occasions. Schneider is an unrestricted free agent.
2. Who will step up at defenseman?
The Devils were 29th in the NHL in goals against per game (3.25) and allowed the sixth-highest shots against per game (32.7) last season. They’re hoping the acquisitions of defensemen Ryan Murray (trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets) and Dmitry Kulikov (free agent) will help improve those numbers.
Defensemen accounted for 16.8 percent of New Jersey’s goals last season (31 of 185; 25th in the NHL), led by Damon Severson (eight). The hope is that P.K. Subban can return to form after the 31-year-old scored an NHL career-low 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 68 games last season, his 10th in the League. He averaged 45 points per season prior to 2019-20.
Ty Smith, their top defenseman prospect, could be an answer. The 20-year-old scored 59 points (19 goals, 40 assists) in 46 games with Spokane of the Western Hockey League last season.
3. Can they take the next step under coach Lindy Ruff?
Ruff, who was hired July 9, has coached 19 seasons in the NHL; he is sixth in League history in wins (736) and seventh in games coached (1,493). He’ll try to turn around a team that has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the past eight seasons.
“I know there’s a great foundation that has been built along with management and (general manager) Tom [Fitzgerald], the ownership, looking to build the rest of the pieces and take this team in the right direction, get in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and go from there,” Ruff said after he was hired.
The Devils could be a season away from competing for a playoff spot with several prospects, including Smith and forwards Janne Kuokkanen and Jesper Boqvist, trying to make the team out of training camp.
“I think [Fitzgerald] has publicly branded the next two seasons as the ‘Learn to Win’ phase,” assistant general manager Dan MacKinnon said. “We want to be competitive, be pushing for a playoff spot and also playing those meaningful one-goal games.”