18. New Jersey Devils
The rebuild is progressing better than expected for the New Jersey Devils, and they made it back to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2012 before losing to the Lightning in the first round.
The New Jersey Devils finished 14th in the NHL with 97 points to sneak into the playoffs as the second wild card in the Eastern conference, beating out the Florida Panthers by a single point.
Why they could win
The Devils already have plenty of offensive talent, most of it young and ready to take the next step into reaching their potential. At the forefront is reigning league MVP Taylor Hall, entering the prime of his career at 26 years old, and 19-year-old first overall pick in 2017 Nico Hischier, a duo that will become one of the most potent in the league with time.
Supporting them is a cast of skilled players consisting of Kyle Palmieri, a fully healthy Marcus Johansson, Pavel Zacha and Travis Zajac. A year of development for players like Hischier, Zacha and Jesper Bratt will only increase their production, and make the Devils a team to be feared
Complimenting that offense is the spectacular goalie tandem of Cory Schnieder and Keith Kinkaid, the factor that led the team to the playoffs above all else. When Schnieder went down with an injury, Kinkaid was able to hold the fort to sneak them into the second wildcard spot.
Why they won’t win
The Devils season hinged entirely on Taylor Hall last season, and they wouldn’t have come close to the playoffs without him after only making it in by a single point. It wasn’t a problem last year, and it might not be this year, but they won only one game in the playoffs and they’re bringing almost the exact same roster back into next season, despite having more than $19 million left in cap space.
The Devils defense desperately needed an upgrade this offseason, and the only real change will be that there will be is no more John Moore after he left in free agency. They made no attempt to sign any of the defensemen on the market or make a trade, and as a result Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen will be forced to carry the defense once again.
With no real improvements to a one win playoff team that relied entirely on one player, the Devils, like the Avalanche, are more likely to take a step back than a step forward. It’s not like Taylor Hall can carry the team any more than he has and if he takes any step back, New Jersey might be out of luck.