Devils’ Brass Looks Ahead With Optimism

Where Do We Go From Here, Boys? — World War II song

The Devils know where they’re going — up, up, up and up.

That’s the consensus of the New Jersey high command, headed by general manager Ray Shero and coach John Hynes.

Coming off an unexpectedly positive season, the general staff is planning to produce an even better product for 2018-19.

The franchise’s leaders convened on Wednesday afternoon at Prudential Center for a media session that reviewed the past while foreseeing the Devils’ World of Tomorrow.

Speaking first, Hynes promised an even better effort based on lessons learned in this playoff season but added that he was satisfied with the results.

“The guys learned what it means to be a team,” the coach reported. “They had a good work ethic and developed a strong brotherhood. Without that, we wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

“In the end, we succeeded because we had struggles but found ways out of them. We were competitive and in that way, we gained respect.”

Asked about the difference between the Lightning and his club in the playoffs, Hynes noted that it was a matter of talent.

“Player-wise,” he said, “they were better and more physical. They played well and we just didn’t get it done. In the end, Tampa Bay deserved to win.”

There’s a strong sense that a priority for Shero’s offseason moves will be finding a reputable scorer to supplement Taylor Hall‘s enormous jump in production and leadership. Coach Hynes expects even more from Hall next season.

“The thing about Taylor is that he’s willing to be pushed,” Hynes said.” He definitely should win the Hart Trophy because of the impact he had on our team and the fact that he made the players around him better.

“Remember, Hall was playing with the league’s youngest skater, [Nico Hischier], as his center. What I can see is that Taylor has another level he can achieve physically, leadership-wise and with flexibility.”

The fact that New Jersey’s only certified superstar finished miles ahead of Hischier in scoring indicates how necessary it will be to fill that gap. Certainly, if a prolific forward is available as a free agent, Ray is free to lure him to Newark.

“Spending [for talent] has never been a question with our owners,” Shero insisted. “My owners have been very supportive. But when I spend their dollars, I have to do it the right way.”

In drafting Hischier as his first pick, Ray was right on the money.

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“Nico gave me more than I expected,” the boss admitted. “He earned his spot on the roster in camp and followed that with uncanny things that he did. Always he’s held himself to a higher standard. Younger players like him are ‘culture guys’ who we can build around.”

Hynes added that the rookie needs post-playoff rest. “Next season we want him stronger. We want his shot to improve; a quicker release.”

The defense also remains a work in progress. Shero enhanced that position when he obtained Sami Vatanen from Anaheim for Adam Henrique. The deal helped both clubs, although the Ducks were swept in the playoffs.

“Good defensemen are the hardest to get,” Ray noted, “but I’m going to see what’s available. However, it’s important to remember when talking defense that it’s not just the six D, it’s a whole team concept.”

Another superior Shero acquisition was rugged forward Patrick Maroon who becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent in July but wants to remain a Devil.

“Patrick was a good fit for us,” said the GM. “He was a big part of us getting into the playoffs.” As for re-signing him, Shero added, “Both sides have to see if it (price of the new contract) fits.”

Despite losing the opening round to the mighty Lightning, Shero pointed out that his club’s future is circled by a silver lining.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that we accomplished our goals,” Shero said. “From training camp, we stressed the winning of league-wide respect and we did that all season.

“When it came to the homestretch, we had the hardest schedule in the NHL and we came through, winning big games, especially on the road in tough arenas.”

Both general manager and coach will be doing some heavy huddling about their goaltending future, headlined by Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid.

“Cory is a number one goalie,” Shero said, “but he had a tough year with his injury and return. When Keith was called upon, he responded. But I still believe in Cory.”

Ray and his coach understand that making the playoffs next season is not a given. Shero pointed out that the Edmonton Oilers were a playoff team in 2016-17, but missed the postseason this Spring.

Hynes stressed that he wants his team “to be better in every area” and that includes offseason training and team bonding.

“The offseason is a big part of success. We have to maintain a strong brotherhood. That’s at the forefront.”

Knowing that his club slid into the playoffs by a gossamer string, Shero offered his first offseason warning.

“We have to make sure we don’t slide back,” the GM concluded. “We can’t lose the enthusiasm.”

Devils general manager Ray Shero talks about the internal improvement the Devils made during the 2017-18 season and sets his sights on what the team will work on during the offseason.

When it comes to enthusiasm and the Devils’ two leaders, there should be no worries there at all.

They know where their boys go from here!

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