What Went Wrong for the 2023-24 New Jersey Devils

The 2023-24 NHL season was one of high expectations for the New Jersey Devils. Coming off a franchise-best 112-point and 52-win season, the Devils were widely projected to take another step forward in their quest for the Stanley Cup. However, as the playoffs begin, New Jersey sits on the outside looking in, facing an early offseason and numerous questions surrounding what went wrong for the team this season. Was it the curse of an undefeated preseason striking again? Probably not, but many factors contributed to New Jersey’s downfall in 2023-24.

By the Numbers

The Devils finished the season with a 38-39-5 record and 81 points. They were seventh in the Metropolitan Division and 23rd in the league. Their home record was 17-21-3, while their road record was marginally better, at 21-18-2.

Injury Bug

One of the most glaring hindrances to the Devils’ season was the extensive injury list that spanned the entirety of the year.

Dougie Hamilton

Hamilton tore his left pectoral muscle on November 28th against the New York Islanders. He underwent surgery and missed the remainder of the regular season. Before his injury, Hamilton had tallied 16 points in 20 games and was skating over 20 minutes per game, the most of any Devil.

Jack Hughes

Hughes had two notable injuries this season. He suffered a shoulder injury on November 3rd after crashing awkwardly into the boards in a matchup with the St. Louis Blues and missed five games. On January 5th against the Chicago Blackhawks, he suffered another upper-body injury and missed over a month.

Hughes was shut down for the final four games of the season and underwent successful surgery on April 10th. He is expected to make a full recovery in time for the beginning of training camp in September.

Nico Hischier

Hischier sustained an upper-body injury on October 27th after a hit to the head from Buffalo Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton. He missed 11 games, and the Devils went 4-7-0 during that span.

Timo Meier

Meier missed seven games in November with what was revealed to be an injury to both MCLs simultaneously. Former Head Coach Lindy Ruff also stated that after returning from injury, Meier was still not playing fully healthy. At the end of December, he was hurt again with an oblique issue that held him out six more games.

Despite the injuries, Devils fans saw what a healthy Meier was capable of in the final 25 games of the season, where he scored 17 goals and 28 points.

Jonas Siegenthaler

Siegenthaler played just 57 games for New Jersey this season. He suffered a broken foot on January 6th after blocking a shot against the Vancouver Canucks. He missed 16 games. He was injured again on March 11th after taking an illegal elbow to the head against the New York Rangers. He missed nine games with a concussion.

Depth Players

The Devils’ depth players were not exempt from the injury parade either. Tomas Nosek only played 36 games, missing time after having foot surgery. Nathan Bastian played just 54 games and missed the final 26 contests of the year. Curtis Lazar, who had a career year with New Jersey, played 71 games, periodically missing time throughout the year.

Nolan Foote is another forward who was expected to make a push for a roster spot in preseason. He played in two games before missing nearly the entire season with a lower-back disc injury that had been lingering for four years. Foote played the final four games of the season with the Devils and tallied one goal.

Only Luke Hughes, Dawson Mercer, Alexander Holtz, Kevin Bahl, and Jesper Bratt played in all 82 games this season.

Goaltending

Goaltending was another ongoing storyline in the Devils’ season. They iced five goalies throughout the year and only found some real consistency in net following the trade deadline acquisitions of Jake Allen and Kaapo Kahkonen.

Vitek Vanecek started 29 games with New Jersey this season. He had a 17-9-3 record with a .890 SV% and a 3.18 GAA.

Akira Schmid started 15 games for the Devils and had a 5-9-1 record. He posted a .895 SV% and a 3.15 GAA.

Nico Daws started 20 games with New Jersey and had a 9-11-0 record. He put up a .894 SV% with a 3.15 GAA.

The Devils traded Vanecek at the deadline and sent Schmid and Daws to the minor leagues for more development.

In his time with New Jersey, Allen started 12 games and posted a 6-6-1 record. He had a .900 SV% and a 3.11 GAA.

Kahkonen started only six games for the Devils and had a 1-4 record. His .923 SV% and 2.51 GAA were the best of any netminder to suit up for New Jersey this season. He also earned the only shutout of the year for the Devils.

Back to Backs

The Devils had a league-leading 16 sets of back-to-back games this past season. They were quite good in the first half of these games, racking up 12 wins. However, they were just 3-11-2 in the second half of back-to-back games. Interim Head Coach Travis Green cited immaturity as a contribution to the repeated lackluster performances in back-to-back situations, but ultimately, New Jersey left 24 points on the table in 16 games in the second halves.

Missed Opportunities

The Devils finished with the 10th-worst record in the league. Against the nine teams behind them in the standings, they had a 13-8-1 record. Against the bottom five teams in the league, they had just an 8-5-0 record. That includes losses to the Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets, and San Jose Sharks. They were also swept by the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks.

For a team that struggled so much with injuries and goaltending, among other things, games against lottery teams hold even more importance. For New Jersey, the lost points very well could have cost them a playoff position in a year where only 91 points earned a wildcard spot and 94 points earned third in the Metropolitan Division.

Starting On Time

The Devils gave up the first goal in 57 out of 82 games this season. Historically, the only team to allow the first goal more often than the 2023-24 Devils was the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche, who did it 58 times. Coincidentally, the Avalanche were also undefeated in preseason that year before going 22-56-4.

For New Jersey, it was not sustainable to begin nearly 70% of their games down by a goal.

Finishing Strong

Interestingly, after Lindy Ruff was relieved of his head coaching duties, the Devils had marginally better first periods. However, third periods became a real problem for New Jersey in the final few weeks of the season. In their final ten contests, they were outscored a whopping 17-5 in the final frame of play. They were also outshot 104-68 in that time frame.

Whether it be the first or third period or anything in between, the Devils struggled to put together complete 60-minute efforts all season.

Empty Net

New Jersey had a hard time with their goalie pulled this season. Last year, they were very reliable with the empty net and regularly capitalized to force overtime in critical matchups. That was not the case for the Devils this year, where they allowed 27 empty netters by their opponents and only scored 14.

Forcing overtime, in general, was a problem for New Jersey. They played in just 10 overtime games, the fewest in the league, and had a 5-5 record in those scenarios. Comparatively, the New York Islanders propelled themselves into third in the Metropolitan Division with 16 overtime loss points. Forcing overtime, which was a strength for New Jersey last season, proved to be a costly flaw of the team this year.

Moving Forward

Ultimately, the Devils need to focus on getting healthy in the offseason. Several players had lingering injuries on locker room clean-out day, and an elongated break allows everyone time to get back to 100% before starting the new season with a clean slate.

From a managerial standpoint, Tom Fitzgerald has some tough decisions to make. Addressing the goaltending situation, solidifying the bottom six and hiring a head coach should be top priorities. At the same time, it is important to not overreact to a season that was riddled with adversity. Strategic moves to address pressing issues are necessary, but they shouldn’t be overdone to the point of altering the strong foundation that has been built in New Jersey.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
  3. Episode 6. Early Trade Season
  4. Episode 5. Longing For The Chiarelli Years
  5. Episode 4. Ottawa’s On Fire

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