Devils Still Good But Not Quite A Contender

Despite the fact the New Jersey Devils have been regular playoff participants the last decade or so, it’s not automatic anymore to put the team among the top contenders for the Stanley Cup.

While they do have several key pieces, such as a strong defensive system, a good coach and a great goalie, some of their departures in recent years have taken a bit of the lustre away from a team that was a times dominant over the last 15 years.

Even Mr Midas touch himself Lou Lamoriello hasnt fared all that well the last while. He has had cap issues, struggled to keep some star players and made some poor signings. While he has adequately plugged some holes and still has a team with decent depth, he has not addressed a defence that lacks front end talent and that in the end could be what holds the Devils back.

One of his best moves of late however was bringing in Brent Sutter as coach. Sutter is a winner. As a player, in junior, he has had success. He brings the best out of his team and is a demanding, tough but talented coach. He is well respected because of his success and thus he gets results maybe some other younger coaches cant. Sutter has continued the Devils trend of air tight defence and didnt let a weak blueline interfere with that game plan. But the fact of the matter was the Devils were dreadful offensively and needed to play great defence to survive.

Lamoriello has made some moves to address scoring and if Sutter can get some improvement in that area, especially the PP, the Devils could be once again a top contender.

Lineup

Everything still revolves around Brodeur. They have a deep front line but are still lacking on the blueline both offensively and defensively.

C: Brian Rolston, Travis Zajac, John Madden Bobby Holik, Mike Rupp
RW: Brian Gionta, Jamie Langenbrunner, David Clarkson, Rod Pelley,
LW: Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Jay Pandolfo, Danius Zubrus

The addition of Rolston is a big coup as the former Devil returns to give them more punch up the middle and someone who could quarterback the PP. His presence on the point could really boost what is a dreadful PP. But he brings some many other intangibles and despite his age could be an impact player for Jersey. He should really help Elias rediscover his offensive touch. Elias struggled after losing his captaincy and playing out of position at centre most of last year. He should comfortably be back on the wing and may play with Rolston who is a sound playmaker.

Emerging as the new offensive stud was Parise who is rounding into a top end all around forward. He plays with desire but has loads of speed and skill and he is just about ready to take over as the team’s leader. The Devils could use more production from Zajac who struggled as a sophmore. He has lots of skill and with Rolston as the top centre, should settle in nicely as the number 2 guy. Langenbrunner the Captain, needs to stay healthy and if he can he adds an experienced character player with scoring ability to the lineup. Another thing that would help is having Gionta rediscover his scoring touch again. He faltered somewhat without Gomez and part of the reason for the team’s slumping PP.

Defensively there may be no better duo up front that Madden and Pandolfo. They even added more offence than usual last year. But primarily their role is to shut down top lines and they are pretty good at it. They will have some help with Holik, another former Devil, back in the fold. He’ll add some physicality and size up the middle. With him, Zubrus, Clarkson, Pelley, Rupp, they now have decent size and toughness up front which they have lacked in previous years. They shouldnt be pushovers anymore.

D: Paul Martin, Colin White, Johnny Oduya, Bryce Salvador, Mike Mottau, Andy Greene

The Devils did nothing to improve their defence and it is something they need to address. Martin and White are their top guys and while good, they are better as supporting cast players. When they went down with injury, there was a real shortage of talent back here. Martin with Oduya give them a couple of guys who can move the puck but they arent top end offensive defencemen. The team is hopeful Salmela whom they signed out of Finland can be a late blooming Rafalski type who can add instant offence from the defence. May take him a while to adapt to the North American game.

White is their toughest blueliner and brings plenty of character. He will be helped by Salvador in the physical department and he adds needed size. But these two wont make anyone forget about the likes of Stevens and Daneyko who were very intimidating. This missing element is one reason the Devils just havent been as tough to play against as in years past.

G: Martin Brodeur, Kevin Weekes

What more can be said about arguably one of the greatest goalies of all time? Brodeur is on his way to taking over the record books and seemingly has gotten better with age. He is still a top puckhandling goalie and a treat to watch. He is a hybrid of the old school standup style with the popular butterfly we see prevalent today. Many questioned how good he really was considering the defence in front of him. Those were laid to rest after these last couple of excellent seasons. Speaking of rest, he needs more of it. While he thrives on the workload, Sutter will need to turn to Weekes much more and allow Brodeur be fresh when it matters.

Depth

F: Barry Tallackson, Tony Romano, Ryan Murphy, Pierre Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Patrick Davis, Fedor Fedorov, Jon Disalvatore, Chad Wiseman
D: Mark Fraser, Sheldon Brookbank, Anssi Salmela, Sean Zimmerman, Jay Leach
G: Scott Clemmensen

Prospects

While not the embarrassment of riches in years past, the Devils still have a decent crop of young players on the way.

F: Mattias Tedenby, Niclas Bergfors, Mike Hoeffel, Petr Vrana, Matt Halischuk, Alexander Vasyunov, Vili Sopanen,
D: Brandon Burlon, Matt Corrente, Tyler Eckford, Mark Fayne
G: Jeff Franzee

Bergfors has a great chance to make the team. There might be a spot among the top 9 forwards and he has the skills and defensive smart to fit into the Devils lineup. He has apprenticed a couple of years in the A and now really deserves a shot at the bigs. Corrente as well has a good chance to make the team. He isnt a high end skilled guy, but a character type player who is wiling to mix it up and can move the puck decently. with the derth of talent on D, he could easily emerge as a top 6 guy this year.

Here are some of the Devils other prospects:

Matthias Tedenby – blazing speed with high skill. just lacks size.
Brandon Burlon – Offenseman headed off to US College.
Matt Halischuk – Industrious checking forward with some skill
Mike Hoeffel – Long term project. Decent size and skill

Super scout David Conte hasnt been lights out the last few years but still is managing to find some hidden gems which has been his trademark.

Prediction: 7th in the East, 12th overall

No doubt that with Brodeur in goal and Sutter behind the bench the Devils are still good. They will still give some teams some trouble, but they are a top defenceman away from moving up to contender. The offence should be a bit better but a real improvement on the PP is a necessity. With the kind of depth they have up front, there is a good chance they could parlay that into a good blueliner who can increase the skill level on the backend and be a big minute muncher. Without that boost in talent, we can expect the Devils to continue their trend of a solid regular season and either a 1st or 2nd round playoff exit.