The New Jersey Devils are truly ready to compete. General manager Tom Fitzgerald has put together a roster that is ready to contend in 2023-24 and for many years to come. They have a lethal top six, a very sturdy defensive core, and still one of the most talented prospect pools. On top of all of that, Fitzgerald has managed to lock up the likes of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, and others to long-term deals. Many may think it’s not their time yet, but here are the biggest reasons why the Devils will win the Cup this season.
The Devils’ Offense is Loaded
Heading into the 2023-24 season, the Devils boast one of the deepest forward groups in the league. Starting with the first two lines, they have a superstar in Hughes, who is coming off a career year in which he set a franchise single-season record for points (99). They also have Hischier, who has blossomed into one of the best two-way centers in the game. Surrounding them are Bratt, Meier, Dawson Mercer, and newly acquired Tyler Toffoli. The top six alone boasts four 30-goal scorers and six 20-goal scorers from last season.
The bottom six can provide not just offense but also are able to frustrate teams in other ways. Players like Erik Haula and Ondrej Palat are scrappy veterans who do the little things right. Figuring out who will play alongside those veterans will be determined by how certain players perform during training camp. The fourth line brings not just physicality but also some offense. Nate Bastian and Michael McLeod know how to get under the skin of their opponents while adding the occasional clutch goal. McLeod also is one of the better faceoff men in the NHL in terms of win percentage. New Jersey can win in many different ways because of their depth and what each player can bring on a nightly basis.
New Jersey is Battle-Tested
Experience is important, especially for a young group learning how to become a Stanley Cup contender. Last season, the Devils finally came out of the long rebuild and shocked themselves and the hockey world with how much they accomplished. Last season, the expectation was to get into the playoffs and see what happens.
Latest News & Highlights
They went beyond that by winning a playoff series vs. their biggest rival, the New York Rangers, and advanced to the final four in the Eastern Conference. At that point, the team was playing with house money. Unfortunately, New Jersey was taught a lesson by the Carolina Hurricanes, but getting dominated in the second round was a very valuable learning experience for the young Devils squad. They now know what it takes to get into the postseason and adapt their game for playoff hockey.
They also understand that every series is different. The styles of play are certainly different. Against the Rangers, the Devils faced a star-loaded team that wasn’t particularly fast and relied on scoring on the power play and having their goalie Igor Shesterkin bail them out.
Against the Hurricanes, they discovered a more disciplined team that relied on all four forward lines to provide offense. Their defense is among the best in the league, and they don’t make many mistakes. They also put their trust in their goalies, Frederik Anderson or Antti Raanta. Simply put, the Devils faced a team that played their system perfectly.
New Jersey now has the wherewithal to change the way they play to be successful throughout the playoffs. They have the experience and are ready to make a deep run in June.
The Devils Have One of the Best General Managers in the NHL
When Fitzgerald became the general manager of the Devils on July 9, 2020, there was an understanding that this team still had some ways to go before they were truly ready to take off and contend. Thanks to a lot of smart moves, culture building, and timing, he has now turned New Jersey into one of the most dangerous teams in the NHL.
The first move that comes to mind is signing Dougie Hamilton in free agency back in 2021. Hamilton was the top free agent of his class. Fitzgerald knew that to rebuild the team’s defense, he had to go and get a right-shooting defenseman. By showing him what he was building as well as the state that he would be playing in, Fitzgerald was able to convince Hamilton to sign long term in New Jersey. It was a big-time move and a big-time step forward for the Devils.
Fitzgerald also signed his two main restricted free agents this summer, Bratt and Meier, to long-term deals for less than their market value. Bratt signed for $7.875 million average annual value (AAV), and Meier is locked up at $8.8 million AAV. For both of them to sign for under $9 million shows that Fitzgerald has done an excellent job of creating a culture in which players want to be, and win, in New Jersey long term.
Perhaps the biggest and most shrewd move was signing Hughes to a long-term extension. The eight-year, $64 million contract was seen by many as an overpay. At the time, Hughes had shown flashes, but he had not fully taken off as a star. Doubts continued to surface about the young centerman. There were even people who went as far as to say that Hughes was just a bust of a first-overall pick. Now, heading into the upcoming campaign, Hughes’ deal looks like one of the biggest bargains in the entire league.
He’s coming off a career and historic season in which he tallied 43 goals and a franchise-record 99 points. The talented forward is now just entering into his prime and is playing well above what he’s being paid. Fitzgerald knows what’s best for his team, and will continue to prove that this season. Wherever the Devils may be, make no mistake about it, Fitzgerald will put his team in the best possible position to win the Stanley Cup.
The Devils will have their question marks and doubters throughout the season, but they should not be underestimated. They are not just a contending team, but a team that can very well bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to the Garden State.