Devils Exit As A Newly-Respected Franchise

“I get no respect.” — Humorist Rodney Dangerfield

The late Dangerfield of comedy fame would not belong on the New Jersey Devils; at least not the current club.

Unlike Dangerfield, the self-demeaning, famed comic, John Hynes’ outfit is oozing with respect throughout the National Hockey League.

“Our coach said it was our job to get respect back from around the league,” said veteran forward Kyle Palmieri. “And we got it.”

What’s more, despite their first-round ouster delivered by the Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey’s sextet is being viewed as a power-house-in-the-making.

Once a scoffed upon NHL doormat, respect was gained throughout this surprising season as well as their determined efforts against the heavily-favored Bolts.

[Fischler: Devils Look to a glowing Future]

Cleaning their lockers on Tuesday morning in Newark, the Garden Staters enthused about the admiration they’ve obtained and lessons learned from the franchise’s first postseason since 2012.

Surrounded by a media horde, leading scorer and key to the revival, Taylor Hall, allowed that respect was part of the “new” New Jersey Devils.

“The way we played against teams we definitely earned respect from around the league,” said Hall. “I really like it here. Personally, I’m going to get better. As far as the Hart Trophy, I’d love to be in Vegas.”

Meanwhile, other teammates raved about Hall’s year. Marcus Johansson, who never had been a teammate until this season waxed ecstatic about Taylor.

“I knew he was a good hockey player,” Johansson noted, “but what I saw this year, he was incredible, unbelievable. He never took a night off.”

Considered a solid candidate for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, Hall certainly won the endorsement from his room.

“Taylor was special all year long,” Palmieri insisted, “and he’s going to get a trophy (Hart) which he deserves.”

Taylor’s center, Nico Hischier has trouble realizing he’s had a freshman frolic beyond all expectations. Hall indicates we haven’t seen the best yet.

“When it comes to Nico’s play,” raved Hall, “the sky’s the limit for him.”

“After every game, I felt a little bit more comfortable,” stated Hischier. “The playoffs were fun hockey. The biggest thing I learned is to get myself going. No one is going to help you do that.”

Another young player still finding his best game knows it and that’s defenseman Damon Severson.

“Moving forward, I want to find my consistency every night.” Severson allowed. “That means in every game, every practice. I’ll come back next season better, stronger and looking to do some damage.”

Defenseman John Moore: “This group is just scratching the surface.”

All hands — media and fans — were gratified that nice guy captain Andy Greene got one more crack at the playoffs. At age 35, it’s only a guess as to how many more seasons he has ahead leading the Devils.

“The way we competed,” the Captain explained, “and the way we were as a team, it’s important to remember the lessons from this season. What we did was put the pride and respect back into this room.”

Devils captain Andy Greene says his team must not get complacent after making the playoffs for the first time in six years and hopes that the group can accomplish much more next season.

No Devil has been more respected than Travis Zajac, who rebounded from an early sabbatical to act as a mentor to the youngsters while doing his thing as a defensive center.

“We accomplished a lot as a team,” said Zajac, “and it’s only the beginning. We really found out what we’re capable of accomplishing as a team making the playoffs. But it definitely is not going to get easier.

“Then again, everyone is going to continue to get better. This group can do some special things; especially the rookies who were incredible. They played extremely well throughout the whole season.”

 

Dartmouth graduate — defenseman Ben Lovejoy — spoke eloquently about a club he’s grown to like more and more by the month. Given his druthers, he’ll remain a Devil.

“Coming to the rink every day was a pleasure,” Lovejoy enthused. “We’re building this franchise from what has been an awesome year. We did that through working every day.”

Veterans and rookies melded well with Palmieri an essential bridge between the freshmen and elder statesmen.

Palmieri: “All of us now know what it takes to get through a season. Everyone was into it and bought into it from Day One. We matured a lot as a group.”

Several players lauded the leadership of Hynes but none more than Patrick Maroon, who was traded from Edmonton to New Jersey and thrived as a Devil.

“I’ve never seen a team respond to a coach the way this team did to John,” said Maroon.

One of the more vexing questions ahead surrounds the goaltenders — Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid, the latter of whom saved his mates in the homestretch.

“It was good to finish strong,” said Kinkaid. “Down the stretch, nobody did us any favors and that made us closer as a team. I definitely had a good time doing it (being the starter). Personally, I proved to myself I can do it.”

“It’s tough,” said Schneider. “But it was a fun year and clearly we still have work to do. We all saw how much work it from training camp. We all saw what it takes to have a season like this.

A year ago, nobody knew much about Will Butcher other than that he won the Hobey Baker Award. Now he’s one of the club’s top defenseman and the balance wheel of the power play.

“I learned a lot in my first year,” the freshman ace revealed. “I’ve got a lot to be proud of but I’m not satisfied. I learned how to be a pro — so many highs; so many lows. Actually, I definitely have to work on my shot and pretty much everything.

“After the first couple of games, I felt that I started to figure things out. The playoffs atmosphere was awesome. It was electric and fun to be a part of and I tried to leave it all on the ice.”

One of the negative revelations at the locker-closing was defenseman Sami Vatanen revealing that the controversial hit — dirty or not? — leveled by Nikita Kucherov in Game 4 left him with a concussion.

Vatanen: “I had a concussion but I feel better now. I wish I could have played more but that’s hockey — anything can happen. The good news is that I found my game again and the best is ahead of us.”

Media types, who attended the locker-clearing admitted that their mouths were agape throughout the 82-game marathon as the Newark stickhandlers constantly surmounted adversity without blinking.

“The Devils consistently turned curses into blessings each step of the way,” observed Leo Scaglione Jr., who covers the Devils for the New York Hockey Journal.

“We forget how the team was without Brian Boyle and Travis Zajac — two of their top centers — to start the season. Plus, Kyle Palmieri was out for much of the first half.

“On top of that, they were without Marcus Johansson almost all season. Injuries didn’t derail the Devils. It pushed them further along their tracks as the kids proved they could handle the pressure.”

It would have been easy for the Devils to collapse when Cory Schneider went down with an injury on Jan. 23. But Keith Kinkaid took over as the engineer on the goaltending locomotive.

In the final three-and-a-half games of the Lightning series, Schneider returned to the net and posted a 1.78 GAA and a .950 save percentage.

“It was a good challenge for me to try and step up, elevate my game and come back and be the goalie that I know I can be,” Schneider explained to Abbey Mastracco of The Record. “But at the same time, you’d like to be on the other end of these decisions.”

————————————————————————————————-

WHERE DO THEY GO FROM HERE?

BLAKE COLEMAN: This little guy with a big heart won over management and the fans with his energetic play, especially on the penalty kill. A restricted free agent (RFA), he impressed with a solid home-stretch run, finishing with nine points in his last 16 games. Only 26, the Devs likely will retain him with a new deal.

BRIAN GIBBONS: An unrestricted free agent (UFA), Brian Gibbons, 30, was a two-month sensation starting the season with 12 goals. His bonanza ended abruptly. Plus, a broken thumb sidelined him for five weeks. Useful as a penalty killer, he should return if — as we believe — Michael Grabner is not pursued by New Jersey.

MICHAEL GRABNER: A prolific goal-scorer for the Rangers, this penalty-killing ace often seemed like a waste with just a couple of goals and three assists in 21 games. After starting two playoff games, coach Hynes figured he had enough and that was the end of Grabner this season. That said, Michael’s 52 goals for the Rangers over two seasons figures to attract other teams but not likely the Devils.

JIMMY HAYES: Another UFA, Kevin Hayes’ older brother played less than half of the regular season games and none in the playoffs. Figure Jimmy to go bye-bye.

EDDIE LACK: Should injuries strike both Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid, the Devils — if you don’t mind my saying so — won’t “lack” a replacement. Eddie rescued the crease after Ray Shero obtained him on Dec. 30 and he would remain handy in Binghamton should another S.O.S. be sent out from the big club. Another UFA, Lack could be considered dispensable if management feels that either MacKenzie Blackwood or Ken Appleby are fit for backup work.

PATRICK MAROON: Since the Devils could use all the muscle that’s available, UFA Maroon should be back. He snugly fit into the lineup from the get-go, totaling 13 points in 17 games as well as one red light in the Lightning series. New Jersey should do everything it can to keep him on the roster. Maroon made it clear at break-up day that he wants to remain a Devil.

JOHN MOORE: Playing in 81 regular season games, the pending UFA became a Top 4 D-man. His 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) could be bettered in seasons ahead. One of the better rushing defensemen, the likable Moore figures to have interest from other teams. It behooves Shero to keep John with a reasonable offer. He’s still fairly young, 27, and improving. Like Maroon, he likes New Jersey and would like to be a Devil next season.

STEFAN NOESEN: The native of Plano, Texas — like his buddy Coleman — Noesen impressed with his gritty play and solid checking. Stefan’s 13 goals and 14 assists underline his versatility. He scored the game-winner in the Devs’ lone playoff victory. Shero should look to bring both Noesen and Coleman back to reunite the unit that Zajac centered with success.

STEVEN SANTINI: This promising, yet unfulfilled, defenseman completed his entry-level deal. A new contract should be in the offing, although he spent more time in Binghamton than Newark. Chris Ryan of NJ Advance Media says, “The Devils view him as a defenseman who will be a part of the NHL team’s success going forward.”

DREW STAFFORD: He played well for stretches — eight points in 13 games to start the season. However, inconsistency limited him to 59 regular season games and two postseason matchups. On the downside of his career, Stafford figures to go on the open market.

MILES WOOD: Ever-improving, “Mile A Minute Miles” reached the 19-goal mark and is learning to control his high-intensity emotions. An RFA with so much promise, Wood figures to be a key component, long-range, in the Hynes Hostel.

As for the fans, even my super-critical buddy, Jon Liss of Marlboro, exits The Rock enthused.

“I enjoyed the season,” Liss concluded, “because the team grew a lot in the short term. They didn’t need to win it all; just needed to be entertaining.”

And respected, which is precisely what happened in this astonishing season.

Tomorrow afternoon Hynes and Shero will host the media and address the past, present and future. One question The Maven will ask is: how will the goaltending be divided next season?

Stay tuned!

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.