NHL season preview series: New Jersey Devils
NEW JERSEY DEVILS SEASON PREVIEW
By DEVILS INSIDERS
How they Finished: 35-29-18 88 points. (5th in Metropolitan Division)
F, Mike Cammalleri (FA)
F, Martin Havlat (FA)
G, Scott Clemmensen (FA)
G, Martin Brodeur
D, Mark Fayne
D, Anton Volchenkov
The writing was on the wall the minute that Cory Schneider arrived in New Jersey, but now, after opting not to resign Martin Brodeur, it's a reality. The New Jersey Devils will begin a season without Martin Brodeur for the first time in over two decades.
New Jersey enters this season with what they believe is a true number one netminder in Cory Schneider, who is fresh off a contract extension. Though Schneider has posted good numbers throughout his career, now is his first chance to show what he's got while handling a workload of somewhere around 65-70 games.
Defense wasn't exactly the issue with the Devils last season as they had the lowest amount of shots against in the NHL, but it will be a different unit this season. After Mark Fayne jumped ship to Edmonton and Anton Volchenkov was bought out, they'll be relying on young defenders such as Adam Larsson, John Merrill, Eric Gelinas and even 20-year-old Damon Severson to usher in a new era. Their ability to play at a high level will be crucial.
Offensively, it was the same old story for the Devils, as they struggled to score goals. Bringing in veterans like Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat should help, but by how much remains to be seen. The Devils relied heavily on Jaromir Jagr last season and his 67 points (24g, 43a) led the team. Though he looks to be in great shape, as always, if his production begins to decline, the Devils will struggle even further to score.
A bounce-back season from Michael Ryder could go a long way and a healthy Ryane Clowe could be a boost as well. If you want to pick out one specific reason as to their failure to make the playoffs, look no further than the shootout. The Devils went 0-13 in the extra-time skill competition and scored only 3 shootout goals in 43 attempts. Considering they finished just five points out of the playoffs, a few shootout wins could have easily been the difference.
If everything breaks right: The Devils will find themselves somewhere within the 2-3 matchup in the Metropolitan Division. With no standout team outside of the Pens (who will have some growing pains of their own with new coach Mike Johnston) the two additional playoff spots in the division are up for grabs. With the Rangers, Flyers, Blue Jackets and even the improved Islanders in the mix, it could be a real dog fight for the two or three playoff spots that may come from that division outside of the Pens.
They addressed the scoring issues by bringing in Cammalleri and Havlat and that could do enough to allow them to score a few more goals. More importantly, the law of averages says that the Devils SHOULD at least be somewhat better in the shootout. Adam Henrique finished strong last season and seems primed to have a breakout year.
The young defensemen should not only add some mobility in the back end, but with better possession numbers and a few less plodding d-men, the Devils should be able to break out better, which should lead to more goals. Their back end with the likes of Eric Gelinas, as well as Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene should be capable of pushing play forward and creating offense.
If it all goes downhill: It will most likely be due to the lack of scoring, once again. Jagr is a year older, so is Patrik Elias. Cammalleri and Havlat have proven to be injury prone and if they're not able to stay in the lineup, the Devils may have the same issues as last season.
Cory Schneider, despite his strong play last season, is still a question mark. How will he deal with being the number one goaltender with no real threat to his job? If he struggles, he's still the guy. No longer is there a carrot on a stick in front of him. He'll have to play through all of his and the team's struggles. If his numbers are a bit more pedestrian, especially with a young defense in front of him, the Devils may struggle. Furthermore, the two elder defensemen, Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador are a year older, with declining skills.
Though there is some roster turnover and the Devils seem to have at least gotten better, there are still plenty of teams in the division that could finish ahead of them. Columbus should be better, the Rangers will be right in the mix and the Flyers and Islanders, though flawed, each have an all-world player that can carry them.
If they don't improve their goal scoring, it could be a long season.
Realistic Expectations: New Jersey should be right in the mix in the Metropolitan Division. Considering the level of talent throughout, spots two through six might be so close that a game here or there could be the difference between a home playoff series or a mid-may tee time. On paper, this team looks better. They've added scoring and infused the defense with some young talent. If they're able to be about five to six points better, they should be right there in the mix for a playoff spot. Realistically, a wild card might be their ceiling.
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