Will the Devils defense step up to the plate?
This off season was quite a roller coaster for Devils fans that were overjoyed with the acquisition of their heir, Cory Schneider to current, hall of famer, Martin Brodeur. Hurt by the loss of David Clarkson heading north to Toronto and stunned by the retirement of star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, Devil fans were on the other hand delighted by the resigning of lifetime Devil Patrick Elias, and the entry of a new ownership group assuring the franchise’s future in the Jersey area. For most teams any of these headlines would mark the off-season of an organization. To have all of them occur in one summer is absolutely stunning.
To address the losses in goal scoring and unable to fill those voids immediately through the farm, Devils used the cap space to acquire Ryan Clowe, Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr. Clowe replaces Clarkson. Clowe’s services were under high demand last trade deadline but with the Rangers failing to go deep into the playoffs along with concern for injuries, his market value took a hit. In Ryder you gain a finisher, something the Devils lacked last season- his shot is his best asset and while skating limits his ability to contribute defensively, pairing with a good setup man could have him score north of 25. Jagr, 43, has indicated that this will be his final season. This may come as a shock but including European teams, he played in 101 games last season, and still managed 35pts in 48gp in the NHL and 10pts in 22gp in the playoffs. Although he did not score a goal in the post season for the Bruins, his presence was felt in his work ethic. If the Devils can limit his playing time they may possibly have quite the swan song coming from the veteran. Another veteran, Patrik Elias can arguably be one of the most consistent players of his generation with his controlled and patient play making him a good factor offensively. However, to be contenders, the Devils will need bounce back seasons from Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac both of whom committed to at least 6 years with the organization. Up front the Devils do not have a clear #1 line but have enough talent to slot in 2 #2 and a strong third line.
The Devils brought back Marek Zidlicki, The Czech puck mover led the devils D in points last season and will reprise his role as their breakout man. It hurts the team that defensively he finished tied last on the team’s +/- at -12. Andy Greene has become one of the most consistent players on the Devil’s blueline logging in 23min/game last season (team lead). He contributes to the offense and plays steady in his zone appearing across the board in special teams. 4th overall pick Adam Larsson is entering his 3rd year in the league at the age of 20 years old. Seldom used on the power play with Kovalchuk manning the point he will likely be given that opportunity this season to assume the role. It will be interesting to see how the 20 year old adopts to the additional responsibility. Should a spot become available on the blueline this year 22 year old shut down defenseman Alexander Urbom has done quite well in the AHL. This defense group allowed the least shots against/game but goaltending and a lack of scoring held them out of the playoff race.
Some wonder how content Cory Schneider can be, going from one goalie controversy to another. However, it’s clear that Brodeur has reached a point where he can no longer handle the 70+ games. Injuries in recent years have been plaguing the 41 year old. Last season, he went down and the Devils went on an 11 game slide. His body is giving in and this season they lead the league in back-to-back games with 22. Having that goaltending tandem is not just recommended, it’s necessary to stay in the playoff hunt. With the offense taking a hit, this much talent in nets and a system that keeps the puck away from the goalies will be sure to keep the opposition off the scoreboard, something that has worked for them in the past.