New Jersey Devils Mid-Season Report
TEAM: New Jersey Devils
RECORD: 18 – 18 – 5 39pts 120GF 131GA
Place in Conference: 10 (1pt out of 8th)
Injured Players: No major injuries
Team Point Leader: Brian Gionta 23G 19A 42pts +2
Current Situation: (Records up to Game 41)
October: 6 – 5 – 0 12pts
Devils fail to win more than 2 games in a row. They started the season off fine with a 5-1 win over the Penguins (seemed less and less significant knowing the Penguins situation). Then the Devils were smacked with reality: you cannot protect leads. They take a 2-0 lead over Philly and lose 5-2. The Devils were still able to hover over .500 for the month, but this isn’t the Devils of old.
November: 6 – 5 – 2 14pts
The Devils best month of the season and they’re 1 game below .500. A four game stretch included 3 wins and a nailbiter against Ottawa (not to mention goals and PP success). The Devils, however, still couldn’t hold leads and give up goals in bunches (2 in less than 30s is the norm). Finish the month with a terrible loss at Philly (2-1, 2 posts, 0-1billion on PP).
December: 4 – 8 – 3 11pts
Not sure if the Devils organization has had a worse month since they were as bad as their own jerseys looked. Their PP was going at 4% (not a typo, 4-100). The last 3 games of the month they had 5ppg. Maybe their PP is turning around. Too bad they’re still blowing leads left and right and have started giving up goals in bunches again. Only two of the 4 wins are in regulation. December 18-19 was a crazy time: McGillis waived and returned (currently waived), Malakhov retired or suspended ($ not against cap anymore), Robinson resigns (because the team is terrible), Lamoriello returns to the bench (first time since “Have another donut you fat pig” Schoenfield), Elias returns to practice (best news of month), didn’t play.
January: 2 – 0 – 0 4pts
Patrik Elias returns and the Devils play one of their best games of the season against the Florida Panthers. The team also earned their first shutout of the year. Elias retured wearing the “A” and was an obvious leader on the bench (when he was not recovering lost breath!). This was one of a few “team games” played all year. The only player with a bad game was Colin White. Although their second game was not as good as the first, they managed a victory as Patrik Elias led the way with 4 points (5 in 2 games). He does not seem to have lost a step and he has not worn the “C” yet (A instead).
On pace for: 36 – 36 – 10 82pts and no playoffs.
Strengths: Thank god for small favors! Without Brian Gionta, the Devils may be in even worse standing than they are now. He leads the team in points and he has no fear going to the net or the corners. Viktor Kozlov should learn from him. The newly formed line of Gionta-Gomez-Parise has been stellar. They work really hard, they are really fast and can make plays. It is no surprise that this line has the majority of points in the past few games. The Devils defense has not been particularly strong all around. I will talk more about them later. Without Brodeur, the Devils would be in last place. All you naysayers who think he is the wrong choice (for Canada) just watch him. Every goalie has a year that is “sub-par.” Brodeur has had his bad games, but he is the major reason why the Devils have as many points as they do. Pandolfo-Madden-Langenbrunner is a fine checking line. I expect nothing more than for them to kill penalties and take on the other team’s first line. Every point they have is a bonus.
SEASON AWARDS NOTE: Currently, Jay Pandolfo has played every game and has 0 penalty minutes. The closest to him is 13g with no penalty minutes. If he continues this, he deserves the Lady Byng.
On a team note, the Devils have surprising depth. They have 9 NHL caliber defensemen (Rafalski, White, Hale, Martin, Matvichuk, Albelin, Brown, McGillis[unlikely to return], Ference) in the system.
They can replace their whole fourth line with Rats Suglobov, Tallackson, and Pihlman (Janssen looks like a 4th line keeper). See what I have to say about these below.
Weaknesses: Where do I start? Obvious! PowerPlays! What are those, you ask? Well, don’t ask the Devils, they wouldn’t be able to help you. In 2002-03 the Devils lived off of even strength. Rightfully so, that was a different era where 1 goal would win the game for them. Now, they NEED the powerplay to work and it has been better (5ppg in 3g). The defense has been spotty. Problem child Malakhov is gone and so is McGillis (though in Albany). I cannot pin the blame on just a few defensemen, as most have been pretty bad. David Hale, recently called up, has not looked out of place at all. Surprisingly, he was leading Albany with a +2 rating in mid-December. One of their biggest problems seems to be their collective psyche. For example, they have taken leads (or tied) up games, then give up a goal. Instead of coming out harder, they fall back and give up another one quickly (under 30s).
Needs: Now I can take advantage of my amazing insight. The Devils need to make some trades. They are not headed to the playoffs currently and it is up to Lamoriello (who can see what he needs from behind the bench) to decide if the next 41 games are rebuilding or building. Personally, I hope he chooses rebuilding. Why? Because that’s what the Devils need. Also, it would be easier to accept every loss if I know its for the good of next season!
Albany is one of the worst farm teams in the AHL, mostly because the Devils have traded their prospects for older vets. Now, with the Cap in place, this isn’t the way to go. Brian Rafalski makes $4.2m. He is worth a decent defenseman and a pick or two picks. With the Devils headed for the Top 10 draft picks this year, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stock up.
Perhaps it would be wise to trade Alexander Mogilny (he has been waived) and his large salary. But that is unlikely. Instead, Viktor Kozlov is the Russian of choice. He has a $1.75m salary and a great upside on the right team (he has his moments, just not consistently). He has shown flashes of brilliance and is pretty strong on the puck. A prospect or two would be perfect. But why not trade Mogilny, a scorer, to a playoff-bound team. As of now, I cannot say that is a good idea because it looks like Patrik Elias will be his linemate. That is, if he does not bump Parise off of the first line (which better not happen…appears as if it has). Note: Mogilny waived puts the Devils $4.4million under the cap. If he gets picked up through re-entry waivers, they are $2.65m under the cap. Personally I don’t like the idea of Mogilny being waived. He doesn’t deserve to be in limbo, trade him for a 5th rounder and maybe get lucky.
Barry Tallackson is 6’5” and scored against Ottawa earlier this season. Bye bye Erik Rasmussen (sooner the better). Tuomas Pihlman has played on the PK during his time with the big club. Bye bye Grant Marshall. Thanks for 03, but adios. Cam Janssen is a keeper! Love his willingness to drop the gloves, put down the big hit, and wreak havoc all over the ice. All he has to do is keep his temper in check. He is young and has tons of energy, Rasmussen and Marshall do not. Alexsander Suglobov scored a PPG in his ONLY appearance this year. He played against a quick Canes team and did well, keep him.
The Devils have 4 players in Albany worth making the big club this season. However, as long as the aforementioned players remain, that will not happen.
The Devils also need a coach. Perhaps Lamoriello has been waiting for Brent Sutter, but I have no idea. A coach who will demand discipline and respect would be the best fit.
Expectations in Second Half: I would love to take the 5th here, but I can’t! I expect this team to do what they have been doing all season. Inconsistent play marked by defensive collapses for 30s at a time. They will have games where they just outplay their opponents and it will look like it will turn around. However, without Elias, there is no chance of it turning around.
So, with Elias in the lineup there IS a chance to turn it around. Will they make a run for the Top 4 and get home ice for 1 round? No, not a chance. Can they turn it around and make the playoffs? Yes, absolutely. This team has had GOOD games against GOOD teams: Rangers (ouch!), Ottawa, Montreal (earlier). The Devils have lacked a leader all year long who would put pressure on players not doing the right things.
Patrik Elias will return and wear the C on his jersey (though not immediately). I cannot fathom what goes through his head while watching (helplessly) at the Devils lack of PP scoring. He will come in and demand respect. His mouth must be WATERING at the amount of powerplay opportunities the Devils get game after game. The fact he is returning from Hepatitis A (fatal to him if not in shape like he was, or if he stayed in Russia) will hopefully remind his teammates to quit complaining. Not one player has had 9 months like Elias has.
I expect that Patrik Elias will have a POSITIVE impact on this team. His leadership and scoring ability (better be prowess, later) can only bring the team up. The team is ready for him to return and so are the Devils fans.