- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Not only did the New Jersey Devils miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year, they had their worst season in nearly three decades.

Embarrassing. Disappointing. Underachieving. The players used all those words to describe the 28-40-14 season that ended with a 3-17-4 mark in the last 24 games and just one regulation win.

The 70 points were the fewest in a regular season since 1988-98, the year before the Devils started a run of making the postseason 19 of 20 years, winning three Stanley Cups.

This group is nowhere near that close to success.

With the exception of left wing Taylor Hall, there are no other pure skill players. There are a lot of grinders, but not the type of players that carry teams to a title.

The goaltending of Cory Schneider and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Keith Kinkaid was inconsistent, and they often were left to fend for themselves.

General manager Ray Shero knew he had a rebuilding job when he replaced Lou Lamoriello 2 years ago. The first year turned out to be better than expected (38-36-8) with 84 points.

The second year was a mess.

Still, Shero believes the Devils have a plan in place and are heading into the right direction.

“I want to be in the playoffs as much as they (the fans) do,” Shero said. “It (hurts) to be out of the playoffs. Today there was a conference call with the NHL general managers and coaches, and I wasn’t on it. It stinks.”

Scoring more and defending better will help. But the Devils also need to add players who hate losing.

The 183 goals scored was only one less than last season, but it was the 27th worst in the 30-team league. The 244 goals against were 36 more than the previous season and tied with Detroit for fifth worst. The minus 61 goal differential was tied for fourth worst.

“You know there is going to be change in the offseason, especially after a disappointing year there are going to be a lot of new faces,” said Kyle Palmieri, who tied Hall for the team lead with 53 points.

“It doesn’t take much to turn it around,” he added. “You still have to do it, and it’s still a process. There is nothing but excitement from the guys in this room for what next year might bring.”

Some things to know as the Devils head into the offseason:

WHAT WENT WRONG: Second-year coach John Hynes said the Devils didn’t compete as hard as they did a year ago.

“At the end of last year we could walk away and say we were a difficult team to play against,” Hynes said. “I think this year we were not for different reasons. That needs to change.”

GOALS: This has been the Devils‘ weak link for years. Shero has to find either more guys capable of scoring or defensemen who can move the puck and make the offense more explosive.

New Jersey generated a lot of scoring changes this season, but they didn’t have the finishers.

Hall scored 20 goals and is capable of at least 30. Palmieri led the team with 26 and Adam Henrique had 20. After that there were only three other scorers in double figures at the end of the year.

GOALIES: After an All-Star season in 2015-16, Schneider had a miserable season, posting a 20-27-11 mark with a 2.82 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. He was 27-25-6 with a 2.15 goals against and a .924 save percentage the previous season.

“It’s difficult for me because I take a lot of pride as a competitor and as a key member of this team to be counted on and produce results, and this year I didn’t do that,” the 31-year-old Schneider said.

Kinkaid is an unrestricted free agent who has said he wants to return.

FREE AGENCY: The Devils finished the year close to $9 million under the salary cap, but Shero says he is not going to spend money just because he has it. It has to be the right player. Besides the cap space, New Jersey has 11 picks in the upcoming draft.

THE KIDS: The Devils had 12 rookies play in at least one game this season, with forwards Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood and Joseph Blandisi and defenseman Steven Santini picking up valuable experience.

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More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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