Season Preview: New Jersey Devils
Without the clubs most famous face for the first time in 20 years, New Jersey are heading in a somewhat strange direction.
With multiple veterans signed to professional try out contracts and an ageing roster seemingly blocking any serious progress for some of their prospects, New Jersey seem to be lingering awkwardly around the play-off bubble.
The danger is it might leave them on the outside looking in, and without a decent draft pick – so what is the plan in New Jersey? Is this a last throw of the dice for Lou Lamoriello’s collection of old warriors? Or a season too far – simply delaying a major overhaul for the three time Stanley Cup winners.
New Jersey’s offence left a lot to be desired for most of last season.
Whilst finishing 5 points outside of the play-offs might not sound like a bad result, only Florida and Buffalo had fewer goals than New Jersey in the East last year. The clubs two top points scorers have a combined age of 80 – and they were the only two players to pass the 50 point mark. Add in that the Devils had just two 20 goal scorers, and it’s not a pretty picture.
The Devils did attempt to add some extra firepower during the off season – but once again their offence has plenty of question marks surrounding it.
Jaromir Jagr apparently continues to defy his age. The veteran star led the team with 24 goals and 67 points last season whilst averaging just over 19 minutes a night. Fellow Czech Patrick Elias also ‘rolled back the years’, passing 50 points for the twelfth time in his career.
Adam Henrique posted a career high 25 goals last season, but it will be new arrivals Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat New Jersey will be looking to in a bid to boost their faltering offence.
Discounting the truncated 2012/13 season, Cammalleri has back-to-back 20 goal campaigns and is a fierce competitor. Havlat on the other hand is coming off three disastrous seasons with San Jose, in which he managed just 27 goals and a 127 games for the Sharks before being bought out this summer. The winger joins on a 1-year deal that New Jersey hopes will inspire a little fight in the former Ottawa winger.
29-year old Travis Zajac is also under pressure heading in to the new season. Back to back 20 goal, 60 point seasons in 2008/09 and 2009/10 were followed by a significant regression for the Winnipeg native, who has failed to break 50 points since.
This didn’t dissuade New Jersey from signing Zajac to an 8-year deal in early 2013 however; but some return on this investment will be expected soon – less the centre becomes a weight around the teams neck.
Veterans Michael Ryder, Dainius Zubrus and Tuomo Ruutu all return, while Ryan Clowe has been cleared to play again – but advised to fight less following serious concussion issues over the past year. How this affects his traditionally rugged game remains to be seen.
Winger Damien Brunner continues to show flashes of talent, but is yet to really convince as NHL sniper as he enters the final year of his present contract. Likewise Steven Bernier remains something of an enigma at the top level and Jacob Josefson has been unable to really break in to the line up.
Perhaps most concerning element of the teams offence is that it was so poor for much of last year but apparently still lacks opportunities for prospects like Stefan Matteau. With the veteran heavy group they have signed going in to the new season, it can be hard to see where Matteau and co will break in to this line up.
At The Back
The Devils difficulties with balancing future stars and existing veterans continues along the blue line.
Bryce Salvador has been a reliable performer for the club and will wear the C again this year, but at 38 is close to retirement – as is Marek Zidlicky, who was re-signed on a 1-year, $4m deal.
Andy Greene is a solid, perhaps even underrated, member of the teams D – but Adam Larsson’s progress has been disappointing to say the least. The 4th overall pick in 2001, the Swede was expected to become the clubs next great blue liner, but spent more time in Albany than the NHL last season.
23-year old Eric Gelinas was impressive however, drawing comparisons to a young Chris Pronger and registering a shade under 0.5 points per game despite being bounced between the NHL and AHL throughout the season.
Whether signing Tomas Kaberle to a PTO is some bizarre tactic, or a serious move, it does raise further questions about Gelinas role on the team this season – as it does for Larsson. In theory they would, or should, be looking to take over as the clubs go to D men over the next few years. But their progress will be halted if they are trapped behind creaking veterans in the depth chart.
Between The Pipes
Cory Schneider was one of the few bright spots for the Devils last year.
Despite the circus surrounding Martin Brodeur’s role on the team, 28-year old Schneider just went about his business – recording an incredible 1.97 GAA and .921 save percentage along the way.
Finally able to take the reigns out right, Schneider has shown he is capable of being an elite NHL netminder but has arguably the toughest assignment in the entire league now. Succeeding a legend on a team that cannot score is a heck of a task.
Veteran Scott Clemmensen and 25-year old Keith Kinkaid look set to battle it out for the #2 spot.
Behind The Bench
Despite some rumours he might move on, Pete DeBoer remains Devils coach.
After guiding the team to a surprise appearance in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, DeBoer’s Devils have missed the play-offs for the past two seasons. Avoiding another disastrous start, like the 1-5-3 beginning to last year, will be priority number one for the former Florida supremo if he is to keep this veteran squad playing in to the spring.
Biggest Addition – Mike Cammalleri
Despite the debate regarding the roles of players like Eric Gelinas, the Devils D is generally reliable – but another sub standard year in the offensive zone will doom the club to another early tee time.
Cammalleri is a proven scorer, despite a history of minor injuries. Signed through to 2019 he should give the team a little more speed and a little more punch up front this season.
Biggest Loss – Martin Brodeur
As far as he’d fallen from his heyday; Brodeur was still a leader for the Devils. His experience will be missed if nothing else.
Key Man – Jaromir Jagr
Again it’s all about the offence. Despite some additional pressure on Schneider this year, a team that doesn’t score doesn’t get very far.
Last year, Jagr played as well as he has at any point since returning to the NHL in 2011. If the four time Art Ross winner can keep that level of performance up, he’s still a potent weapon for the Devils.
This Seasons Chances…
Despite the offensive upgrades, it’s still hard to see New Jersey making the grade this year.
If things go their way, veterans continue to stay one step ahead of Old Father Time and Corey Schneider posts ridiculous numbers then they could reach the play-offs, but in too many ways this feels like a club desperately clinging to the idea they can compete when in reality they need to start afresh.
They have some good kids in the system, and plays like Henrique have time on their side. Barring an electric start to the season, it could be time for Lamoriello to put some of the veterans out to pasture and look to take a shot at McDavid or Eichel come draft day.
Posted on September 25, 2014, in Hockey, New Jersey Devils, NHL, Season Previews 2014 and tagged Corey Schneider, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Brodeur, Mike Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils, NHL, Season Preview. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.