It’s been a rough year and a half for the New Jersey Devils. In the 2012 offseason, franchise player Zach Parise sailed ship as an unrestricted free agent. The Devils received no compensation for his departure. The offseason that just passed saw power forward David Clarkson do the same, signing with conference rival the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then, Ilya Kovalchuk happened. The Russian superstar bailed on the Devils and the NHL, deciding to play his professional hockey in the KHL. See you at the Olympics, Ilya.
The Devils lost three top 6 forwards in just over a year. That’s a tough blow to overcome. But they’re the Devils, and they always find a way. Only two years ago they challenged for the Stanley Cup, out of nowhere. The core of that team is gone, but they’ll figure it out and challenge again soon. Devils general manager Lou Lamariello is not one to be taken lightly.
At the 2013 NHL Entry Draft Lou set the wheels in motion to rebuild his dynasty, acquiring star goaltender Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks for the 9th overall pick. Schneider will replace legend Martin Brodeur in the near future, and the Devils will seemingly avoid what looked like a “how do we replace Marty?” dilemma.
They’re already chanting “Coreeee! Coreeee!” at the Prudential Center, according to Tom Gulitti, New Jersey Devils beat reporter for The Record. You can read about Cory Schneider’s incredible training camp performances by visiting Gulitti’s Fire & ice blog.
Everyone is talking about the players the Devils have lost recently, but it’s worth noting, they’ve stocked up on veterans over the offseason. They brought in Ryane Clowe to replace the umph of David Clarkson.
Jaromir Jagr was signed, and will join a power play with countryman Patrik Elias. There is a lot of chemistry between Jagr & Elias, who have played together for their native Czech Republic on many occasions. Expect a strong power play from the Devils this season.
Michael Ryder is a Devil now, too. Ryder has a wicked shot and knack for scoring, which is something the Devils desperately lacked a season ago, once Kovalchuk got injured. Ryder doesn’t get injured, so they can probably expect 25-35 goals from him this season. In fact, Ryder has scored more than 20 five times in the NHL, and he’s never played less than 70 games in a season (excluding last year’s short season).
That’s not all. Red Wings forward Damien Brunner was picked up by the Devils during the offseason. Brunner had a solid rookie campaign for the Wings a year ago, scoring 26 points. He’s an older guy – more mature and probably ready to take a huge leap forward this season with the Devils. If he finds the form he showcased in the Swiss A League, he’ll be a top scorer in the NHL for a while. It’s a big “if”, but it wouldn’t be a huge shocker, the guy is good.
The Devils defence hasn’t changed much since playing in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals against the Los Angeles Kings. The D can get it done. Plus, young blood Adam Larsson is primed to adopt a more important role on the team, as he improves toward reaching his high potential.
According to Hockey’s Future, the New Jersey Devils rank 28th in organizational prospect depth. But they’ll figure that out, as they always do. The Devils draft well, but plucking un-drafted gems and turning NHL castaways into winners is also large part of their strategy.
The Devils have a formula in place, to find the right players, integrate them with team culture and identity, then attack the NHL with defence first smart hockey tactics. It’s the same strategy that’s allowed them an appearance in 5 Stanley Cup Finals since 1995. That’s an average of one finals appearance every four years over the last two decades. Only the Detroit Red Wings have challenged for the Cup more times in the same timeframe.
The New Jersey Devils didn’t make the playoffs in 2013. It was a weird year though, to be fair. The 48 game schedule favoured the strong starting teams, providing not enough time for some good clubs to catch up, which they may have done throughout 82 games. Not to say, the Devils deserved to be there, they probably didn’t – but who knows how different the playoff picture would have been if a full season transpired.
Most experts don’t give the Devils a chance to make the playoffs this season. Many think they’ll finish in a lottery spot, only to be embarrassingly punished for a cap circumvention penalty received in 2010, when Ilya Kovalchuk signed his first deal with the organization. The Devils don’t get to keep their 1st round pick in the upcoming draft. So, finishing at the bottom is not an option for them. And they likely won’t finish at the bottom. They really do, always find a way, and this year will probably be no different.