Prior to 2015-16, many -- including myself -- thought the New Jersey Devils were going to start rebuilding from the basement of the Metropolitan Division. As it turned out, they surprised many with how competitive they were last season and ended up picking outside of the top ten spots in June’s NHL Entry Draft. There were points last season where they were on the bubble of making the playoffs. It appeared that Ray Shero’s rebuild of the Devils was off to a good start.

As such, the Devils did not do too much in the offseason, with one exception. Shero traded defenseman Adam Larsson for winger Taylor Hall. Hall is one of the most talented offensive wingers in the world and a seemingly perfect fit for a Devils squad that put up some awful numbers in terms of offense and possession. Other than that, the team acquired veteran Ben Lovejoy on defense to fill in some of the gap left behind by Larsson and re-signed key restricted free agents (namely Kyle Palmieri). While there are still question marks throughout the lineup on defense and at right wing, it appears from the lack of big moves -- Hall trade aside --- that Shero has identified who he wants to rebuild the team around. 2016-17 appears to be another playoff-less year for New Jersey, but there are hopes that the team will keep heading in the positive direction demonstrated by the 2015-16 squad.

-- John Fischer

THREE QUESTIONS

  1. What should be expected from the top two scoring lines?
  2. Will Damon Severson establish himself as a top-four caliber NHL defenseman?
  3. Can the Devils become more "Fast, Attacking, Supportive" in John Hynes’ second season behind New Jersey’s bench?

BEST CASE SCENARIO

by John Fischer

The best case scenario for the Devils is like a lot of team’s best case scenarios. It would be a situation where injuries do not strike important players to the team and are uncommon. It would be a situation where the team has great success in games beyond sixty minutes (e.g. the Devils would repeat their great OT record, improve their shootout record). It would be a situation where the percentages are in their favor. While the Devils are set in net in all cases with Cory Schneider, this would mean the team’s shooting percentage would end up being above the league median.

All that -- plus multiple teams in the Metropolitan Division struggling to take control of playoff spots -- would give the Devils the best opportunity to make the playoffs. A fully healthy, fortunate team in a division lacking more than one team earning success consistently could push the Devils into the postseason for the first time since 2012. Whether that means the rebuild would really be over is another question. Making the playoffs is almost always preferable than not, in any case.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

by John Fischer

Last year, I predicted the Devils would finish last in the division. The worst case scenario would really take the Devils to the basement in the Metropolitan and give them "good" odds in the 2017 Draft Lottery. It would involve injuries taking out key players, such as knocking not only Mike Cammalleri out for a long period of time, but also Hall (who hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season until last season). It would involve players such as Travis Zajac and Andy Greene declining on the defensive end. Given the questionable defensive acumen of the rest of the roster, that would result in Schneider and the other goalies getting overwhelmed with pucks -- and therefore giving up lots of goals. Post-regulation play would end with a long list of OT/SO L’s; special teams would take a turn for an unlucky worse; and the younger players on the team would struggle to really belong at this level.

All this and the team still rocks around a 45 percent CF% while finishing dead last in shot attempts (and shot assists and shots and ... ) and being below the league median on defense for the first time in forever. It wouldn’t just be a rock-bottom result, but a campaign that would make a lot of fans wonder whether John Hynes and/or Ray Shero and their respective staffs really know what they’re doing. With or without winning the Nolan Patrick Sweepstakes.