With only a few weeks before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the New Jersey Devils. New Jersey will begin the season missing something that they have not been without for over two decades. Legendary Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur was not re-signed by the team this offseason, making the definitive statement that Cory Schneider would be their starter this season and for the foreseeable future. While Brodeur has spent the offseason looking for a team, the New Jersey Devils have spent their time preparing for a life without him.
Last Season – New Jersey missed the playoffs by only a few points, and an abysmal record on the road was a factor at the end of the year. New Jersey did not lose a home game in regulation in October, but a 1-5-2 record away from the Prudential Center in that month left the team behind the eightball. It also set the tone for New Jersey’s play on the road for the remainder of the year, when they finished with only 14 wins. Only November held a winning record on the road for the team, and most months had the New Jersey Devils winning two or less road games.
However, what ultimately doomed the Devils was their record in the shootout. New Jersey participated in 13 shootouts over the course of the season and lost every single one. When a team misses the final Wildcard spot by only five points, the 13 points left on the table because of shootout losses are easy targets for “What if.”
42-year-old Jaromir Jagr led the New Jersey Devils in points last year, finishing with 67 points in 82 games. The ageless wonder did not look a bit out of place among the New Jersey veterans and some of the younger players on the team. His performance was rewarded when the organization signed him to another one-year contract on April 30.
The Offseason – Depth is the name of the game in today’s NHL, and the New Jersey Devils were severely lacking it last year. The team struggled to put the puck in the back of the net with any real consistency, as only Jagr and young forward Adam Henrique scored 20 or more goals for the Devils last year. General manager Lou Lamoriello set off to find scorers for the team, but first had to make cap room to bring them in.
Long-time Devil Anton Volchenkov had the remaining two years of his contract bought out by the organization in order to clear some cap space. Volchenkov used to be a shot-blocking machine for the team, but that style of play will catch up to a player as he ages, and it caught up to Volchenkov in a big way. He was simply unable to handle the speed of today’s game, getting caught flat-footed quite a bit last year.
With the space cleared, Lamoriello offered wingers Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat contracts in the hope that they could add the offense needed to push the Devils into a playoff spot. Cammalleri was offered a five-year, $25 million deal, while Havlat signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Both players can put the puck in the back of the net, but various injuries have limited their usefulness in recent years, especially in the case of Havlat.
What to Look for Next Season – The New Jersey Devils may be without Martin Brodeur this year, but the team is still very much run by veteran players. With the addition of Cammalleri and Havlat, age 32 and 33 respectively, much of the Devils’ roster is on the wrong side of 30. It is hard to say that is a flaw, when Jagr lead the team in scoring last year, with Patrick Elias (age 38) right behind him, but one would think with the transition from Brodeur to Schneider, the focus for the organization would be getting younger, not older.
New Jersey’s defense should be an interesting watch. The team bought out Volchenkov, and lost Mark Fayne to free agency, but never really grabbed anyone to replace the two. Bryce Salvador played in only 40 games last year, so a full season of play from their captain should help the Devils this upcoming year. Young defenseman Adam Larsson has bounced between the NHL and AHL the past two season. Defensemen do take longer to develop in general, but a “make or break” season for Larsson could be right around the corner.
Finally, physical forwards Tuomo Ruutu and Ryan Clowe need to bounce back from last season’s terrible performance. They both make far too much money to put up only 15 goals between the two of them. If both return to form, they should not only bring some of the depth that the team desperately needs, they should also make the New Jersey Devils a much more difficult opponent to face.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow, where 30 in 30 will take a look at the underrated New York Islanders. Also check out yesterday’s team, the Nashville Predators.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner