The Devils certainly looked like a powerhouse, coasting through this game, turning it up when they had to, and getting a relatively effort-free win against the Canucks.
A thing I’ve recently been saying in the group chat is that rebuilds happen gradually, and then all at once. This is an important lesson for management of the Vancouver Canucks to learn. If you put the core in place and leave some room to be financially flexible, the natural progression of your young players combined with savvy additions at the right time can turn a team from a lottery pick to a playoff team very quickly, following years of slow, methodical building to put that core in place.
New Jersey is an excellent example of this. It’s tough to say when their rebuild began, since they held the first overall pick in the 2017 draft (selecting Nico Hischier), and the made the playoffs the following season on the back of Taylor Hall’s MVP season. The following season, they held the first overall pick again in the 2019 draft (selecting Jack Hughes).
The Devils finished last season above average in terms of shot generation and average in terms of shot suppression. They also had the worst save percentage in the NHL. Rather than go out and spend on a goaltender, however, the Devils made some shrewd additions to bolster the roster in front of the goalies and create a better environment for them to work.
First, they signed Ondrej Palat after missing out on Johnny Gaudreau. This was probably a better stylistic fit for the Devils. They were a dominant team off the rush last season (3rd in rush shots per 60 minutes per Natural Stat Trick) but broke down when they had to continue possessions and cycle. Palat, coming from a Tampa Bay team that’s very strong at forechecking, would fit in perfect to fix that weakness. Another thing the Devils needed was a defenceman that could push the offensively-gifted-yet-mistake-prone Damon Severson down to the third pair. They had some cap space that allowed them to add John Marino for the disappointing Ty Smith.
Being an OK team that reached the playoffs with average goaltending didn’t appeal to the Devils. As mentioned by Dan Murphy on Sportsnet, they are 1st or 2nd in the NHL in your favourite public shot or scoring chance statistic. They have two dominant first lines. More importantly, they have ambition as an organization not to settle for being average.
It’s strange watching this team now. They look to be pretty strong at nearly every aspect of the game. In their previous two games before this one, they battled the Avalanche to a 1-0 shutout win at home, and then steamrolled the Blue Jackets 7-1, out-shooting them 67 to 25 at 5v5 per NST. The rebuild happened suddenly. They were a lottery team last season, but the No. 2 pick Simon Nemec is not close to making this lineup.
What can Vancouver learn? Well, the ship might have sailed on this here. The Canucks can’t bank on their youth, who are already graduating into their prime years. They don’t have the financial flexibility to do what the Devils did in the offseason. Vancouver’s main takeaway is that failing to rebuild properly when they had the chance cost the Canucks a chance to be great right now. Rebuilds don’t take 5 years when they’re done correctly. It can take a while to wash the stench of losing off an organization, but if you’re toward a clear goal and maintain an organizational focus, it happens out of nowhere. It happens gradually, and then all at once.
The Devils didn’t give the Canucks their best game, but the Devils are at the start of a tough Western road trip, and correctly sized up the competition. The last time the Devils came through Vancouver, they were 22-37. Tuesday night, they came in with the confidence of a powerhouse.
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