In 13 of their first 14 seasons in the National Hockey League, the New Jersey Devils (including seasons as the Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies) suffered at least 40 losses, annually ranking among the league’s bottom-feeders.
Yes, the tide turned and the Devils captured three Stanley Cups, but the franchise has failed to make the playoffs over the past five seasons capped by a return to 40 losses just last year, finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference. Only the Colorado Avalanche posted fewer victories.
So will someone please explain the unexpected, nay, unbelievable and astounding turnaround by the boys from Newark! Leaping from worst to first, Jersey is currently the top team in the Metropolitan Division, ranked second in the East only behind No. 1 overall Tampa Bay.
When we last saw Devils before last April, they ranked among the bottom five clubs in almost every significant statistical category. How could so much change so quickly?
Unlike many franchises that allow their top prospects to mature in the juniors for a season, GM Ray Shero rolled the dice and allowed his youngsters to play with the big boys. And it’s worked so far.
Center Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has proven he can distribute the puck with nine early assists. LW Jesper Bratt ranks third in team scoring. Both are just 19.
Unlike recent players like Connor McDavid of Edmonton, few domestically have heard of these Devils. Probably because both hail from Europe – Hischier is from Switzerland; Pratt comes from Sweden.
In fact, the Devils show just four skaters over age 30, including veteran defensemen Andy Greene, who has spent his entire career in New Jersey, and Ben Lovejoy. a Stanley Cup winner in Pittsburgh two years ago.
The club also received a break when starting goalie Cory Schneider missed 10 days with an injury, yet missed two games when the team wasn’t scheduled.
Plus, unlike “your father’s” Devils, which utilized defense to win three Cups, this group can play several styles. Over the weekend, they downed Florida, 2-1, then overcame a three-goal deficit to swamp Chicago, 7-5.
This week, the Devils are on the road at Toronto and Winnipeg. Both should be near pick’em affairs, so there may be value on the rising Devils at plus-money.
Our hometown Vegas Golden Knights will be tested over the next two weeks with six consecutive battles against Pacific Division foes. Four will be held on the road, giving fans a taste to see how playoff-competitive this club can truly be.
This week’s slate will be capped by a 5 p.m. Sunday meeting with the L.A. Kings, a club that ruled southern Nevada until a few months ago. And there’s good news. Starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since suffering a concussion against Detroit on Oct. 10. Fleury is now listed day-to-day.
Then on Sunday, No. 2 netminder Malcolm Subban also returned to City National Arena ice in Summerlin.
Winnipeg: Forget about Steve Mason in goal. The Jets are soaring with Connor Hellebuyck (8-1-2, 2.44 GAA) between the pipes.
Tampa Bay: He came along a season too late, yet Vladislav Namestnikov may be one of the best centers in the NHL. The Russian lost behind Steven Stamkos is publicity, but Fantasy players need to look at the Russian as a reason the Bolts are No. 1 overall, bolstered by their three-game California sweep last week.
San Jose: Are the Sharks the hottest team no one talks about? Sure, San Jose is 7-1-0 in L8, but that truly ugly 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay keeps me from wagering on the No-Cals.
N.Y. Rangers: The Blue Shirts are also 7-1-0 in L8, including six straight wins, but the defense continues to offer little help to G Henrik Lundqvist. They join my list of Go-Against teams where I will look toward the dog at plus-money.
Carolina: Justin Williams, known as Mr. Game 7 when skating for the L.A. Kings, is the leading scorer for the Hurricanes, and that’s the problem. Williams just turned 36, leaving us to wonder what happened to those gifted young players the last-place club talked about all summer.
Edmonton: After winning on opening night vs. Calgary, the Oilers are a mere 2-6-0 at home. What gives?