New Jersey Devils
The Devils, under Lou Lamoriello, will always be contenders. Despite losing Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Brian Rafalski over the years, the Devils have always had someone to step up and keep them competitive. They tend not to go after the young free agents, but opted for seasoned veterans to fill in the holes. For the most part, they find affordable contracts and through clever maneuverings from “Loophole Lou” the Devils have always managed to shed the bad ones.
Scoring has always been a bit of the defense-first Devils. It’s not so much the Devils lack the talent, having 4 20+ goalscorers including 32-goal man Zach Parise, 5 if underrated captain Jamie Langenbrunner played more than 64 games. Parise, only 24 years old and in his third season with the Devils, has taken over the mantle as the Devils’ go-to offensive player, after posting a second straight 30+ goal season and improving his point total year after year. After being slowly groomed by the Devils, including spending a full year in Albany, this is now Parise’s team. The Devils refuse to play any other strategy other than the trap, which is why they have a tendency to reacquire their former players (case in point, Mike Rupp) when the new players don’t buy into the system. This summer was no different as Lou brought back two former Devil stars, face-off specialist Bobby Holik and 31-goal man Brian Rolston. While Holik’s offensive game is limited to that of a fourth liner, his face-off (58.4%) and checking abilities are still tops in the league. Rolston has managed to get better with age, and after failing to re-sign with the Wild he packed his bags and his shooter’s touch back to Jersey. The two veterans will figure very much into the Devils’ plans. Rolston will take some load off Patrik Elias‘ shoulders, perhaps re-ignite the shifty Brian Gionta‘s touch, or be a veteran presence over Parise and Travis Zajac. David Clarkson will provide some sandpaper and jam for the Devils, who otherwise lack an enforcer. With Rolston shooting the puck and Langenbrunner healthy to start, the Devils may find themselves improving drastically from last year’s 27th ranked offense and 25th ranked powerplay.
Defensively, the Devils just haven’t been the same since the last of their Big Three left. Now they’re highlighted by the much lesser known yet still effective Colin White and Paul Martin. While the Devils’ defense won’t excite anybody anymore, they’re still one of the best in the league because they play clean, simple, defensive hockey. It’s a simple enough system for any decent defenseman in the league to understand, and for that reason the Devils, since Niedermayer and Rafalski’s departures, they never felt compelled to replace either defenseman via a big free agency signing. Instead they’ve made respectable defensemen from Mike Mottau and Johnny Oduya, both who slowly creeped onto the hockey radar. The Devils’ defense is low on talent, but high on dedication, and of course, there’s always the forwards. John Madden and Jay Pandolfo both made their names in a Devils uniform, unsurprisingly, as bona fide third-liner checkers. The two have been examples league-wide of what third-line checkers need to be, and it was a healthy surprise last year as well when Madden potted 20 goals. They have been so good defensively that the Devils don’t even have to send out their shut-down pair as long as Madden and Pandolfo are on the ice. It goes without saying that the two are annual Selke candidates, and as long as Brent Sutter pays attention to matching line-ups they’ll do just fine.
The last line of defense is the Devils’ strongest area, and it has been for quite some time. Martin Brodeur will not play 77 games this year, and may not even come close to that total, but Kevin Weekes is a capable goalie and will be itching for action this year. Even though Brodeur is getting old at 36, he’s still the best in the game. No one else in the league comes close in pedigree and reputation. Helped by a defensive system and the best checking line in the East, Brodeur posts great numbers year-in and year-out.
The Devils just aren’t anything special. They stick to a clean and simple game play and take advantage of the other team’s mistakes. It doesn’t set attendance records, but it does win games, and as long as the Devils win games, fans will come. The Devils finished 5th last year in GA/G with 2.35, and didn’t sacrifice any of their key defensive weapons to add offense – in fact, it can be argued that Rolston and Holik may the Devils even better defensively.
Patrik Elias – Brian Rolston – Brian Gionta
Zach Parise – Travis Zajac – Jamie Langenbrunner
Jay Pandolfo – John Madden – David Clarkson
Mike Rupp – Bobby Holik – Dainius Zubrus
Colin White – Mike Mottau
Bryce Salvador – Paul Martin
Andy Green – Johnny Oduya
Martin Brodeur – Kevin Weekes
scratches: Rod Pelley, Fedor Fedorov, Nicklas Bergors
coach: Brent Sutter
GM: Lou Lamoriello
Predicted finish: 4th Atlantic, 6th East