Heading into next season there is a lot of things to be excited about. For one we will see a full 82 game schedule, we will see a new realignment and new playoff structure, and we will also a lot of teams that have had a face-lift. However, as Michael Jackson proved, getting a face-lift doesn't mean you’re going to look better. One example of this, this upcoming season will be the New Jersey Devils.
Now for the Devils this face-lift is a couple years in the making. Ever since they fell to the L.A. Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup finals they have lost big pieces of their team and unfortunately for them it doesn't look like they have been able to fill in these gaps. During the 2012 off-season the Devils lost captain and superstar Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild and now this off-season with the abrupt loss of Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuck the Devils are without their two top point producers from the 2012 season.
The Devils have now also lost David Clarkson to free agency as he signed with the Maple Leafs, so the question is who will pick up the slack. The Devils did make some noise bringing in veteran and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, but Jagr has already made it public that this will likely be his last season in the NHL. So, will he have enough gas in the tank to fill the hole left by Kovalchuck?
The Devils also brought in tough guy Ryan Clowe, likely in an effort to bring a player in who shared a similar style of play to that of Clarkson, while also adding Michael Ryder. Ryder came off as season where he put up great numbers at the beginning of the season playing in Dallas, but fell apart after being traded back to Montreal in exchange for Eric Cole.
These names are all huge question marks and anything could go. Jagr, like Ryder, was putting up great numbers in Dallas, but after coming over to Boston seemed to disappear. Despite making it to the Cup Final with the Bruins, Jagr’s contributions were not a big reason for the team’s success. Jagr is in no doubt one of the most talented and offensively gifted players to ever play the game, but is at the end of his career so his level of production is not anything like it was in the past. To expect anything upwards of 50 points from the Czech winger might be a tall order for the 41 year old.
However, although these signings do help the Devils the fact of the matter is that they do not replace what they lost. Kovalchuck is a former Rocket Richard winner and 50 goal scorer, something that Clowe and Ryder cannot provide. Then there is David Clarkson, who put up higher numbers than both Ryder and Clowe this past season as well.
The Devils did bring back Patrick Elias, Danius Zubrus, and their best defenseman, Marek Zidlicky. The problem again is that Elias and Zubrus are on the back end of their careers and their best years are likely behind them so big things are likely not going to come from these two. Elias did lead the Devils with 36 points in 48 games last season which isn't awful, but it was only good enough for 45th most in the league. If the Devils want to achieve great success they are going to need someone to compete for league high numbers as after the few names mentioned above the Devils production falls drastically.
The Devils biggest move however was probably the acquisition of goaltender Cory Schneider, which on the Devil’s end was a great pick up. This deal was a steal for the Devils, especially considering they only gave up their 1st round pick in this past draft (who turned out to be Bo Horvat). The thing is that goaltending was never the Devil’s problem as Brodeur, despite not putting up incredible stats, has been a rock for the team and Johan Hedberg has been arguably the best backup goalie in the league. The move to acquire Schneider was one obviously looking into the future, as it has become quite clear that Brodeur’s years in the NHL are coming to an end. Even with that said, unless Brodeur plays monumentally bad or gets hurt don’t expect the future Hall of Famer to spend his final years sitting on the bench, he’ll still be the teams go to guy between the pipes.
The Devils do have some prospects that are starting to emerge such as Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, and Ryan Carter. However, these young guns are still maturing and likely aren't ready to take the team by the reigns just yet.
The Devils could very well surprise and make a push for a playoff position this year, but when it comes down to it, the team is stocked full of players who seem to be either past their prime or haven’t hit it yet which could be a huge problem for them. So, unless players such as Jagr, Elias, Clowe, and Ryder can bring back their glory days and the likes of Henrique and Larsson can show that they are ready to take their game to the next step the Devils might be in for a long season.
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