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Devils Postmortem: What Went Wrong in Dreadful 2023-24 Season? Massive Decisions Ahead

Following a 112-point 2022-23, the Devils weren’t even a point-per-game team accruing 81 points in 2023-24. What went wrong? Massive decisions are ahead.



New Jersey Devils
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New Jersey Devils interim head coach Travis Green began Monday night’s postgame press conference explaining that although this season was a disappointing one, the future remains bring.

“This team has a very bright future. It’s extremely young,” Green explained to the Devils media.

However, the shadow of disappointment casts a shadow far larger than Green’s optimistic twist.

The New York Islanders put the Devils’ dreadful 2023-24 season to rest, downing New Jersey 4-1 and punching their ticket to the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

On one side of the ice was a team ready to wave the white flag. On the other side was a team ecstatic to reverse their mid-season woes.

“That’s the reality. You take a look over there and they’re going to the playoffs and it’s the most fun time of the year,” Timo Meier explained. “They get a shot at it. We don’t, so it definitely stinks. [We have to] use it the right way and make sure we’re not in this position again.”

Quantifying what went wrong with the Devils this season isn’t easy.

Injuries played a huge factor in the Devils’ derailed 2023-24, missing key players such as Dougie Hamilton for most of the season, and Jack Hughes who went out on multiple injury stints.

Still, the Devils didn’t help themselves by playing an immature game, allowing the opposition to score first in 57 of 82 games this season. Ultimately, their poor play led to a coaching change. Plus, the goaltending went through a major regression, thus the acquisitions of Jake Allen and Kaapo Kahkonen.

“It’s hard to point out just one thing. I think obviously, it starts out with some injuries and some immaturity in our game that didn’t really make us win games,” Jesper Bratt said. “But I mean, our starts were obviously a big factor that we were trailing from behind two-thirds of the games this season. A lot of that goes into it and then we just didn’t really find any rhythm throughout the season to get a lot of wins in a row and create momentum.”

From a 112-point team in 2022-23 that finished third overall in the NHL last season, the Devils’ regression hit so hard in 2023-24 that they failed to be a point-per-game team ending the year with 81 points.

General Manager Tom Fitzgerald has a lot of work to do this offseason.

First and foremost, Fitzgerald needs to hire a head coach. The Devils simply cannot construct a roster without knowing what the head of the snake will look like.

There’s a good crop of coaches available, too. Names such as Craig Berube, Todd McLellan, or two-time NCAA Frozen Four champion David Carle.

Then, Fitzgerald certainly needs to address his goaltending. The Devils’ GM explained when he acquired Allen, he was part of the goaltending tandem for the 2024-25 season as his contract expires in the summer of 2025.

Despite Kahkonen’s superior statistics, albeit, in a short sample, it appears the Finnish goaltender’s short tenure in New Jersey is over.

It’s been well reported by now, but the Devils and Calgary Flames seemingly left the door open to try and reconnect on a Jacob Markstrom deal this summer. And if nothing comes to fruition, there are other options such as Juuse Saros, Linus Ullmark, and Jordan Binnington to name a few netminders potentially available this summer.

The goaltending is a move that the Devils likely need to have figured out by the 2024 NHL Draft.

The Devils will also need to sort out their own contracts. There are key restricted free-agent contracts such as Dawson Mercer, Akira Schmid, Nico Daws, and Graeme Clarke to get sorted out, all of which can potentially be involved in trades this summer to address needs.

And in the unrestricted free agency corner, Brendan Smith, Tomas Nosek, and Kurtis MacDermid are at the forefront pending free agency, the latter of which the Devils’ GM already admitted he’s “trying” to re-sign.

Championship teams are rarely if ever, built through free agency. However, if the Devils’ needs aren’t addressed via trade, Fitzgerald will need to woo players to Newark.

New Jersey’s top six forwards can run with the best of them in the NHL. However, after the departure of Tyler Toffoli, they could use another top-six player. The Steven Stamkos’ and Jake Guentzel’s are likely too rich, however, perhaps a Max Domi could help add a mix of skill and grit.

Without question, the Devils need a defenseman despite their desire to upgrade the goaltending. Although they brokered the deal between the Flames and Dallas Stars, signing a guy like Chris Tanev this summer makes a lot of sense.

Tuesday is just Day One of a long summer ahead for the Devils. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the most important summers in the franchise’s history ahead.

If nothing else, the 2023-24 season can be seen as a productive struggle. A look at the recent Stanley Cup Champions such as the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, and Tampa Bay Lightning have all gone through some kind of adversity before capturing hockey’s ultimate prize. There’s no reason why the Devils can’t follow in the same footsteps.

Fitzgerald will need to push the right buttons this summer, however, or else it could be his last summer conducting New Jersey’s business.

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