By Ryan Jahnke
Hello everyone! So excited to be here to welcome back the red and black for the start of the 2013 season. After finally talking some hockey, I’m starting to feel it again. I’d love to go on one more tirade, rant and rave about how mad I am about all the time that we’ve missed and shout “what took so freakin’ long?!” Let’s be honest though, we don’t want to hear any more on that subject ever again.
It’s time for the puck to drop and for us to hear that goal horn blaring throughout the Rock. It’s time for optimism, time to be excited, and to have some fun again!
That’s what this time is supposed to be about. It’s the beginning, the birth of a new season. This is spring for a hockey fan, even if you’re enduring the cold rain of January in Jersey. This might explain why we’re all so focused on our young guns.
The likes of Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, newcomer Bobby Butler, Adam Larrson and a young defense have a lot of promise. I’ve even found myself watching Jon Merrill in a couple of Michigan University hockey games.
These young guys should have the entire Devils’ Army very excited for the future. But come on people, they’re the defending Eastern Conference Champs! We should feel proud of what they have done and be hungry for the next step.
While they need some young guys to step up and perform to the level that’s expected of a starter in the NHL, the team’s power is going to come from the veterans. Established stars like Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias are still that backbone of this team, and without them, they’re not going anywhere. One has to wonder what kind of production can be expected from them in the latter years of their career. The question remains, what are they going to get from the old guard?
First of all, let’s get one thing clear, I am not worried about the 40-year-old Brodeur, or for that matter, his 39-year-old back up, Johan Hedberg. They’ve asked every year if Marty has still got it, and most every year he has surpassed expectations. He has earned the benefit of the doubt. So let’s just sit back and enjoy all the time that we have left with the greatest goalie to ever play the game.
Our corps of forwards isn’t all that concerning either, at least in terms of their age. The vast majority of our scorers are under the age of 32 with Elias and Dainius Zubrus representing the only exceptions (assuming that we don’t see another return of Petr Sykora). However, given their important positions within the ranks of the team’s front-liners, some concern is understandable. After all, where they go, the team goes, as was evidenced last year.
The defense, on the other hand, is older and harder to put a finger on. Half of the starting six defenseman are 34 or older, with prospective captain Bryce Salvador coming into this season at 36. Salvador, much like Elias and Zubrus, is coming off his best season as a Devil, including a postseason where he registered more goals and assists than he had in the entire regular season.
On the other hand, Henrik Tallinder and Marek Zidlicky (34 and 35 respectively) are coming back from injuries and down years. While it should be said that Zidlicky did come back strong during his time in Newark, particularly as a power play contributor, he still wasn’t able to put up the kind of numbers that helped him earn a $13.5 million contract from the Wild. If the Devils are going to contend again, these defenders will have to be a part of it, at even strength and as a part of a stronger power play.
The goalies will be fine, and the offense has always been consistent, but this year’s success hinges on the success of an older defense, riddled with questions. Will Zidlicky return close to Wild form in his second year in NJ? Will Salvador repeat last year’s performance? How will Tallinder come back after missing so much time last year? Positive answers to these questions will be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.