Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the New Jersey Devils. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
The positive for the Devils is that things can only go up from last season. The team missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996 and suffered its worst finish since 1989.
The definite upside to this season is that Jersey was a completely different team in the second half of last season. Whether that was exclusively the work of interim head coach Jacques Lemaire will probably be evident early on this season, but there was a lot that went wrong for the Devils last season that may have worked itself out over the long off-season break.
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Prospect Report: The Devils got a very lucky bounce when they wound up with the fourth-overall selection and used it to take Adam Larsson, the talented Swedish defender who at one time was a projected first-overall selection. The team wasted no time locking Larsson up to an entry-level deal and will make every effort to get him in the lineup this season.
Beyond Larsson, the Devils have a group of very useful NHL-ready prospects in their system, despite the lack of 'elite' prospects. Big-bodied defenceman Jon Merrill has looked good with the Michigan Wolverines, while forwards Mattia Tedenby and Jacob Josefson both proved they could contribute at the NHL level with stints in 2010-11. Tedenby put up eight goals, 22 points in 58 games while Josefson put in three goals and 10 points in 28 games.
Breakout Player to Watch: The team's lack of depth up the middle could pay huge dividends for Josefson. A mostly healthy Devils roster means that if Josefson performs well in training camp, he could see duty on the second line alongside at least one of Patrick Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk or Zach Parise.
With Josefson being an adept playmaker and the Devils entering the season dealing with an Achilles injury to Travis Zajac, he could easily ride the talent of his linemates to a big jump in his point totals over a full 82-game campaign.
Marquee Match-Up: Jan. 11 at Edmonton - Who's No. 1? While there's still the formality of both players actually making their respective clubs, both the Oilers and Devils appear to be banking on their top picks playing this year. This will be the one and only showdown between Adam Larsson and first-overall choice Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011-12.
Other Dates to Watch: Oct. 8 vs. Philadelphia - Zach Parise suits up for his first home game since Oct. 30, 2010.
Reason to Get Excited: Limited to just 13 games last season, Parise is expected to be healthy and dominant this season. His presence on the ice could help the Devils get more out of last summer's big signing Ilya Kovalchuk, who posted his lowest single-season goals and points tallies since his rookie season.
The Devils have always relied on strong team defence and Martin Brodeur's presence between the pipes to carry the load, but more goals will go a long way towards helping the team win more games.
Home Hardware: Point projections are always difficult to predict. But a player's desire to prove a point can sometimes be overwhelming. Expect nothing less than a seek-and-destroy campaign out of Parise this season that could put him in the thick of the Art Ross Trophy race. If Parise is able to produce on the score sheet as expected and keep his team in playoff contention, look for him to also get consideration in the Hart Trophy race.
No one was more disappointed by his injury-shortened campaign than the 27-year-old winger himself. He's proven in the past that he can produce at better than a point-per-game clip. With Kovalchuk riding shotgun for an entire year, his numbers should jump. Oh yeah, and thanks to team-elected arbitration, he's also headed into unrestricted free agency this off-season.
On The Hot Seat: The entire Devils defence corps. The team gave up more goals last season than any season in the new millennium save for 2005-06 when the team had to reconfigure its style to fit the post-lockout NHL and 2008-09 when Brodeur was limited to just 31 games.
Larsson should add a new dimension to the team's blue line with his mobility and puck skills, but he's also a rookie learning to play regularly on smaller ice.
Brodeur can't be expected to always play like a Vezina candidate now that he's approaching his 40s and the team sunk a lot of money into responsible defenders like Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder before last season even began. They're getting a mulligan for an underwhelming first season, but they may not get two if the team can't turn it around this year.
It's Your! Call: What does Martin Brodeur have left to play for?
He holds an abundance of regular-season and playoffs goaltending records including most career wins and shutouts, he's won four Vezina Trophies, three Stanley Cups, and two Olympic gold medals amongst a host of other accolades.
Say what you will about the competitive spirit, but at what point will Brodeur have accomplished enough to call it a career?
Watching the playoffs from home for just the second time in his career couldn't have been fun last season, and at his age, he couldn't even use the time to compete at the World Championships due to the wear and tear of a full NHL season.
If the Devils don't respond to new head coach Peter DeBoer the way they did to Lemaire and can't turn it around in 2011-12, will it spell the end for Brodeur?
For a man whose won just about everything there is to win, surely that can't be the conclusion he had in mind.