The two teams, seemingly heading in opposite directions, open their seasons at the Prudential Center on Friday night.
The Devils’ biggest move was the re-signing of star winger Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) to a 15-year, $100 million contract after the NHL rejected their initial deal as a violation of the salary cap. That assured Kovalchuk, acquired in February from Atlanta, will go for his seventh consecutive 40-goal season with New Jersey.
Looking to create a formidable offensive unit, new coach John MacLean has moved Kovalchuk from left to right wing and placed him on the top line with Zach Parise(notes) and center Travis Zajac(notes).
“I’m not used to it, but to play with those two guys, I would play in goal,” Kovalchuk said. “I have to because those are two great players and I think we’re going to have great chemistry. If we’re going to work hard and work as a group, we’re going to be very successful.”
Also returning are captain Jamie Langenbrunner(notes) and Patrik Elias(notes) for a Devils team that finished 2009-10 with 103 points, good for second in the Eastern Conference. Martin Brodeur(notes) remains a constant as he starts his 18th straight season in goal for New Jersey (48-27-7).
Brodeur finished with 45 wins last season, second most in his career, but was unable to hold off eventual Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia in the first round. The three-time Stanley Cup winner believes that New Jersey is poised to advance deeper into the playoffs this season.
“One of the beauties of playing for the Devils is that you know we are going to have a chance to be successful,” Brodeur said. “I mean, if (winning the Stanley Cup) is going to happen, lately it has been tougher. You know we had some great runs, and I think we are due.”
The re-signing of Kovalchuk and the acquisitions of Anton Volchenkov(notes), Jason Arnott(notes) and Johan Hedberg(notes) came at a price. In order to stay under the salary cap, New Jersey will begin the season with the league-minimum 20 players on its roster.
“This is just our opening day roster,” general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “Rosters can change from day to day and Albany (the Devils’ AHL affiliate) is only an hour and three quarters away so when time is on your side, you use it.”
The Devils remain among the league’s elite teams despite the roster constraints with 13 consecutive postseason berths. Dallas (37-31-14) was once in that group, but the Stars are simply hoping to make the playoffs after failing to qualify the past two seasons.
General manager Joe Nieuwendyk decided against offering contracts to franchise mainstays Marty Turco(notes) and Mike Modano(notes), who left for Chicago and Detroit, respectively. Nieuwendyk then added Blackhawks forward Adam Burish(notes) along with backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft(notes).
“I think that’s the direction we had to go,” Nieuwendyk said. “We hadn’t made the playoffs for a couple years and we certainly didn’t want to get older. There’s a trend to go younger. We really like the good young crop of players we have.”
Coach Marc Crawford enters his second season behind the Dallas bench and will look to Brad Richards(notes) to again lead the team offensively. The center matched a career high with 91 points - his most since 2005-06 with Tampa Bay.
“It starts with your goaltender,” Crawford said. “You need solid goaltending in this league, and if you’re going to win, your goaltender has to be in the picture. I think you see a little bit more of what our organization saw in (Lehtonen). He gave our group confidence.”
New Jersey and Dallas split two meetings last season with each team winning on home ice.