Big moves were made up front, and more goals will be scored, but can the New Jersey Devils succeed with skill lacking on defense?
Ever since Ray Shero began rebuilding the Devils back in 2015, his objectives have remained the same as they were for his former employer, the Pittsburgh Penguins: Build the offense.
He began the process last year, trading defenseman Adam Larsson to Edmonton for dynamic forward Taylor Hall. He’s continued to stockpile weapons up front this offseason, drafting Nico Hischler first overall in the NHL Draft, stealing Marcus Johansson from Washington and signing Brian Boyle mere seconds after the NHL released unrestricted free agents from their holding cells.
Without a doubt, those moves should have Devils fans excited. Those newcomers are only going to help an offense that struggled to put the puck in the net last season, scoring just 183 goals—the NHL’s third-lowest total. Fans knew that adjustments needed to be made up front, and Shero has answered the call.
But is he making a mistake by not adding significantly to the defense, considering how weak it was last season? To be fair, Shero has made some changes on the blueline. Whether they’ll make any difference, however, is anyone’s guess.
Mirco Mueller, acquired from the San Jose Sharks just before the draft, is still incredibly raw. The Swiss-born 22-year-old has played in only 54 NHL games and has contributed just two goals and four assists. He’s young enough to still have time to prove his worth. But right now, it’s impossible to count on him for anything.
The Devils didn’t protect Jon Merrill in the Expansion Draft and Las Vegas took him. While he hasn’t done much over parts of four seasons in the NHL, he did have some experience. Mueller and Merrill are essentially a wash.
The signing of Brian Strait is just as stale as the loss and gain of the aforementioned two players. Strait, who has been in the league since 2010, has only scored 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 187 career games. He’s never played in more than 52 in any of the seven seasons he’s spent in the league. Simply put, the 29-year-old can’t be counted on as a game-changer on defense. In fact, one can be certain that he’s not.
In addition, the Devils signed Yaroslav Dyblenko, a 23-year-old Russian lefty with not a single moment spent on NHL ice. He can also be considered a toss-up. Same goes for 24-year-old Viktor Loov, who played just four games with Toronto last season.
The holdovers from last year were part of a group that allowed 244 goals against, sixth-worst in the league and tied with the disappointing Detroit Red Wings for last in the Eastern Conference.
Truthfully, after looking at the full list of defensemen, not one of the newly acquired are likely to earn a spot on the bench during the first game of the season against Colorado.
Captain Andy Greene, Damon Severson, John Moore, Ben Lovejoy, Steven Santini and Dalton Prout figure to be the team’s starting six. The defense will be essentially the same as it was last season.
No one likes to point out the negatives during an offseason that was truly decent overall. But the gambles the Devils took on defense this offseason is certainly reason for concern in New Jersey.
If only they had signed Kevin Shattenkirk. He bleeds blue now, however.