Season Preview: Three questions with Devils blog All About the Jersey

We’re previewing the season by asking the experts - other SB Nation blogs!

Last week we wrapped up our questions to Atlantic Division blogs. Today, we move on to the rest of the east: the Metropolitan Division. We’re kicking it off with the Devils, with answers from John Fischer of All About the Jersey.

1. The Devils are supposed to in the middle of a rebuild, but  they played much better than expected last year, and challenged for a  playoff spot until late. How do you think they will do this coming  season?

I think the Devils have a good chance to do about the same.  While the  team added Taylor Hall, the Devils have continually been a low-event,  low-attempt, low-shooting, low-scoring hockey team for the better part  of the last nine seasons. Those seasons included playoff runs and  superior players running things.  Hall will help but the Devils as a  whole need a more talented roster in front of an ace goaltender like  Cory Schneider to really go anywhere. Because they've succeeded in so  many close games last season, I think their record was inflated at least  a little bit. Because Schneider is so good, the team will still find  ways to be competitive, but I don't think they'll be flirting with a  wildcard spot in the East all the way through early February.  I expect  them to miss the playoffs and finish about where they did last season as  Ray Shero continues to strengthen the team and beef up the prospect  system.

2. To me it looks like the Devils' biggest hole is at  centre. Do you think that's true? Do you think they can fill their  biggest hole this season?

I'm not sure it's at center.  At least from a quantity  perspective.  Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Jacob Josefson, Vernon  Fiddler, Sergey Kalinin, Joseph Blandisi and prospect John Quenneville  all can play the position. Add Patrik Elias if he's healthy enough to  play. That being said, from a quality perspective, it's not a strong  crew.  Henrique can handle top-six minutes, Zajac absorbs a lot of tough  situations, and Fiddler is a fine fourth-line center. Yet, the others  aren't so strong. Josefson is just depth; Kalinin and Blandisi are  better suited at wing; Elias is close to being 40 and plays like it; and  Quenneville is just entering pro hockey.  I could see Henrique thriving  more at wing, actually; so an upgrade at center would be welcome.    However, I think right wing and defense have bigger, more immediate  concerns.

Right now, the right wing depth  chart in New Jersey appears to be Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly,  Beau Bennett, Kalinin and perhaps Zacha if he makes the NHL roster.   Palmieri is the only one who can handle top six minutes and he did a  good job on the production side of things last season.  Past him, it's  just guys taking up spots and/or hoping Zacha is good enough to warrant  burning an ELC year. (I have my doubts as to whether that's a good  idea.)  That's not good and that is going to be sore spot all season  unless Shero can find another Lee Stempniak-like finding to fill in the  position for a season.

Defense requires a bit  of a breakdown. Bringing in Hall meant losing Adam Larsson.  Adam  Larsson was paired with Andy Greene and took up a lot of tough minutes  at even strength and on the penalty kill.  He may not have brought much  offense to the table, but he's long earned the coaches' trust and the  fans' respect for how he played in his own end.  There isn't a clear  replacement for his minutes right now.  The hope is that Damon Severson  can grow into it, but he didn't have a good 2015-16, so it's an open  question if he can do it.  Ben Lovejoy would be the veteran answer, but  he's been better suited for lesser minutes on a second (or even a third)  pairing.  The other defenders have other issues.  Opposing teams put up  quite a few shots against John Moore, which is bad on a team that has  to be stingy to be competitive.  Jon Merrill is an enigma in terms of  what he can actually do on the ice.  The remaining spot on defense will  be a battle between some unknowns: European pros Vojtech Mozik and  Yohann Auvitu, prospect Steve Santini, or the recently signed Brandon  Gormley.  Out of all of those defensemen, none of them are all that  offensive at the NHL level.  I can't help but think for the Devils to  actually become a more offensively threatening squad and pull themselves  out of the depths of the CF% listings at Corsica and other stats sites,  they'll need an offensive-minded defenseman who can handle big minutes.  Unfortunately, those players come at a premium and they aren't easy to  obtain.  Worse, the Devils may actually be a leakier team when it comes  to SA/60 and CA/60 at evens, which can make the games more difficult for  Schneider to bail out, yielding another bad record as noted in the  response to the first question. We'll see.

3. One year in to the Ray Shero  regime, how has the philosophy of the organization changed since Lou  Lamoriello was at the helm? How confident would you say you are in the  ability of Shero to lead the organization forward?

Many Devils fans have noted that the team is much more open.  Gone  are the rules of no beards outside of the playoffs, wearing suits before  games, and bans on social media.  Given no Devil has yet to cause any  lasting drama or issue via social media, it's hard to say those rules  are missed.  In terms of the philosophy, under Lou, the goal was to do  what it took to be a playoff contending team.  That strategy worked with  some great drafting in the 1990s by David Conte and his crew.  While  Lou has had his growing pains with the Cap and a perceived issue of  bringing back guys he knows (I think most GMs have this issue), the  relatively poor drafting in the 2000s ultimately caught up to Lou and  led to the situation the team basically cratered a few seasons after a  remarkable run in 2012.  The greats that were the foundational players  that kept the team going all got old and/or retired.  The prospects  weren't always there to make that amazing deal for now.  The Devils  continued to try and be a defensively strong squad with the hopes of  winning games by close margins.  With Lou gone, the Devils realized that  they needed to re-build and have gone through that with that approach.   That would be the biggest philosophical change.  After Lou brought up  the team from the late 1980s, there wasn't rebuilding, they were  reloading.  That changed.

Much more has to  change. The team still running on the mindset of being as stingy as  possible, only they don't have the players (and maybe the tactics) to  still not get run over by opposing squads in terms of possession. That  was the case last season. The good news is that I do feel confident that  Shero can do this.  Lou picked Shero before he went off to Toronto and I  can see why. While the team's rules have changed, Shero remains quiet  as ever about moves to be made.  Nobody saw Hall-for-Larsson coming  until it happened.  Shero has been willing to take a few chances on some  players to fit the mold for the future.  When it seemed tempting to "go  for it" given where the team was last season at times, Shero relented  and opted to make moves for the future.  Some teams would have kept Lee  Stempniak, then the team's leading scorer, and figured on trying to push  for the postseason with the Devils on the bubble in the Metropolitan.   No.  Shero knew the team wasn't a playoff-quality squad, got some picks  for Stempniak, and looked ahead.  So far, Shero really hasn't made any  bad moves.  While I may have wanted Logan Brown over Michael McLeod, the  2016 Draft looked like a good one after the dust settled,  fourth-round-goalie-pick aside.  There are still many holes to fill on  the roster, as noted in my response to the second question. At the same  time, I think the fans understand that re-building will take some time  and that Shero has an idea of what he's doing.  I'm pleased with Shero  as the Devils' general manager so far, even though the team is now in a  playoff drought.

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