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Game #48 – Hawks vs. Devils Q&A: The King Of Jersey Style

@HellBlazerVice is yet another creature we pulled out of the bin marked, “Unmentionables.” We took him home and fed him and now we can’t get rid of him. 

It’s been quite a comedown for the Devils from last year. Is it just the goaltending that’s landed them here?
I’d say it’s mostly the goaltending- they’re virtually the same team as they were last year with regards to their possession and expected goal numbers, but they’re losing a lot because no one can make a stop. Their horrid goaltending combined with John Hynes trying to get the Devils to play a faster style like the Leafs has generally put them in a tough spot because most of the time they’re down 3-0 early and they stop playing aggressively because they’re too worried about putting themselves in a deeper hole. They’ve also had a really tough schedule to start the season- they’ve played a third of their games against legitimate cup contenders or elite teams in Toronto, Tampa, Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose, Washington and Vegas so that’s not helping either. They’re doing surprisingly better without Hall this year mainly because in at least half of the games where Hall’s been hurt, they’ve gotten strong goaltending from their top goaltending prospect MacKenzie Blackwood, which has given them the confidence to play a bit more aggressive. Outside of Zacha, Butcher, and Wood most of the skaters have met or are exceeding expectations so it’s probably safe to say that the goaltending is the issue.
Is Cory Schneider permanently broken?
Shero is just as tight lipped as Lou so it’s hard to tell what Schneider’s status is, but I remember seeing a quote in 31 Thoughts which said that there was some concern about Schneider’s injury being career ending- and I think that might be the case. He just can’t move the way he used to and over the past few years he’s been dealing with a lot of core muscle injuries to go with the hip problems he’s had so that’s going to affect him. He turns 33 in March so the chances of him returning to form are minimal. They can’t give him game time to work out his issues because they’ve got to try and win games in order to have a better chance at keeping Taylor Hall around. His days as a Devil are numbered and he’s probably going to get an amnesty buyout after the inevitable lockout in 2020.
What are the Devils going to do with Taylor Hall? He has one year left on his contract…
The good news is that unlike the Sens or Isles with Karlsson and Tavares, the Devils don’t exactly have the same issues those teams have. Unlike Mean Gene Melnyk, Josh Harris isn’t a cheapskate and the Devils lack of spending has more to do with Shero showing a ton of restraint and not overpaying for mid-tier free agents. Not only do they have the cap space, but they’re probably more than willing to give Hall the money to stay in New Jersey. Unlike the Isles, the Devils have a good GM and aren’t going to replace him with a ghoul like Lou and so far there isn’t a can’t-miss free agent destination like the Leafs- Nashville would fit that bill but playing with Nico and Kyle Palmieri is probably more enticing than playing with Kyle Turris and Colton Sissons on a contender. Re-signing John Hynes should help their chances as he seems to like playing for Hynes. They’re also in a good spot to retool the current roster given that Shero’s trade record is excellent, they might be able to get one of the really good free agents in this year’s class (or alternatively, his good buddy Jordan Eberle) with the $30+ million in cap space they have going into next season and they’ve obviously got a lottery pick with a lottery ball specialist so maybe they end up with one of Hughes, Kakko or Cozens. My guess is that they’ll offer him a blank cheque on July 1st and either he takes the money or waits to see if a contender emerges while having the Devils massive offer in his back pocket as a contingency plan.
At least there appears to be a step forward from Nico Hischier?
The thing about Nico is that you have to watch him closely to appreciate what he brings like someone like Patrice Bergeron or Patrik Elias. He’s not going to be lighting the scoresheet up with four-point games or hat tricks but the Devils have been winning the possession battle when he’s been on the ice. Considering he doesn’t get power play time and Rick Kowalsky has no idea how to run a power play his numbers there aren’t great, but he’s scoring at a better rate than he did this year and that’s probably going to go up once Hall returns from injury and Kowalsky gets his head out of his ass.
The Devils were a rebuilding team last year that spasmed a playoff spot. Is it possible for them to be much worse in the standings but actually moving forward as a team?
If you ask me, moving forward means moving away from the chickenshit conservative style they had towards the end of Lou’s tenure and moving towards the kind of style that teams like Toronto and Tampa play. While they’re trying to do that and it’s not necessarily working, it’s better they do this than go back to playing the chickenshit style they played under DeBoer where the games would be much closer but they couldn’t win because they lacked the skill to win. The thing is with the way they’re playing, it’s going to be much easier to insert difference makers than it would be while playing a conservative style that relies on bad, risk averse players. This is important because they’ve done a better job drafting and most of the guys they’ve drafted are smaller, high skill guys. Someone like 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith- a 5’10”, 175-lb defenseman with great puck skills, is now much easier to play in a system where his puck skills matter rather than one where his puck skills have to be toned down to fit into the safer style. As long as they’re not going back to the ineffective conservative tactics that have failed them in recent years I’m fine with them losing while trying to play a more effective style.


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