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The Hockey News: New Jersey Devils to Finish 5th in East in 2009-10

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In the run-up to their annual yearbook, The Hockey News is releasing their 2009-10 regular season predictions one-by-one for each conference. Today, they have revealed where they think the New Jersey Devils will finish fifth in the Eastern Conference next season. Here is their reason why:

Defense-first coach Jacques Lemaire is back with the team he had his most success with, winning the Stanley Cup in 1995. With Martin Brodeur in goal and an underrated — if unspectacular — blueline, the Devils are poised to be competitive again in the East this season. But the offense will likely suffer under Lemaire, meaning New Jersey will fall some.

By process of elimination, THN's writers think Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, and Pittsburgh will finish ahead of the Devils. Possible, as two of these teams did finish ahead of New Jersey, and Pittsburgh and Phildelphia may take a leap next season. Their rationale for the Devils finishing fifth in the conference also isn't unreasonable, in my opinion. Of course, I'd like to think they'll do better; but fifth in the conference wouldn't be too horrible. Expect to see a lot of this rhetoric in other NHL previews as October becomes closer: Lemaire is a defense-first coach, Brodeur is still in goal, underrated blueline, Devils always competitive, offense will suffer, etc. As Devils fans, this should not be new.

There is one point I do disagree with and it's that last bit about how the offense will likely suffer under Lemaire. I think the offense may suffer regardless of Lemaire, as I expect Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner (who had a career year last season), and Patrik Elias to put up similar numbers to last season or less. Expecting and demanding a point per game season for a player's year to be a success is a very difficult task, and so we may see fewer goals overall as a result. Of course, other players can step up or these same players can go out and prove me (happily) wrong.

Anyway, let me know what you think of THN's prediction either by voting in this poll or leaving further thoughts in the comments.