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Another Year in Hockey Purgatory: The Devils’ Journey to Find a Savior

The final two postseason spots were not determined in the Eastern Conference until the final few days of the regular season and three teams who were in playoff position at times missed out.

 

Another Year in Hockey Purgatory: The Devils' Journey to Find a Savior
Nico Hischier #13 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates | Elsa/Getty Images/AFP

The Washington Capitals snuck in with a late goal into an empty net because the Philadelphia Flyers vacated it, needing a regulation win to stay alive. The Detroit Red Wings scored in the final seconds at Montreal and won in overtime, only to be foiled by Washington’s goal.

It was that kind of season in the East. The division titles were not settled until the final days. The eight teams that missed out all had holes they could not consistently fill.

The disappointments were the New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, and Pittsburgh Penguins. The teams that came close, but struggled down the stretch included the Flyers and Red Wings. The rebuilding teams are the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, and Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Devils had low odds of winning the conference and Stanley Cup, but injuries and goaltending derailed their season. Will they rebound? Will the Flyers and Wings get over the hump? The offseason is the start of the answers.

Devilish Seasons In Buffalo, Pittsburgh, New Jersey

The Sabres seemed ready to break a long playoff drought, the Penguins expected to be better with the addition of three-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and the Devils had the roster to make the next step.

All three were in many NHL experts’ picks to be playing this week.

Buffalo’s failure to make the postseason is now at 13 years and coach Don Granato was fired. The Sabres went from third in scoring to 23rd. Goalie Devon Levi wasn’t quite ready to be No. 1. The outline is still there for a playoff team. They just need to grasp it.

How can Pittsburgh have the 30th-best power play with Sidney Crosby, Evgenii Malkin, Karlsson, and Kris Letang? It’s a mystery. The Penguins must settle on a goalie and find consistent supplemental scoring but might still be a sucker bet.

The Devils sent many bettors to the cash machine, going 30-52 ATS at the sportsbook. Superstar Jack Hughes missed 20 games, standout center Nico Hischier missed 11, and No. 1 defenseman Dougie Hamilton only played 20 games due to injury.

 

Others also missed games for New Jersey and five goalies combined for an .896 save percentage. The Devils will be looking for a goaltender and Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom could be available.

Where Do Wings, Flyers Go Now?

You could call it a tease. The Flyers were in the top three of the Metropolitan Division most of the season, but a late eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) ruined a storybook season.

The Red Wings were also in a playoff position much of the season, but a late 2-4-3 run spoiled a chance to end a seven-year playoff drought.

Detroit GM Steve Yzerman must do some work in the offseason with new contracts for Moritz Seider, Patrick Kane, David Perron and others. In addition, the Red Wings need to be better than 24th in scoring defense.

John Tortorella will get plenty of votes for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach, because the Flyers got close despite being 27th in the league in scoring, 31st in save percentage and last on the power play.

 

If Tortorella’s structure holds and Philadelphia adds the right pieces, it could beat the odds in 2024-25. The Flyers were 45-26 ATS until a 2-9 finish. They will be the favorite more often next season.

Canadiens Best Positioned for Leap

Montreal, Columbus, and Ottawa could all be better bets next season. The Senators might have the most talent, but the Canadiens likely have the best building blocks.

The Canadiens were gritty all season, shown by their sparkling 53-29-0 ATS record. Martin St. Louis is a solid coach and he has stars up front in Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, while Juraj Slafkovsky made strides with 20 goals this season. Forward Owen Beck and defenseman David Reinbacher are prime prospects, too.

Ottawa was supposed to be in the hunt for the playoffs this season. It didn’t happen and coach D.J. Smith got fired. Who the Senators hire to put the pieces together is important. A healthy season from talented center Josh Norris would help. They also must do better than last in the league in save percentage (.888).

Columbus was tough at times, going 45-37 ATS, but the Patrick Laine injury and problems keeping the puck out of the net (31st in scoring defense) ended its chances. Young star Adam Fantilli must take a step forward, goalie Elvis Merzlikins has to find his top form and Johnny Gaudreau must be a big scorer again.

Another season of rebuilding is expected for each.

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Questions of the Day

What team will make the playoffs out of this group next season?


New Jersey. The Devils acquire Markstrom, get healthy, and challenge the top two in the Metropolitan Division.

What team will finish last next season?


Columbus. If everything goes right, the Jackets could be much better. But that will probably be in 2025-26.

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