By Dave Turner
This was an NHL season that almost never was.
For the Devils, they might like to forget that it ever happened.
When the NHL lockout stretched into the new year, it seemed like we may be on the verge of losing the entire season. Luckily, they were able to strike a deal and we got a 48-game season.
For the Devils, this was such a weird and trying season. Riding the wave of enthusiasm following the Stanley Cup run in 2012, the team was optimistic and ready to make some noise once again. Sometime between the team’s blistering 8-1-3 start and the 4-0 loss to the New York Rangers in game 48, something went very wrong.
Injuries, lack of production and age really brought down this team. They showed some great efforts, but there was far too much inconsistent play to at least procure a playoff berth.
Over the next few weeks we are going to be unveiling a series of articles where we take a look at every single player on the roster, including some of the call-ups and break down their play over the course of the year and decide if it would really be smart for them to be back with the team next year.
I honestly believe that this is one of the most important off-seasons in team history. There are a lot of players to be signed and there is no doubt that this team needs to upgrade both in their own end and find some sort of improved top-line scoring.
David Clarkson and Patrik Elias are the two biggest free agents that the Devils will attempt to sign. Though I expect Elias back, he’ll have to take a sizable pay cut from his current 6 million per salary. Will he do that? Yeah, because no one is going to give him that kind of money.
As for Clarkson, I’m against re-signing him. He’s going to be one of the most sought after free agents this year and that will drive up his price. Clarky is a hard-working, tough player, but he doesn’t really have the skill set to be a top-six forward. He doesn’t skate well, doesn’t pass well and those are things you need in the more fast-paced open style of the NHL today. If they can get him for a cheap price, I’d be all for that, but there’s a line that they can’t cross.
Enough about the “oh,we’ll be fine without Zach Parise,” because they weren’t. This team struggled to score all year, especially once Clarkson cooled off after his fast start.
I know the popular thing is to blame injuries and that did play a big part. Losing Martin Brodeur for that long stretch, and then Ilya Kovalchuk as the team was fighting to make the playoffs is a lot to overcome. But you can’t just use those as a scapegoat. Teams lose great players and can overcome it if they’re deep enough. Those losses, along with Dainius Zubrus, exposed the Devils lack of depth. You want to talk about injuries? Ask the playoff-bound Ottawa Senators about that.
Switching to the defense, there is a lot of work to do there as well. The way I look at it right now, there are only two defensemen on this roster that you can say absolutely belong; Adam Larsson and Andy Greene. I do like Peter Harrold and would like to see him back next year, but someone might offer him a deal as well. For the right price, I’d love to see him back. Mark Fayne, I’ve been torn on him. He’s usually pretty steady, but when he makes a blunder, it’s usually a huge one.
As for the other three, it’s tough. Henrik Tallinder just couldn’t seem to put it together and he’s been injury plagued. Anton Volchenkov, who has made a career of using his body on not only other players, but to stop vulcanized rubber, has finally hit what looks like the wall. He has slowed to the point where he can’t be counted on regularly.
The Devils have 2 amnesties that they can use, courtesy of the new CBA and I would expect that they might use one on either Tallinder or Volchenkov.
The tough one is Bryce Salvador. I expect him back, not only because he’s the captain, but because I think he was the best of those who might be gone. Sal plays with heart and the constant talk about him being a bad captain is ridiculous. We don’t know how good of a captain he is. We’re not in the locker room, we’re not in practice, so we have no idea how he leads this team.
Goaltending-wise, it looks like Johan Hedberg is going to retire. Moose has been a solid backup and he was fun to cheer for, but it’s time to move on and get younger. With Brodeur quite possibly done after next season, it’s time the Devils thought about carrying a much younger backup who can be groomed for the future. Keith Kinkaid comes to mind, as he looks like he deserves the chance. There is still always a possibility that the Devils trade for someone like Jonathan Bernier from Los Angeles and tag him as the goalie for the future.
10 Things I think that I think after the first season of this blog:
1. Devils fans are great: Jeff and I have had a blast with this blog, because of you. There are so many fun Devils fans who are full of good thoughts and who share their thoughts and comments in a great way. As of now, we have 1,208 twitter followers and 468 facebook likes. Thank you to all of you who have helped out, including the 233 Crazies, Philippe Gendron’s Devils fan group and Dinosaur BBQ in Newark. There are a lot more to name as well.
2. There are some pretty nasty Devils fans out there: The internet is a scary place. You get people who think they know everything just because they watch the team and sit in front of a computer where they can act tough. I realize you can’t please everyone and there are plenty of trolls, but there are a select few that like to hate far too much. If you’re going to argue, do it with a Rangers fan!
3. This offseason scares the hell out of me: There are so many big moves to be made. Just signing our own guys isn’t enough. They MUST get better. Right now, I don’t know if this is a playoff team and if they are, they’re a low seed at best. Upgrades need to be made.
4. The team really needs to start thinking about a possible successor to Martin Brodeur: Life after Marty is a reality now. Though Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood look like they might be good, it’s still so up in the air considering they haven’t played enough to really get a feel for either.
5. The power play needs to be fixed: You bring in Matt Shaw to fix the power play and it didn’t happen. Honestly, I think it’s more the personnel than it is the coaching. Adam Oates was just fine in Washington after their bad start and the Sharks PP was good once again. What the Devils lack more than anything is a true power play quarterback. They need better puck movement and they need to stop relying so much on Kovalchuk to score. The way to score on the power play is to move the puck and move without the puck to create chances. The Devils just don’t do that enough.
6. Stop blaming Pete DeBoer for this season: The man can coach. He took them to a Stanley Cup Final in his first year and they got off to a great start. Can you fault DeBoer for all of the injuries? No. Can you fault him for the complete lack of production from most of the defense? No. They underachieved and got old, quickly.
7. If you want to place blame, you can on Lou Lamoriello, though I wouldn’t be on that bandwagon: To me, the biggest issue with Lou is that he didn’t replace the scoring lost by Parise. You can’t overcome that. You aren’t a better team when you lose someone who not only scores, but works as hard as Zach does. They were already behind the minute they started the season. That being said, I don’t think that there was anyone who expected the defense to fall off so badly, and for the offense to struggle to the degree that it did. Though they weren’t better without Zach, it was still mostly the same roster that won 3 playoff rounds.
8. Travis Zajac has to play like a first, or at LEAST a second line center next year: Zajac signs his mega-deal and then does nothing. Maybe it was adjusting to playing without Zach. Maybe he was made by who he plays with? Regardless, he has to earn some of that 5.5 million per contract that he signed, it’s too much money to have invested in someone who is being paid like a top-liner and looks better suited to the third.
9. It was great to see The Rock so full this year: Tons of sell outs and fans were great. If this is how the building is going to become on a regular basis, then the Devils are going to have a great home crowd to play in front of.
10. I’m still excited for the NHL playoffs. The first round is phenomenal, to watch so many great games every night. I’m a hockey nut and although not having the Devils there sucks, it’ll still be great. Totally hoping for a 4 overtime Western Conference game, because watching hockey at 3 a.m. is fun!
Thank you to everyone for reading our blog this past season. We’ll be coming with PLENTY of content in the next few weeks as we break down the roster and then head towards the NHL draft.
We’ll also have picks for the NHL playoffs as well and we welcome you to make your picks too and we’ll include them in our post!