Join TSN in a 30 teams in 30 days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Teams will be unveiled in reverse order of the pre-season TSN.ca Power Rankings, and the New Jersey Devils are up next. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. Use the Your Call feature to give us your take on the Devils!
New Jersey Devils
2009-10: 48-27-7 (2nd in East, Eliminated in conference QF by Flyers)
General Manager: Lou Lamoriello (23rd Season)
Head Coach: John MacLean (1st Season)
What they did in the off-season:
It was just another average, quiet off-season in New Jersey…with the exception of an extended contract drama that dominated the hockey headlines for virtually the whole summer. But before the main course, first the appetizer: The Devils opened the summer with a blast from the past by re-acquiring former Devil Jason Arnott from the Nashville Predators for Matt Halischuk. The team then bought out veterans Andrew Peters and Jay Pandolfo before splurging in free agency with the signings of goaltender Johan Hedberg as well as Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder to bolster their blueline. Rob Niedermayer, Paul Martin and Martin Skoula all bid the Devils adieu while Mark Fraser re-upped for one more season in Jersey. The excitement really got underway when the Devils announced the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk to one of the biggest contracts in NHL history, a 17-year, $102 million deal that was immediately rejected by the league. That rejection set off a train of events that shook relations between the NHL, the league's owners and the Players' Association to the very core as all sides sniped at each other for more than a month. Fortunately for all sides, cooler heads would prevail and a second Kovlachuk contract would be approved, however not before the Players' Association made major concessions on long term contracts and the Devils were hit with a significant penalty. At the end of the day the whole saga left a bad taste in the moth of hockey fans who are a lot less interested as to what goes on behind closed doors as than what occurs on the ice.
Biggest issue facing the team:
The good news is that the ‘Neverending Story' actually had an end and that the Devils will have the Russian sniper in the lineup to open camp. The bad news for Jersey is the fact that the Kovalchuk contract put them way over the cap and they will be forced to shed salary prior to the start of the season, meaning a useful veteran will likely be headed elsewhere.
While the move itself flew a little under the radar, the Devils made a very shrewd move in signing Johan Hedberg to a one-year deal. Hedberg has served as both a starter and a backup throughout his career and would appear to be a perfect complement to future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. While Brodeur enjoyed another fantastic regular season, he did not appear to be himself in the playoffs as he posted a goals against average of 3.01 and a pitiful .881 save percentage as the Devils were eliminated in the first round for the third consecutive season. At age 38, Brodeur is not getting any younger, yet he appeared in 77 games for New Jersey last season and seemed fatigued once the post-season got underway. A team with Stanley Cup aspirations needs their best players to be at their best when the stakes are at their highest. Bringing in a proven veteran like Hedberg will allow Brodeur a few extra nights off during the regular season, keeping him fresh for the playoffs when the team needs him most.
In addition the Devils would certainly love to get Zach Parise's signature on a contract extension as the talented young forward is set to become a restricted free agent at seasons end. Hopefully Lou Lamoriello and crew learned a very valuable lesson with the Kovalchuk saga and do not allow the Parise situation to drag on needlessly.
Player to watch:
All eyes will be on Kovalchuk this season as he attempts to justify all the fuss that was created at his expense. While Kovalchuk is largely considered a goal scoring machine, he did not exactly light it up after leaving Atlanta for Jersey last season with 10 goals in 27 regular season games with the Devils and another two in Jersey's premature playoff exit. Although Kovalchuk is a dynamic player, he seems to be diametrically opposed to the type of player that generally thrives in the Devils system and at times appears that he could not find the defensive end of the ice with a compass and a map. That being said he is an absolute game breaker that can light it up with the best of them. It will be interesting to see how he is utilized by new coach John MacLean, a former goal scorer himself. If MacLean implements an up-tempo style, then Kovalchuk may well reap the rewards. Thus far in pre-season he has been skating on a line featuring Parise and Travis Zajac. If that line sticks then watch out; however if the Devils choose to stay true to their defence first philosophy, Kovalchuk's individual numbers will suffer and Devils fans will wonder if his signing was worth all of the trouble that it created.