Stanley Cup picks in October are dumb. We have no idea who will be hurt, what the trade deadline will do, what goalie will have an existential crisis (Jakob Markstrom), what goalie will channel the Arc Of The Covenant and turn their also-ran into a threat (Igor Shesterkin). It’s a long goddamn season, and it can change three or four times before we even get to March.
But never let it be said that I’m afraid, or, in fact, do not wildly enjoy, wading into the stupid. You want something to hang me with come the spring? Baby, I’m a people person. The New Jersey Devils will win the Stanley Cup.
Why? Mostly it’s a process of elimination. It’s hard to find another contender in the East. The Toronto Maple Leafs? Go sit down. The blue line is still terrible, at least for a Cup contender, and if they want to put all of The Six’s hopes on Ilya Samsonov or Joseph Woll, that’s their problem. And Connor Hellebuyck just signed an extension, so he won’t be riding in at the last minute to save the day.
The Bruins and Lightning are greatly diminished. The Panthers used all their mojo last season, and they’re about to get Maurice’d. Not going to work for a second season in a row.
Am I going to fall for the Carolina Hurricanes trap again? Brother, I am not. They’ll rack up more than 105 points in the regular season, their metrics will look great, and then they’ll get to the playoffs and all their dump-ins and shots from Mars will suddenly be of no use. I’ve seen this movie. You’ve seen this movie. It’s a bad movie.
The Rangers are still the lumbering outfit they’ve been, needing Shesterkin to make it all OK. Don’t buy it, no matter how much they all want to sell it to you to distract themselves from the Knicks. Ain’t gonna happen.
So, the Devils. They have everything. They have a genuine star to punch through when they need it in Jack Hughes. They’re going to get a full season of Timo Meier, and hopefully this time he won’t get brained by a neanderthal Jacob Trouba because Trouba can’t do anything else and he has to justify his existence. They added Tyler Toffoli over the summer, giving them even more scoring depth that extends to three lines. over the summer to extend their scoring depth to three lines. Jesper Bratt, Meier, Toffoli, Nico Hischier, Dawson Mercer, Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula…if the thunder don’t get ya then the lightning will (not that Lightning).
Playoff grit, which everyone slobbers all over themselves to talk about come the spring as the sweetest nectar? Palat and Haula are here for you.
The Devils have dynamic defensemen, too. Everyone likes to mock Dougie Hamiton for some hit he didn’t take against Alex Ovechkin however many years ago, and he just racks up 70-point seasons while pushing his team up the ice and running the power play. John Marino on the second pairing might be the most underrated defenseman in the league and the Penguins were nuts to lose him, and he does it while taking the dungeon shifts away from Hamilton. And before too long, Luke Hughes, Jack’s brother, is going to end up pairing with him on the second duo to let it all hang out for 45 minutes a night when combined with Hamilton. The Devils can play at a pace that very few teams are going to be able to match. This is going plaid.
OK, yes, an unproven goalie. Vitek Vanecek sucks. We don’t know anything about Akira Schmid other than his parents likely love anime. But he was good enough to put the Rangers to the sword in the first round, and will spend the season getting experience. Whatever, the last two teams to hoist the Chalice did so with “a guy” in net. Maybe that’s the new trend and maybe it isn’t, but it can be done.
And yes, they have the worst player in the NHL in Brendan Smith actually skating for them. Nothing to be done with that. Hopefully he can’t wreck this beautiful ship with his 10-12 minutes per night. Every quest has its obstacles, nothing worth having comes easy.
Yeah, they’re a little small. A physical team might be able to push them around in the spring, assuming they can catch them. That’s sort of what the Hurricanes did in the second round. But that was the Devils first foray into the playoffs. The Leafs would like to pretend they could do the same, but those defensemen aren’t catching this outfit. Try it with Jack McCabe and TJ Brodie. I want you to. It would bring me joy.
As for the West…whatever. Don’t worry about that until June. Anything can happen.
So there you go. Stanley Cup parade in a parking lot again. AJ Soprano the happiest guy on Earth for once. Might even put us through another godforsaken Kevin Smith movie. There’s always a price to be paid.
But here it comes.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social