The Offseason That Wasn’t
Imagine a world in which we, the fans, could stop the clock and rewind it to change some things that are causing us grief today. In those times, everything from then until now is totally different. It’s a perfect Devils world, but what happened in the summer of 2023 that changed to misfortunes and early season woes? Before we get to that, let us discuss what the problem is now that is pushing us to take the drastic measure of turning back time. The first issue is one that should be but isn’t easy to understand, and that is defense. With the loss of Damon Severson, who was a staple on the Devils blueline for many years, and big Ryan Graves not being offered a contract, the New Jersey Devils lost a significant amount of Defensive experience. We are about to turn the clock back on Damon Severson and Ryan Graves, but first, we ask, why did the Devils allow two defensemen to walk in the first place? (Severson being a sign and trade). You, as a fan reading this, would think that this is normal; this is the only way to get the kids up and in the lineup. To an extent, that is true, but in this case, we are in November, and we aren’t seeing any of that. Simon Nemec, somehow, after that great games he had on October 6th at UBS Arena and others at MSG and the Bell Centre, he was sure to be on the Devils finalized roster, right? Well, not exactly; many forgot Colin Miller was brought in and was being given a chance by Tom Fitzgerald. However, as snazzy of a dresser Miller is, that’s all he has brought to the Devils so far. With an injury before first puck drop, he was lost. Now you would think, ok, here is his chance. Second overall pick, Simon Nemec is finally being called up to make his NHL debut. This is all in our dreams, as Lindy Ruff has kept the same six defensemen out there for every game this season, doing his usual mashing of the pairings. You have to give it to Ruff slightly, he does already have Rookie Luke Hughes in his lineup, and maybe two rookies at once isn’t the best idea? Then again, the argument against that is that Luke Hughes doesn’t play like a rookie. He looks like he is in his sophomore or third season in the NHL. However, he is a rookie, and he is being treated like one, which may be the catalyst in the decision to keep Nemec in Utica. Here is a great tweet showing some of Nemec’s preseason chops.
So what if Severson and Graves didn’t leave and other moves were made? How would the Devils fair today? Well, with the addition of Luke Hughes, the signing of Colin Miller (which was a surprise to all Devils fans) would not happen. Before we look at the pairings, we have to remember Kevin Bahl is fighting for his spot on the roster as well. Kevin Bahl takes precedence over Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec at this point because of his experience; it is clear he is a great addition to the Devils blue line. We can thank Taylor Hall for that one. So with Jonas Siegenthaler, John Marino, Dougie Hamilton, Kevin Bahl, Luke Hughes, Damon Severson, Brendan Smith, and Ryan Graves, one of the defensemen has to go just by sheer numbers. So, in this hypothetical situation, the Devils extend Damon Severson, and Ryan Graves still moves on to Pittsburgh. After all, you can’t always keep everybody you want to keep. Especially with a depth pool of solid young Defensemen in the system. So, Severson is kept with the team because of his tenure in this situation we are building. Luke Hughes made his impact late last season and a bit in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean he will make the team out of camp. Well, just like the reality of this season, Luke makes it, and Nemec is bumped to the AHL. This leaves the Devils with these defensive pairings.
JONAS SIEGENTHALER-DOUGIE HAMILTON
LUKE HUGHES-DAMON SEVERSON
KEVIN BAHL-JOHN MARINO
(BRENDAN SMITH, SIMON NEMEC)
We can only guess as to what would be happening on the ice right now if things were different.
If New Jersey could go back in time, I think they would be much better off in this situation. Without the injured Colin Miller, still holding onto a long-time Devil and veteran defensemen to help ease Luke Hughes into his role, and if there is an injury or two to the Defense, Nemec could be brought up. Simon Nemec looked ready this preseason with a couple of goals, a fight against the Rangers, and a lot of great defensive play. A lot of people within the organization thought he would make it, but then others thought about Smith and Miller and rightfully understood he wouldn’t be in the opening night lineup.
Future/Fantasy Sleepers/More Devils Content
The New Jersey Devils are a high-powered team, even when nursing the injuries of two of their top three players. Mike Mcleod taking over the top Center is a great fantasy pickup in a small league right now. If your fantasy league counts faceoff wins, he is golden. Even without that, he has been putting up decent points for his position. The future of the Devils depends on three things. One of these things being the extension of Tyler Toffoli; if Fitz can get that done, it will keep the Devils in talks as cup contenders no matter what the goalie situation. That goalies situation is number two; it seems like if you watch every Devils game, you may agree that Akira Schmid is looking better as time goes on. He played great in a loss that can only be blamed on the defense, and then again when Vanecek was pulled, he played another great game. Come the dead of Winter; I believe Shmid will be acting as the 1A goalie for New Jersey. And, of course, third is the Defense. Things could get ugly if the Devils don’t bring up Simon Nemec soon; at this point, they are only a few wins away from getting back to the top, so right now, and only right now, is the time to get all of this done. Lindy Ruff needs to bring Holtz onto the ice for power plays, as he has been struggling on the defensive end of the puck, leaving pucks for opposing teams and turnovers that should just never happen. Dawson Mercer finally started scoring and, with that, has put one in two games in a row. If his offensive prowess returns right now, hopefully, it will put a kick in Palat and Bastian. A couple of Devils who really aren’t noticeable on the ice. With an A on his jersey, Ondrej Palat was brought in for veteran leadership. He does not seem to be bringing it this season. This is why possibly a trade of Palat is imminent, so the Toffoli extension can make more sense. Remember, Toffoli is also a Veteran of the league and has a Stanley Cup himself. It is only a matter of time before the Devils reveal their true selves. Most of us hope to see Simon Nemec dressed for the Stadium Series game at Metlife Stadium when the Devils take on the Flyers.
For New Jersey Devils updates in real-time, follow Devils Joint on X/Twitter. Devils Joint provides goals, saves, and other replays in real-time as the games are being played. Right now, it only works for the Devils, but the brand Devils Joint hopes to expand to other teams. You can join the Devils Joint DISCORD with this invite link right here: https://discord.gg/CQmTfGDf – The Devils Joint Discord server is for all Hockey fans; there are channels on the server for everyone, and you can make or request to make a channel for your own team. On X, you will find Livestreams every game, Replays of every goal within minutes of it happening, funny posts, a podcast where Devils fans sit down with fans of other teams, and more! Here is an example of a tweet about Simon Nemec being needed for New Jersey. If you saw the tweet left above, it correlates with the music in that one. Let’s Go Devils!