New Jersey Devils, once thought of as contenders, move forward with rebuild

Where did it all go wrong?

The New Jersey Devils entered the 2019-20 season with high hopes after what by all accounts was a successful offseason. P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds arrived, and there were no major roster losses. The front office had bolstered the team in the hopes of a playoff push after a disappointing 2018-19 campaign. Some highly respected journalists even picked them to win the Metropolitan Division. 

Then things fell apart.

The season started inauspiciously, with the Devils blowing a 4-0 lead to Winnipeg in the season opener, and then things just got worse. They lost nine of their first 10 games, giving up an average of almost five goals a game in that stretch. 

When December arrived and the team was still entrenched near the bottom of the league, the front office initiated a full-on rebuild. Coach John Haynes was fired and replaced by Alain Nasreddine. Star winger Taylor Hall was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for three prospects and two draft picks. Then the man who made those moves, Ray Shero, was let go as general manager.

The rebuild continued Sunday as the team traded away two more of its top players. First, longtime captain Andy Greene was sent to the New York Islanders for a second-round pick and prospect David Quenneville. Then, fan-favorite Blake Coleman was moved to the Tampa Bay Lightning, with a conditional first-round pick and prospect Nolan Foote coming the other way. 

New Jersey is now left with one of the weaker rosters in the NHL, a head coach who still carries an “interim” tag and a fan base dealing with the loss of three of its most beloved players. 

Of course, this was the plan all along.

The real rebuild will start in the summer at the 2020 NHL Draft. Interim GM Tom Fitzgerald will have a bounty of picks at his disposal (provided he’s still running the team at that point), including as many as three in the first round alone. The franchise has had the first overall pick in two of the last three years, so the goal remains stockpiling as much young talent as possible. 

Acquiring prospects like the 19-year-old Foote continues that process. The 6-3 forward has received positive reviews during his time with Kelowna in the WHL, and Fitzgerald has already gone on record saying he likes what he sees. 

“This transaction allows us to acquire two key pieces in continuing to build this team around our foundational cornerstones,” he said in a team press release. “Foote is a big, physical winger, with an excellent shot and great offensive instincts, especially on the power play. He will complement our young forward group for a long time.”

Clearly the rest of this season is not going to be pretty in Newark, but with the moves they’re making, the Devils’ front office now is in position to turn the franchise back into a contender.

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