The Capitals have won the Metropolitan Division three straight years. Can they defend their title? Here’s a preview of each team in the division for the 2018-19 season.
Today's team: New Jersey Devils
2017-18 Results: 44-29-9, 97 points, fifth in the division. Lost in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
Notable acquisitions: D Eric Gryba, G Eddie Lack
Notable departures: F Brian Gibbons, F Michael Grabner, F Patrick Maroon, F Drew Stafford, D John Moore
When they will play the Caps: Oct. 11 in Newark, Nov. 30 in Washington, March 8 in Washington, March 19 in Newark
Offseason recap: If you’re wondering how a team that lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs is supposed to be any better this season after making virtually no moves in the offseason, you’re not alone. It was a very quiet offseason for the Devils who, instead of bringing in outside talent, will be relying on internal growth to remain a playoff team.
The Devils got 51 goals from their rookies last season. Players like Nico Hischier will look to take on a bigger role with the team while prospects like Michael McLeod and John Quenneville could have a shot at making the NHL roster.
But can a New Jersey team that made the playoffs only by one point last season rely on its internal talent to improve enough over the course of the offseason to keep them among the top eight in the conference? If that's the plan, they may be relying just a bit too much on their youngsters to make a big leap.
There are also injury concerns. Taylor Hall had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his hand in April. While he is expected to be ready for training camp, the news is not as good for goalie Cory Schneider who may miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery in May to repair torn cartilage in his hip.
Biggest strength: Taylor Hall
Hall won the Hart Trophy as league MVP after an incredible 93-point season after managing just 53 points the year before. He did not win the MVP because he had the best season in the NHL or because he was the best player, he won it because he absolutely was the most valuable player to his team, bar none. The Devils would not come anywhere close to be a playoff team without him.
Biggest weakness: The rest of the offense
Why was Hall the most valuable player to his team? Because no one else could score.
Hall’s 93 points not only led the Devils, it was 41 more than the team’s second-leading scorer, Hischier. That is the largest gap in the league between the team’s top two scorers. Hischier was the only other player on the roster to crack 50 points.
2018-19 season outlook: There is no reason to think Hall will not have another dominant season and yes, there is some young talent on New Jersey to get excited about. But standing pat this offseason was done more with an eye on the future than it was about this season. Giving younger players more playing time will pay dividends down the road, but believing they can lead the Devils to the postseason again is asking too much of both them and Hall who will again be tasked with carrying the team.
Schneider’s injury is a definite concern, as is his 2.93 GAA and .907 save percentage from last season. He has to be better.
Even if he is, however, I am just not sure this team could manage enough internal growth this offseason to remain in postseason contention.
2018-19 season prediction: The Devils will narrowly miss the playoffs.
Other Metropolitan Division previews: