From now through the start of the NHL season on Oct. 4, TSN.ca presents '30 Teams In 30 Days,' a quick glimpse at each NHL club as the 2008-09 campaign approaches. Get the lowdown on every lineup, storylines to follow and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. It continues today with the New Jersey Devils.
For Devils fans, the only thing worse than a heartbreaking loss to the New York Rangers in a conference final - as it happened in 1994 - is a loss to those same hated Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
That's exactly what the team had to endure last spring, bowing out to their long-time rival in just five games.
It was quick, and it was painful. The Rangers won seven of eight divisional games against the Devils during the regular season and their domination continued in the playoffs. New Jersey struggled to score early against a tough Rangers defence that was backed by netminder Henrik Lundqvist and were quickly down 2-0 in the series.
Adding more salt on the wound was Rangers super-pest Sean Avery, who succeeded in getting under Martin Brodeur's skin with his stick-waving tactics. It flat out frustrated the future Hall of Famer, who more often than not looked fatigued during the series.
It was also a tough pill to swallow for long-time general manager Lou Lamoriello, who felt his team had as good a chance as any other to go deep and contend for the Stanley Cup. Changes had to be made, but would it be done in small doses or by a complete overhaul?
General Manager: Lou Lamoriello (21st season)
Head Coach: Brent Sutter (2nd Season)
2007-08 Record: 46-29-7 (4th in Conference)
Points Leader: Zach Parise - 65
Goals Leader: Zach Parise - 32
Assists Leader: Patrik Elias - 35
PIM Leader: David Clarkson - 183
+/- Leader: Johnny Oduya - 27
PP Goals Leader: Zach Parise - 10
SH Goals Leader: John Madden - 3
What they did: Unlike past summers, the Devils hit the ground running when the free agent market opened. Lamoreillo turned back the clock, signing former Devil and highly sought-after forward Brian Rolston to a four-year, $20 million contract. Centre Bobby Holik - who helped guide the team to two Cups - was also brought back with a one-year deal. The club also re-signed key players in defencemen Bryce Salvador and Mike Motteau and forwards Jay Pandolfo and David Clarkson. Then they cleared up almost $2 million in cap space by putting blueliner Vitaly Vishnevski on waivers so he could return home to play in Russia.
What to watch for: Rolston will be a go-to guy on the Devils' top line at centre or on the wing. The 35-year-old is one of the league's most complete players and should not only give the offence (26th in the NHL last season) a shot in the arm, but also add sound defence and penalty killing. While New Jersey lacked goal production last season, they made up for it in creativity thanks to Zach Parise. He brings plenty of speed, finesse and excitement up front and should re-ignite a struggling group of forwards that include Brian Gionta (53 points), Patrik Elias (55 points last season), Travis Zajac (34 points), Jamie Langenbrunner (41 points) and Dainus Zubrus (38 points). Rookie Nicklas Bergfors could add some scoring punch, but it will be tough for him to crack a lineup that has so many established players up front. As expected, defence isn't a problem with Holik re-joining John Madden and Pandolfo as a top shutdown unit.
With Brian Rafalski long gone, the Devils did not generate a lot of offence from the blueline. Paul Martin was the team's leader with 32 points, but as long as Martin, Salvador, Mottau, Colin White, Johnny Oduya and Andy Greene keep opposing forwards quiet in their own end, no one's complaining. The Devils had the fourth best defence in the league last season with these core players patrolling the back end.
Of course, that also has a lot to do with the guy in goal. You can't argue against the four Vezina trophies and three Stanley Cups won by Martin Brodeur. But with all great players, you have to wonder if and when Father Time decides to creep up on his performance. At 36, can he play another 70-plus games like he did last season? Can he come up with another Vezina-worthy performance and take his team deep into the playoffs?
Parting Shot: The Devils have taken great pride over the years in winning with defence, and it showed with the past systems utilized by Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson, Pat Burns and even short-lived head coach Claude Julien. But these Devils are gradually becoming a more offensive team. Second-year head coach Brent Sutter's challenge is to squeeze out more goals without giving up too much of their trademark defensive game. Bringing Rolston and Holik back is certainly a step in the right direction.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Analysis: The Devils don't have as much fantasy appeal because of their defensive approach. More.