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Looking ahead for the Devils: Time for a splash move on D

The Devils have a bright future thanks to a young core led by 2017 No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

As each NHL team is eliminated from playoff contention -- either mathematically or by losing in the postseason -- we'll take a look at why its quest for the Stanley Cup fell short in 2017-18, along with three keys to its offseason and a way-too-early prediction on what 2018-19 will hold.


What went wrong

It's hard to find fault in the New Jersey Devils' 2017-18 campaign; with little expectations, this group arrived ahead of schedule. From their hot start (9-2-0 to start the season) to gritty finish (a 10-2-1 run to clinch the team's first playoff berth since 2012), few could have predicted this from a team that placed last in the Eastern Conference last season with 28 wins and 70 points.

Of course, the Devils were willed by Taylor Hall, who emphatically made his MVP case by scoring 93 points -- 41 more than his closest teammate. That suggests depth scoring was an issue, and it's true. Though No. 1 pick Nico Hischier quietly put together a terrific rookie season (second on the team, with 52 points) not enough forwards put up similar production, which forced GM Ray Shero to make moves at the trade deadline. It didn't help that Marcus Johansson played only 29 games.

Defensive depth appeared flimsy at times against the high-octane Tampa Bay Lightning, but something was more evident: the Devils couldn't match the physicality of the No. 1 seed. Meanwhile, one of New Jersey's strengths all season, the penalty kill, became kryptonite (Tampa Bay converted on TK of its TK power-play opportunities).

And the Devils' own power play didn't show up (TK of TK). The Devils may have arrived early, but they're not quite there yet.