The Devils lost again and again and again this week and nothing is changing as players, coaches, and management are totally comfortable with how the season is going.
In pro sports, people talk a lot about places that have a “winning culture”. Well, the New Jersey Devils have the exact opposite of that. Losing in the Devils organization has become expected, normal, and comfortable. From the top of the organization to the bottom, losing is seen as natural. Losing is the destiny of these players, coaches and front office staff. That is clearly how everyone employed by the organization views things, because despite the season going down the drain with only three wins in the last 15 games, nothing has changed. There is nothing to indicate that anything will change either, because everyone is comfortable with how this season has gone so far.
The Devils have made just one playoff appearance in the last nine seasons and will make that one out of the last 10 when, not if but when, they miss the playoffs again this year. With 30 games played and 52 to go, I can say with certainty that nothing will change, the losing will continue and we will have another high draft pick next season. Not that a high pick will change anything either. The Devils have picked in the top 10 in five of the last six NHL drafts. Yet, the losing continues and nothing gets better. Let’s look at some of the biggest culprits behind the Devils losing, starting with the power play
The Devils rank 32nd, dead last in the NHL, in net power play percentage. According to NHL.com, net power play percentage is a teams power play goals for minus their shorthanded goals scored against divided by total power play opportunities. This means that if a team scored on every power play and never allowed a short handed goal against, the net power play percentage would be 100%. The current NHL leader in this category, the Edmonton Oilers, have a net power play percentage of 30.8%. The Devils sit in dead last at just 5.9%. The 31st team, the Coyotes, are almost 4% better than the Devils. The Devils have allowed six shorthanded goals this season, four higher than the NHL average of two. The Devils have scored just 11 power play goals this year while the NHL average is 17. Last season, the Devils were 29th in the NHL in net power play percentage and scored only 22 power play goals while the NHL average was 32. These last two years of abysmal play while on the power play both fall at the feet of assistant coach Mark Recchi who has been tasked with running the power play for the last two years. As the losses pile up and the team still sucks, Recchi still has a job because losing has become normal in New Jersey and nothing will ever change. Getting a better power play would lead to winning more games, but no one in the organization cares about that so it wont happen. Moving on from the power play though, the Devils do not score enough goals period. Man advantage or no man advantage, this team simply cannot put the puck in the net.
The Devils have scored just 82 goals so far this year. That is 20th in the NHL. No one is at a point per game or even close to that. The leading goal scorers, Zacha and Johnsson, have combined for one assist in the last five games. The team’s leader in points, Jesper Bratt, has just two points in the last five games. All five of those games have been losses, the Devils have been outscored by a total 23-10 in those games, and trailed by multiple goals in each game. So not only are they not winning, they are not even competitive. More often than not, Lindy Ruff’s Devils do not belong on the same ice as their competition. They cannot score and they cannot keep the puck out of their own net.
The Devils have allowed 105 goals against this season, which is 29th in the NHL. Much of that is due to the the fact that the Devils have been forced to play six different goalies so far in only 30 games and none of them have played particularly well. All of them have a goals against average over three and all have save percentages under 90.3%. This is despite the fact that in the Devils games so far this season, 52% of the high danger scoring chances have been in the Devils favor. So even though, more often than not, the Devils have the majority of the dangerous chances in a game, they are still being outscored in bunches. That speaks to the lack of finish the team has offensively and the lack of reliable goaltending they have received.
Even with all this doom and gloom around the franchise, nothing has changed and nothing will change. Even when we have owners spending money to bring in veteran guys like PK Subban, Dougie Hamilton, and Tomas Tatar, who have been around good teams for a long time in their NHL careers, nothing changes. Instead, the losing culture of this franchise turns them into losers. The owners have paid big money to extend first overall picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes long term. Yet, I fear that the losing culture that is accepted, and seemingly encouraged, in New Jersey has already poisoned these promising young players. We could change the head coach but the last two coaches the Devils have fired, Peter Deboer and John Hynes, have gone on to be more successful in each of the next jobs they have taken. Once the coaches left, the losing stayed in New Jersey and the coaches went on to win more elsewhere. I am actually at a loss on how to return this once proud franchise to playoff contention. It was not all that long ago in the grand scheme of things that the Devils made the playoffs in 21 out of 24 seasons (1988-2012), winning three Stanley Cups and going to the finals five times. Hopefully someday those winning ways return to New Jersey, I just don’t see any reason to believe that they will be anytime soon.
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(All stats from hockeydb.com, hockey-reference.com and nhl.com)