New Jersey Devils: Putting Them in the Stanley Cup Conversation

It is crazy how one offseason can change a team’s reputation. The New Jersey Devils had one of the worst records in the NHL last season. New Jersey finished in last place in the Metropolitan Division with a 31-41-10 record with 72 points.

Today, it feels like the Devils are a much better team on paper than what they had last season. New Jersey acquired the rights of winger Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick.

He is 27 years old. After the trade, New Jersey signed him to a two-year deal worth $9 million overall. Gusev will receive five million this season and four million the season after.

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He played in 62 games last season in the KHL with the SKA St. Petersburg. Nikita Gusev scored 17 goals and recorded 65 assists. His plus/minus was 39. In 18 postseason games, he scored nine goals and recorded 10 assists. His plus/minus was -1.

Gusev will add more depth to this offense. He is a very fast skater and Nikita Gusev is very dangerous offensively. New Jersey only scored 222 goals last season and they gave up 275 goals last season.

This wasn’t the only move they have made this offseason. General Manager Ray Shero traded for defenseman P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline, they signed Wayne Simmonds to a one-year deal, and they drafted centerman Jack Hughes with the number one overall pick.

The New Jersey Devils will not be a cupcake on the schedule next season. They are in it to win it. New Jersey has not been to the Stanley Cup Finals since the 2012 season. That year they were the number six seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Devils lost that series against the Los Angeles Kings in six games. The last time New Jersey won it all was back in 2003 against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in seven games.

The projected lines as of right now will be Taylor Hall-Jack Hughes-Jesper Bratt on Line 1, Nikita Gusev-Nico HischierKyle Palmieri on Line 2, Blake ColemanTravis Zajac-Wayne Simmonds on Line 3, and Miles WoodPavel ZachaJohn Hayden on Line 4.

Sami Vatanen and P.K. Subban, Andy Greene and Damon Severson, and Will Butcher and Connor Carrick will most likely be the defensive pairings for now. However, it is very possible defenseman Ty Smith cracks the opening night roster.

He was a first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Smith is only 19 years old and he has a ton of upside. In 57 games played last season with the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL, Ty Smith only scored seven goals but he recorded 62 assists. His plus/minus was 5.

In 15 postseason games, Smith scored one goal and recorded eight assists. His plus/minus was 4.

The biggest decision Head Coach John Hynes will have to make is who will be the starting goaltender. Will he go with 33-year-old Cory Schneider who has been injury-prone over the past few years or will they go with the promising 22-year-old MacKenzie Blackwood?

Schneider is being paid $6 million for the next three seasons and Blackwood will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

In 26 games played last season, Cory Schneider’s record was 6-13-4 with a .903 save percentage and a 3.06 GAA, along with one shutout.

In 23 games played last season, MacKenzie Blackwood’s record was 10-10 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.61 GAA, along with two shutouts.

Goaltending will be the difference between missing the playoffs and making a deep playoff run. This team on paper is already better than at least the New York Islanders, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The New Jersey Devils will be one of the reasons why next season the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins potentially panic. New Jersey’s ceiling could be the number one or two seed in the Metropolitan Division, but they could also finish as either the third-best team in that division or be one of the wild card teams.

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The Metro usually sends four or five teams to the playoffs anyway. There will be enormous pressure on Hynes this season. Not only to make it to the playoffs but to potentially win a couple of rounds or he will get canned.

General Manager Ray Shero signed him to a contract extension last season because Shero put the blame on himself for the season they had.

Taylor Hall recorded 37 points in 33 games last season and if he is healthy for the entire season, the offense could be clicking especially if Jack Hughes lives up to standards and if Nico Hischier takes his game to another level.

This team could be must-see TV every night for the 2019-2020 season. There will potentially be extra juice in the rivalry with the New York Rangers this season. Given the fact, the Rangers got better as well.

Fans in Newark will be ecstatic when the season begins on Friday, October 4 at home against the Winnipeg Jets.

A lot of people might bet on New Jersey to win it all next season. Especially with the offseason moves they have made. Therefore, this team needs to be taken seriously.

How do you feel about the New Jersey Devils contending in 2019? Leave a comment below.

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Follow Glenn on Twitter @glennkaplan13.

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