NHL

30 Teams In 30 Days: Grinding it out with Lemaire

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TSN.ca Staff
9/23/2009 1:47:06 PM
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NEW JERSEY DEVILS

2008-09: 51-27-4 (3rd in the East – Eliminated in Conference QF by Hurricanes)
Pre-season TSN.ca Power Ranking: 8th
General Manager: Lou Lamoriello (22nd Season)
Head Coach: Jacques Lemaire (1st Season)

What They Did In The Off-season:

It was a very busy summer in the swamp as the Devils overhauled their roster following a disappointing first round playoff exit at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.

It was a mass exodus in the early going, as veteran Bobby Holik announced his retirement while blueliner Niclas Havelid chose to return home to Sweden. Longtime Devil John Madden blew into the Windy City as a free agent, while Scott Clemmensen parlayed an excellent season as Martin Brodeur's injury replacement into a three-year deal with the Panthers.  Brian Gionta took his show on the road to Montreal, while Mike Rupp signed with the Penguins. But the biggest loss was felt behind the bench, as Brent Sutter stepped down as head coach and later joined brother Darryl in Calgary.

There were some positives however, as underrated defenceman Johnny Oduya agreed to a three-year deal while Travis Zajac re-upped for four more seasons. Andy Greene signed on for two more seasons while veteran Brendan Shanahan will return for one final year before heading to the Hall of Fame.

The Devils also took a dip in the free agent pool, picking up netminder Yann Danis and blueliner Cory Murphy

New Jersey then looked to the past to move forward, as former coach Jacques Lemaire was brought back into the fold for his second tour of duty.

Biggest Issue facing the team:

Instead of sticking to the status quo with a team that captured the Atlantic Division title, general manager Lou Lamoriello completely blew up the squad this off-season.  No move was more indicative of the direction that ‘Sweet Lou' wanted the team to take than the signing of Lemaire in an attempt to recapture the team's glory days.

While the Devils have never been considered a flashy team, Lemaire will bring a successful, yet unattractive brand of grind-it-out hockey that helped the team capture the Stanley Cup in 1995.

While that is sure to bring a smile to the face of Martin Brodeur, will young snipers like Zach Parise and Zajac be privately grinding their teeth?  The 25-year old Parise enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, setting career highs across the board.  The thought of sacrificing these numbers for more defensive responsibilities can't be terribly appealing.  Parise only has to look as far as the similarly talented Marian Gaborik, who openly complained about the Minnesota Wild's style of play under Lemaire.

But fortunately for the Devils, Parise does not appear to be the type of player who will rock the boat and speak out selfishly about his own stats.  He is a competitor who wants to win and he will likely realize that Lemaire's style, while not aesthetically pleasing, gets the job done in the most important statistical category; that of wins and losses.

That being said, it will be an enormous task for the Devils to repeat their meager goal scoring totals of last year, where they finished middle of the pack. Even if Parise repeats his superb season while Zajac and David Clarkson continue their development, the Devils will be depending on a group of aging snipers to carry the additional offensive load.  Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston and Brendan Shanahan are all a year older, but are they a year better?  It will be difficult to turn back the clock and dial up the offence this season.  Expect a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 hockey games, with most of the decisions going in the Devils' favour.

Player to watch:

The 2008-09 season did not go the way that Martin Brodeur had hoped. The NHL's all-time winningest goaltender missed 50 games with an elbow injury and saw the team eliminated in the first round of the playoffs thanks to an uncharacteristic last minute collapse in Game 7 against the Hurricanes.  While his statistical numbers were still excellent, there has been more talk that he is no longer the top goalie in the league - as the contenders to his crown have multiplied.

Nowhere was this more evident than at Canada's Olympic orientation camp where, despite his past heroics, Brodeur might not even be the front runner for the No. 1 job.  With the games being played in Vancouver, there has been increasing sentiment that the No. 1 spot is now Roberto Luongo's to lose.

That can't sit well with the incumbent Brodeur. Despite having achieved virtually every milestone and collecting every honour available to him, the ultra-competitive Montreal native is not yet ready to relinquish his throne to these young whippersnappers. 

With a renewed emphasis on defensive play (thanks to the return of Lemaire), Brodeur should be in store for an excellent season which, at the very least, will give Team Canada's brass plenty to think about when it comes time to pick their starting goaltender.

Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:

After a first-round playoff exit last season, the New Jersey Devils have a different approach this season, with Jacques Lemaire returning behind the bench, an approach that should tighten up the defensive scheme; old-time Devils hockey.

High-scoring Devils forward Zach Parise had a breakthrough season in 2008-2009, scoring 45 goals, 94 points and recording a plus-30 rating. If the Devils tighten up defensively, that could affect Parise's production, but he'll still be New Jersey's franchise scorer.

Read more of Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis of the Devils, including a look at their projected depth chart for this season.

Zajac scores (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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