(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
The New Jersey Devils began the season missing star winger Zach Parise, who left to play back home with the Minnesota Wild. Then, after the season, they saw their other star forward, Ilya Kovalchuk, “retire” from the NHL and leave to play back home in the KHL.
Sandwiched in-between was a non-playoff year that followed the team’s surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final. The Devils went 19-19-10, watching injuries slow Marty Brodeur and Kovalchuk and the team’s offense tumble to No. 28 in the NHL in goals for.
While they lost their star in the offseason, the Devils gained a number of veteran players in an attempt to juice their offense – along with their goalie of the future.
How can one not honor the goal-scoring juggernaut that is Marty Brodeur, whose third career goal tied him with Cam Janssen’s career total.
Devils President/GM/Ruler of All He Surveys Lou Lamoriello did what he does when his team faces adversity and/or loses a key player: he spent a lot of money on veteran players to compensate.
The Devils lost Kovalchuk to Russia and David Clarkson (7 years, $36.75M) to the Toronto Maple Leafs, depriving them of their greatest offensive threat and best power forward.
Lamoriello’s reinforcements included Ryane Clowe (5 years, $24.25 million), Michael Ryder (2 years, $7 million), and the ageless (well, at least until the playoffs) Jaromir Jagr, who signed for 1 year and $4 million. The Devils also inked Blackhawks castoff Rostislav Olesz for one year and $1 million.
But the biggest move Lamoriello made wasn’t on offense: It was his trade of the ninth overall pick in the 2013 Draft to Vancouver for goalie Cory Schneider, who becomes Marty Brodeur’s heir apparent, while Brodeur becomes yet another Canadian gold medal goalie that Schneider has to warm the bench behind.
New Jersey also lost Matt D’Agostini, Matt Corrente and Alexei Ponikarovsky to free agency, and traded a bitter Henrik Tallinder back to the Sabres.
Forward: Besides Brodeur, the one constant for the Devils has been left wing Patrik Elias, who signed a new contract this summer. The franchise’s offensive leader returns and could skate on a line with Travis Zajac and Jagr.
Adam Henrique broke the bank after his sophomore season, foregoing a traditional bridge contract for a six-year deal. He could center Clowe and Ryder, as the Devils hope their young center can blossom into a legitimate No. 1.
Dainius Zubrus missed significant time last season due to injury, but is a valuable presence up front. The Devils return Andrei Lokionov and bring in Olesz, who played for DeBoer in Florida.
Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau are young players hungry for ice time. Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Stever Bernier return as essential grinders, with Krys Barch and Cam Janssen along for muscle.
Defense: The Devils’ ice time leader on defense last season was Andy Greene, an underrated backliner who was a plus-12.
Captain Bryce Salvador, meanwhile, was a minus-12 and saw his offensive numbers from the 2013 playoffs disappear in the following regular season. Also a minus-12: Marek Zidlicky, who could see an expanded role on the power play with Kovalchuk gone.
Anton Volchenkov still brings the physical game but seems to have lost a step. Mark Fayne is solid but unspectacular. Veteran Peter Harrold is back, while the Devils continue to hope Adam Larsson becomes the defenseman they picked him fourth overall to become. Young D-men Jon Merrill and Alexander Urbom will push for time.
Goalies: Brodeur will get the opening day start, but one assumes Schneider will get more than his share of time. The 40-year-old Devils legend remains a solid goaltender, but the 2012 playoff run could be the last we see of the dominant Brodeur. Unless, of course, the presence of Schneider ignites something in the veteran netminder, and we have to pry the job out of his crease.
Pete DeBoer struggled for solutions last season after Larry Robinson and Adam Oates both left his bench following the Cup run. This season poses several unique challenges, including how he plans to mold a team out of a patchwork of veteran players.
Lou Lamoriello scrambled to fill the Devils roster with scoring, and was widely criticized for some of those contracts (like Clowe’s). He remains one of the shrewdest, smartest and most influential GMs in hockey. But as the team enters a transitional phase, one wonders how much longer Lamoriello will be pulling the strings in Jersey.
Why would it be anything other than Devils fans chanting “HEY, YOU SUCK?”
The goaltending. Say what you will about Brodeur, but the potential Hall of Famer paired with one of the top goalies in a generation in Schneider makes for a dynamic battery.
Elias. One of the most underrated offensive stars in hockey, the Devils’ top scorer in franchise history might also be their top offensive talent this year.
Jagr. C’mon, like you won’t watch a few more Devils power plays with No. 68 lurking near the net.
Team Speed. There are some absolutely plodding players on this roster, at a time when speed is at a premium in the NHL.
Every time you want to count the Devils out, they surprise you. So while many have them pegged for the bottom two in the Metropolitan Division, don’t be surprised if this is a team that battles on the bubble until the end – and potentially snags the No. 4 seed in the division.