Devils at Panthers: Three Questions with All About The Jersey

AATJ's John Fischer stops by to talk Devils

The New Jersey Devils visit Sunrise on Thursday night, in the last desperate days of an unlikely bid for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. New Jersey presently sits 6th in the Metropolitan, with a 1-game win streak after beating Boston. The Devils are the team with the fewest goals-for per game in the NHL, but they also sit 9th in goals-against, so they should not be taken lightly.

As fans of a franchise that has seen more than its fair share of seasons ending in a lack of playoffs, we wondered how Devils fans are addressing the likelihood of early golf this year, and whether, much like we Panther fans did, they are finding solace in a well-crafted rebuild. Here with those answers and more, John Fischer of All About The Jersey.

LBC: The Devils are seven points behind the Flyers (who have a game in hand) for the final wild card spot. Are Devils fans still hoping for playoffs this season, or has the attention turned to the 2016 draft, and what will likely be a very decent prospect?

JOHN: There have been some fans still thinking about the playoffs at any cost. The broadcast and beat writers have that as their "story" to push for. Personally, I think the writing was on the wall after Valentine's Day. After beating L.A. 1-0, they not only went 1-5, but they got hammered by Philly, Columbus, and Tampa Bay. The other two losses were close but also within the division. Combined with Pittsburgh waking up a bit and playing to their expected level, that run effectively knocked the Devils off the playoff bubble they've been riding. Then Ray Shero traded what was then the team's leading scorer, Lee Stempniak. Teams that are "going for it" don't rent out the points-leader for picks. The topic of tanking has come up- to get a better position for the draft, but since the trade deadline, the team has succeeded too much to tank. There was a chance at it, but then the California road trip went well and the teams below them still stunk. Amid a season full of frustrating performances and poor losses, the wins were welcome to watch even if it means keeping the team out of the bottom ten. All the same, I'm being asked more and more about who the Devils will pick in the first round. I can't say because the lottery hasn't happened yet, but it's a sign to me that the fans have accepted this team's non-playoff fate ahead of this week and this game. Whoever the pick is better be a good one, though.

LBC: At some point "rebuild" stopped being a dirty word in the NHL. We Panther fans finally seem to be exiting our own Dale Tallon rebuild, and can say that it was the draft picks and prospects that kept us engaged during that painful period. The Devils do not hold a high position in the Hockey's Future prospect rankings. Is new management ready to change that?

JOHN: One of the smarter things ownership (Josh Harris & Co.) has done was clean house when Lou Lamoriello left. There are still remnants of his era, particularly among the scouts as their contracts were still active. However, Ray Shero has already brought in a new director of scouting in Paul Castron. Long time assistant director Claude Carrier will not have his contract renewed. I imagine several scouts will be let go when it's possible with new blood coming in. Will this improve the Devils' pipeline? Hopefully! The team has been short on offensive talent; even among offensive defensemen. While the Devils have long had to pick late in rounds, they are still paying the price for their other decisions in the last five years. For example, the Devils had a run of second round picks that made it to the NHL: Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson, and there's hope Steve Santini and Josh Jacobs will join them. Great. Except they're all defensemen and none of them have the offensive skill or upside the team sorely needs. It's a success to find NHL players, but it's decisions like that that have exacerbated the team's needs at the prospect level, which affects their minor-pro and NHL-level talent in time. So I'm hoping the new Shero regime will make changes to get more offense through the draft and outside of the draft cultivating with the intent of having an actual NHL-level offense in a few years.

LBC: What are the strong points of this year's team moving forward?

John: Goaltending certainly isn't a concern. Cory Schneider is a deserved all-star and often was the best player on the ice for the Devils. While Keith Kinkaid has had recent struggles, he's been a capable backup. If that doesn't hold up, Scott Wedgewood has earned himself a spot in the conversation for the #2 spot in the future after four impressive starts in his first-ever four NHL games. Adam Larsson has confirmed that he is a bona fide top-pairing defenseman. While his possession numbers stink along with Andy Greene, who's still quite good but getting older, it's because they have had to endure a lot this season. There's something to be said about the team's character as well. For a majority of this season, the team never slumped for long. They found ways to win many games they should not have, from an astounding 9-2 overtime record to managing to grind out low-scoring wins in low-event games. It would have been easy for the coach or management to say "Let's pack it in and not embarrass ourselves" when things looked like they were really going south. Instead, they kept losing streaks to no more than three games and followed them with a few wins in a row to break even and stay in the playoff picture. For a team with a pop-gun offense and a defense that was not as dominant as it was in past seasons - hence why their CF% sunk despite not really changing how they played games in the bigger picture - sticking around a wild-card spot for months is a feat. I'm hoping John Hynes has the tactical acumen to really make the players effective once he gets the players needed going forward. I'm not concerned about motivation, which is always tricky when management has been open about this being a rebuilding season or mode.

We'd like to thank John for dropping by and spending some time with us, as well as for his blunt and well-thought-out responses. After what transpired at the bottom of the NHL standings last season, it is refreshing to see a team and organization with the pride to keep playing and not intentionally seek to improve its draft position. I recall vividly the Panthers winning several "meaningless" games down the stretch last season, which knocked us back one draft selection, ultimately costing us the opportunity to select Mikko Rantanen- who was taken by Colorado with the 10th pick. A Panther fan can certainly appreciate the Devils refusal to tank, consequences be damned.

Feel free to stop by and check out my responses to John's questions over at All About the Jersey and to follow John on Twitter at @JKFischer.