One big question remains for Devils after busy summer
Even during their championship glory days the New Jersey Devils were never a team known for excitement, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as you are winning and competing for the Stanley Cup.
But as the franchise regressed over the past eight years into a pit of mediocrity they were stuck in one of the worst possible positions an NHL team can be in -- mediocre and boring.
General manager Ray Shero and his front office have done a ton of work this offseason to fix both of those problems.
They continued their overhaul on Monday by acquiring -- and signing -- winger Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights for draft picks.
When combined with the acquisition of P.K. Subban, the signing of Wayne Simmonds, the drafting of Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick, and what will hopefully be fully healthy seasons from Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier the Devils have dramatically uploaded pretty much everything about the team.
They added impact talent that not only makes them better, but is also going to be worth watching.
They have done all of that without having to give up anything of value from their NHL roster or farm system. It has been the perfect confluence of luck (winning the draft lottery) and timing as the Devils were armed with a ton of salary cap space to help them load up in the ongoing Metropolitan Division arms race this summer.
[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]
Even with all of the improvements the Devils still have one very big question remaining that will probably make or break what happens with their 2019-20 season.
That question: Goaltending. It has been a thorn for the Devils over the past three years as they have finished 27th, 18th, and 22nd in save percentage during that time.
Veteran Cory Schneider was once of the best goalies in the league, but is entering his age 33 season and has not finished with a save percentage higher than .908 since the 2015-16 season. His .908 mark over the past three combined seasons is 35th out of the 38 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games during that stretch. That is obviously not anywhere near good enough.
MacKenzie Blackwood had a promising debut last season, but with only 23 NHL games under his belt he is still a complete mystery. Especially since he did not really dominate at the American Hockey League level before getting an opportunity with the Devils.
The concern here is that if neither one is able to give the Devils an adequate performance in net it can render all of their offseason additions completely useless. There is no position that dictates what happens with a team more than goaltending. The New York Islanders showed us last season that a great performance in net can take an otherwise average team and turn it into a team that is capable of not only making the playoffs, but going reasonably far. Bad goaltending can completely sink a contender.
The good news for the Devils is that even after all of their additions this summer is that they still have more than $12 million in salary cap space to improve their roster and address their remaining weaknesses. The problem is the free agent pool for goalies is completely dry so any potential improvement (if needed) would have to come by way of trade. The Devils do still have all of their future first-round picks to use as trade chips if needed.
The new additions to the Devils lineup are going to go a long way toward putting the franchise back on the NHL map.
They just need to hope two of their returning players can solidify the most impactful position on the ice to make all of the additions worthwhile.