New owners, new future in net for Devils
Riley Boychuk, Ryane Clowe, Jaromir Jagr, Rostislav Olesz, Michael Ryder, Cory Schneider.
David Clarkson, Matt Corrente, Matt D’Agostini, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Henrik Tallinder.
Last year: After a surprising trip to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, the Devils had a 2013 to forget.
The team was given an extended period to adjust to life without one-time franchise cornerstone Zach Parise thanks to the lockout and the Devils actually got off to a solid start, posting just one regulation loss in their first 12 games.
The end of winter, however, would not be kind to Jersey, as the team would go a 12-game stretch between mid-February and mid-March where it won just once in regulation. That stretch would coincide almost perfectly with a Martin Brodeur back injury that would thrust Johan Hedberg into the starter’s role for 10 games.
That skid leveled off the team’s hot start and a 10-game losing streak that started in late March all but cooked the Devils’ playoff hopes. The team did win four of its last six, but by then they were simply repelling the draft board.
This Year: It just might get ugly.
The Devils scored fewer goals than every NHL team save for two (Florida and Nashville) and even then only by a single goal. They lost almost a quarter of those goals thanks to two key off-season losses in the retirement of Ilya Kovalchuk and the free agency departure of David Clarkson.
Kovalchuk’s retirement came as a surprise in the middle of the summer and the team will certainly have a tough time filling the void, but the cash savings might benefit the team more than the loss on the scoresheet.
The age-old question of “Who takes over for Brodeur?” though, has at least been answered with the draft-floor acquisition of Cory Schneider. There’s no word on when Brodeur - sure-fire Hall-of-Famer – will retire, but Schneider’s arrival certainly speeds that decision.
The team did well to fill some holes, hoping that Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr can fill some of the offensive void left and that the signing of Ryane Clowe might recoup Clarkson’s lost grit.
But if the Devils are to thrive this coming season, they will either need their veteran core to gel and thrive or they will need the likes of Adam Larsson and Adam Henrique to mature quickly and become franchise players.
That said, the Devils have missed the playoffs just four times under Lamoriello’s 25 seasons as GM, so if there’s any executive in the NHL that can build a contender under challenging circumstances, it’s probably Lou.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Devils' performance after a shortened season?
Here’s where Lamoriello’s strategy to recoup talent will be put to its greatest test. Ryder and Jagr both put up 35-point seasons in 45- and 46-game slates respectively, but will they be able to keep up those outputs over a full 82?
Jagr is most worrisome, since he’s 41 and scored not a single goal in 22 playoff games last season. Together with a veteran core that is largely over 35, Devils management must be concerned with the team’s legs holding out over a full season.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Devils make to get themselves back in cap shape?
Let’s call it a lucky bounce.
The Devils were in ownership limbo and the cap was going down. Then came the stunning announcement that Kovalchuk was done with the NHL and is heading over to Russia for the remainder of, well, forever.
Suddenly, the Devils are off the hook for the remaining 12 years on Kovalchuk’s deal, with its $6.6-plus million cap hit and are additionally benefitted by a cap recapture penalty that is almost a half-million less than it would have been had he retired next summer.
The move, along with losing Clarkson, allowed the team some wiggle room heading into the season.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Devils after realignment.
With the Washington Capitals back in with the Devils, the old Patrick Division has finally been reunited. The newly-christened Metropolitain Division should rekindle some long-dormant rivalries on that front.
The lucky bounce for the Devils is that two of the three teams they inherited in realignment also failed to miss the playoffs (Columbus and Carolina), so they will not be the only team looking at an uphill climb.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Ryane Clowe, LW - A veteran power forward who was the butt of jokes when he hadn't scored a goal at the trade deadline last season, but Clowe finished strong and his underlying numbers (like 2.18 shots on goal per game) indicate that he wasn't so far gone that he couldn't remain a productive player. He's a rare breed of power forward; since the start of the 2009-2010 season, he's one of three forwards to score at least 170 points and register at least 400 penalty minutes (Corey Perry and Scott Hartnell are the others).
Clowe will effectively replace David Clarkson in the Devils' lineup, albeit on the opposite wing. He can play a top six role and score enough while also providing toughness and a physical game. His hard-knocks style of play will slow him down but, this season, as a 31-year-old, Clowe should still be a valuable part of the Devils' core.
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Pressing Question: How smooth will the crease hand-over go?
There should be little question over who is the starter heading into 2013, but a netminder with Schneider’s talent and experience won’t be quite the good soldier that Brodeur’s past back-ups (Hedberg, Scott Clemmensen, the list goes on) have been in the past.
Marty’s process of giving up the crease will have to begin this season, since Schneider had the better numbers last season.
Brodeur also hasn’t officially announced a retirement plan yet, so who knows if this is the 41-year-old’s last go round?
You have an aging Hall-of-Fame-bound keeper who is used to getting the lion’s share and a younger netminder that has been fighting tooth and nail for every available minute in the crease.
The Devils wanted to shore up the future between the pipes, but have they opened the door to a goaltending controversy and put up a hurdle in what could be Brodeur’s swan-song season?
- New Jersey Devils Preview by Shane McNeil, TSN.ca