Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Pool Outlook for New Jersey

The New Jersey Devils did not have a terrible year in 2016, like I thought they might.  The team stayed in the playoff race for the better part of the season, only falling out officially in the last few weeks.  With some stable and healthy goaltending, a rag tag bunch of misfits done good, the Devils quietly went about their business, officially finishing the year, two games above .500.

The Devils were not exempt from the injury bug and in all honesty, they could have made a very solid run in the second half of the season, if Mike Cammalleri was still in the lineup and Patrik Elias could have played more than 16 games this season.  Nevertheless, the absences opened the door for a guy like Joseph Blandisi.

We should also give credit to a couple of guys like Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique, each still managing to have 30-goal seasons for New Jersey, even if their depth was not able to support them properly.  Of course, they may run into some higher expectations, if this team is going to get better, so they will be measured appropriately from here on in.

There are lots of positives drawn from this Devils team, but for our pool purposes out West, some of those positives might be lost to the lack of coverage.  There is some youth coming up for these Devils and if may need a close eye to find them, but it's not all bad in the swamp, heading into the Summer.

It should come as no surprise that the Devils were among the least popular teams at the draft last September and it's for good reason.  On paper, it was really hard to find where the goals and points were going to come from, beyond a few familiar names.  Cory Schneider was a 2nd round pick in the draft, as we all knew he was going to get the minutes, but wins were a lot less likely.  Since very few Devils were taken in the draft, that led to a handful being picked up in Week Nine, as two of the lesser players were dropped.  Week Eighteen saw a bit of a correction, as three Devils were dropped and two were picked up.  Still, at the end of the season, thanks to the trade deadline playing a role, the pool ended up with nine active Devils on rosters by the final horn.

Schneider was the top Devils player in pool scoring, as he was 12th in the NHL in minutes played for a goalie, but he only finished 49th in overall scoring, thanks to 27 wins and 4 shutouts for 62 points.  That would have equated him with a low 2nd round pick, which was about where he was taken, so the draft was pretty spot on for him.  I think we can look for much of that again in 2017.

In total, the Devils finished with 10 players that were pool worthy, including Schneider above.  Keith Kinkaid, Schneider's partner for the better part of the season, played enough to be ranked 49th among all goalies, which was a great result for him.  No one picked him up though.

At forward, it was only Palmieri, Henrique, Cammalleri and Travis Zajac on the list, which was pretty poor as a group.  Palmieri and Henrique really tried to keep the team afloat but couldn't do it alone.

On the blueline, Damon Severson, David Schlemko, John Moore and Adam Larsson were all pool worthy, but definitely at the back end of the distinction.  Severson led the way and he was ranked 81st among all defensemen in scoring, so an upgrade in numbers will desperately be needed.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The Devils may get a good taste of picking high in the Entry Draft this June, so they may stay the course in July, sign some of the bargain basement free agents to fill out the roster and then try to play for another high pick in the 2016 draft as well.  Unfortunately for a guy like Cory Schneider, the team around him is going to feel that his season has gone to waste and he still has some long-term ties to the club.  Between Schneider eating a lot of minutes and the team filled with mediocrity, I can see the Devils missing the playoffs by a bunch, but not being the worst team in the league, possibly picking in the 6-to-10 range again next Summer.

Well, there's no doubt that Schneider ate up a lot of minutes for the Devils and his efforts were shown in his overall ranking, no doubt.  Nevertheless, the Devils are still picking 11th, which is good and close to where I thought they would be around this time last year.  Picking lower means that they were just a tad better than what I thought they would be and I think they surpassed many expectations, no matter how low they might be.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Travis Zajac 5.750 Adam Larsson 4.167 Cory Schneider 6.000
Michael Cammalleri 5.000 John Moore 1.667 Keith Kinkaid 0.725
Adam Henrique 4.000 Damon Severson 0.606
Ryane Clowe 4.850 Andy Greene 5.000 Ken Appleby 0.635
Pavel Zacha 0.925 Steven Santini 0.925 Scott Wedgewood 0.588
Miles Wood 0.925 Joshua Jacobs 0.726
Nick Lappin 0.843 Vojtech Mozik 0.680
John Quenneville 0.843 Seth Helgeson 0.588
Ryan Kujawinski 0.693
Blake Coleman 0.680
Blake Pietila 0.663
Joseph Blandisi 0.650
Graham Black 0.650
Ben Thomson 0.627
Ben Johnson 0.617
Paul Thompson 0.575

Eight out of ten pool worthy players from the 2016 season are back and already signed, which makes for a good start to this off-season.  The team has a lot of work to do, before they are competing with those juggernauts in the Metropolitan Division, but they do have a piece or two that will help with their long-term goals.  I think we temper expectations for pool numbers again next season, but there will be a Devil or two that will help a pool team, much like Henrique helped last season.

The Devils showcased some young talent and there is some to get excited about.  Their 2015 1st round pick, Pavel Zacha, made an appearance in the regular season, playing in one game and picking up a pair of assists, so that's a reasonable start.  A 2011 5th round pick, Blake Pietila got a look near the end of the season as well, playing in seven games and also registering a pair of assists.  Whether or not they'll be pool worthy, may be left up to the team that is built around them, but I would expect that they will be on the opening night roster, as of right now.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

Depth, depth and more depth.  I don't think the Devils can turn down much, in the way of good talent at just about any position.  I would fully expect them to take the best available player, possibly leaning towards a pure offensive player.  I think a kid like Tyson Jost gets a long look by the Devils, since he plays down the middle, has some speed and very skilled offensively.  This is the kind of player that would fit in for the long-term in Jersey.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Summer and free agency is going to wipe the slate clean on a lot of players, as the Devils have a lot of players heading to unrestricted free agency, David Schlemko is the only pool worthy player heading that way, but there are notable names like Tyler Kennedy, Stephen Gionta, Jordin Tootoo, Jiri Tlusty and Tuomo Ruutu are also heading that way.

Of course, the real work for a lot of team is restricted free agents, to which their other pool worthy free agent resides, forward Kyle Palmieri.  He'll be a big signing to lock up, but after a good season and lots of ice-time, it shouldn't be too bad.  The Devils have a few more regulars in need of contracts, like Devante Smith-Pelly, Reid Boucher and Sergey Kalinin.

The eight pool worthy players above are coming in at only $27.9 million and the whole she-bang up on the signed roster is only $50.6 million, so this team has lots of room to play with, especially when you consider that Ryane Clowe and his $4.85 million won't likely see the light of day and head right back to the LTIR.

Playing as the underdog played right into the hands of this Devils organization and it looks like it will be a lot of the same again in the 2017 season.  This coming season's end result will have a lot resting on the shoulders of the youth that they infuse their roster with.  A few of their young defensemen have another year under their belts, which will be a big boost in front of Schneider.  Now, if they can get Adam Larsson to play like the position he was drafted in, back in 2011, this team could really start making some headway towards the playoffs.  Still, their offense leaves something to be desired, so don't jump ahead of their roster, on paper, anyways.  I still feel a lottery pick coming on for them next season.
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