As the New Jersey Devils entered the 2016-17 season, the storylines centered around what newly-acquired Taylor Hall would provide for the previously offensively challenged Devils.
While the foundation of the Devils dating back to the days of Martin Brodeur has been built on tight defense and even tighter goaltending, continuing in recent years with Cory Schneider in net, recent vintages of the Devils have had a growing thirst for some offensive punch.
General manager Ray Shero, no stranger to offensively-solid hockey, took it upon himself to address the situation by acquiring Hall in a swap for Adam Larsson with the Edmonton Oilers. The early returns on the deal have been solid, with Hall contributing five goals and three assists in his first eleven games as a Devil.
As for the rest of the Devils, second-year coach John Hynes has led the team out of the gates with a 5-3-3 record. Schneider is off to his usual solid start with a .927 save percentage and a tidy 2.32 goals against average to start the year. Offensively, Travis Zajac is contributing his typical secondary scoring with a 4-4-8 line thus far, but in general, the lack of scoring punch continues to be a bit of an issue for the squad.
Mike Cammalleri, as we all know now, busted a ten-game goalless slump with a natural hat trick on Sunday, so things might be moving in the right direction offensively. Of course, it helps the Devils that Keith Kinkaid magically transforms into Terry Sawchuk when facing the Hurricanes, with a 4-1-0 career record against Carolina and a save percentage of .951 after a 33-save performance on Sunday evening. Kinkaid has 16 career wins, and a quarter of them have come against the Canes.
The Devils have the type of solid goaltending that a true contender needs. They also know that they lack multiple offensive creators, and that adding those pieces either takes time (for draft picks and prospects) or assets in other areas that can be exchanged for offensive talent.
They have already utilized this value exchange in the Hall trade; will they be able to do something similar with any of the current talent on the roster? It is unlikely, but it is certainly something Shero will continue to seek out.
The Devils have surprised this year, and will look to continue their solid start tonight, in pursuit of their first playoff appearance since they won the Eastern Conference championship in 2012.