bratt locker room

The Devils gathered together one final time as a group for locker room clean out on Wednesday afternoon at Prudential Center. The team reflected back on the 2023-24 season with a mix of disappointment and optimism.

The disappointment was obvious. After a 2022-23 campaign that saw the club set franchise records in wins (52) and points (112) while making an appearance in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, expectations were high for the current year. To be cleaning out their stalls before the opening round of the postseason begins was not where the club imagined it would be at this juncture.

“It definitely sucks already packing up here. It’s been a rough year,” captain Nico Hischier said. “It’s a hard league. You always have to stay humble and try to make the playoffs. You can see how it goes one year and how it went this year.”

“It wasn’t a step in the direction that we wanted to go,” forward Jesper Bratt said. “We have to see this as a big motivation and use it as fuel for the summer. … We really have to dial it in as individuals to come back as a better player, more mature and ready to do the right things to get this team back into the playoffs where we should be.”

While disappointment is understandable, the Devils still learned a lot of hard lessons during the course of the year. In fact, typically the best teacher is failure.

“When it sucks you can learn more than when everything is great,” Hischier said. “It’s a year that we can take good things out of it and learn from it. It’s important to evaluate a year like that and try to make the best out of it. So that’s what we’re trying to do.

“Remember the feeling right now and work toward turning that ship around again.”

The Devils need not look far for inspiration from other organizations that have rebounded from seasons that were considered a “setback.” Vegas won the Stanley Cup in 2023 after missing the playoffs in 2022. St. Louis missed the playoffs in 2018 and won the Cup in 2019. Tampa Bay lost in the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and missed the playoffs in 2017 before winning back-to-back Cups in 2020 and ’21.

“Out of a setback like this you can really take something really positive out of it,” Bratt said. “If you take the right approach, have the right motivation and right mindset. You can make this into something great. We saw that with Vegas last year, missing the playoffs and then going on to win a Cup.”

Two big takeaways from the season are that the Devils missed out on earning points via getting games into overtime. The Devils finished the year with a 38-39-5 record. Meanwhile, teams like NY Islanders (16), Boston (15) and Washington (11) loaded up on the loser point. For the Islanders and Capitals, it was the difference between clinching a spot and sitting at home.

Washington had a -37 goal differential while the Islanders were at -18. But having that extra “loser point” allowed them to sneak into the postseason.

“It’s been tough, but still things you can take out,” Hischier said. “Getting to overtime sometimes can help. Down the stretch we haven’t had a lot of OTs. Sometimes in games, play a little bit safer and take one point instead of getting a late goal.”

“You see it in the games being played (Tuesday). It came down to a point to make the playoffs,” Bratt said. “There were a lot of games this season if we dialed it in more and were a little more mature, we could have gained those extra points and that would have brought us a long way in the long haul.”

The Devils reflect on a tough year but bright future

The other big takeaway is that all points matter. The points the Devils missed out on in October and November could have made a big difference at this point in the season. Those early-season games cannot be taken for granted.

“Early in the season that’s where you need to get your points because that solidifies you toward the end (of the year),” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “We didn’t get them early. Then we were in a dogfight late. That’s where it becomes very difficult.”

If the 2022-23 season proved anything, it’s that the talent is in the locker room to be a competitive team. After all, the roster from that season, in which the club finished with the third-best record in the NHL, and the roster from the current season weren’t all that different. Perhaps health was the biggest change in the dynamic.

But the players in the locker room know what they accomplished the year before. It will take work to get back to that point, but the core men needed to get there are already in the room.

“Even more now we should believe,” Hischier said. “To see what we did last year and where we are now, believe but know that it’s not coming from nothing. You have to work hard. You have to earn it and this year proved it. Belief is 100 percent still there.”