*2021 record and finish: 19-30-7, 7th place in the East Division, did not make the playoffs
Coach: Lindy Ruff
Notable additions: G Jonathan Bernier, D Ryan Graves, D Dougie Hamilton, F Tomas Tatar
Notable departures: D Connor Carrick, G Aaron Dell, D Ryan Murray
Schedule against the Capitals
At New Jersey 7 p.m., Thurs. Oct. 21
At Washington 3 p.m., Sun. Jan. 2
At Washington 7 p.m., Sat. March 26
Outlook: The Devils claimed the biggest prize of the offseason in Hamilton, but he was just one of a number of significant signings. New Jersey wants to compete now as shown by their aggressive offseason.
Defensively, Hamilton and Graves should improve a defense that was 27th in the NHL last season with 3.38 goals against per game. Mackenzie Blackwood returns as the presumptive starter, but Bernier is a definite upgrade behind him that should allow more of a tandem approach in net.
Tatar adds a productive veteran forward to a very young core, assuming the Devils play him. Tatar was productive in Vegas and Montreal as well, but had trouble cracking the lineup. It looks like he could get a significant role in New Jersey, providing support for its young stars like Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.
Biggest question: Are the young players ready for the next step?
We have seen the Devils make a number of key additions in the offseason before. In 2019, New Jersey drafted Hughes, traded for P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev and also signed free agent Wayne Simmonds. A team that looked like a darkhorse playoff contender, however, was so disappointing that by December they traded Taylor Hall.
The Devils had a great offseason and look much better on paper, but it is all dependent on their young players -- specifically Hughes, Hischier and Blackwood -- taking the next step and leading the team. They will ultimately be the guys who determine if New Jersey is a playoff team or not, more so than Hamilton, Tatar and Bernier.
Expectations: New Jersey is better, but in a competitive Metropolitan Division, I don't see them going from non-playoff team to division contender with one good offseason. Hughes and Hischier are both very good, but not elite (yet). The Devils should be better in net with Bernier taking some of the pressure off of Blackwood, but I still haven't seen enough from Blackwood to make me confident he can be a shutdown No. 1 goalie.
We will get a better glimpse of New Jersey's potential when Subban's contract comes off the books next season allowing them more cap flexibility. For now, the Devils should be a bubble team to reach the playoffs, but I don't see them being able to do much beyond that.