NHL.com has been doing season previews of every team in September, and today Dave Lozo has published a preview for the New Jersey Devils.
The previews in general from NHL.com are a bit interesting to read namely because the NHL.com writers aren't going to come right out and say that a team is doomed for the season. If there's any criticism, it's done diplomatically if done at all. Highlighting the good is the order of the day. As a result, you come away with the a general optimistic feeling about the team. At least, that's the reaction I had to the Lozo's preview for the Devils. Let's take a closer look at what Lozo wrote about the Devils.
A great example of the diplomatic/optimistic tone of the preview comes right at the beginning. This is how Lozo described the offseason for the Devils:
Free agency hurt the Devils during the summer, but by no means did it cripple them. Reliable forwards Brian Gionta and John Madden left; goaltender Scott Clemmensen, arguably the team's MVP last season, is gone; and even tough guy Mike Rupp found a new place to call home.
That just means more responsibility for some and an opportunity for new faces to make a name for themselves as New Jersey tries to defend its Atlantic Division title.
Whatever unhappiness Lamoriello felt when Brent Sutter asked to leave after two seasons behind the bench was more than quelled when Lemaire, who coached the Devils to their first Stanley Cup in 1995, returned for a second stint just weeks after resigning as coach of the Minnesota Wild.
Now, this isn't wrong at all. And Lozo does well for himself by including supporting quotes from Lou. Yet, it seems like something is off, I can't quite put my finger on it though. Maybe Lozo should have emphasized the loss of all these players? Maybe Lozo should have emphasized the lack of action in response? I'm not quite sure, but it really is a sunny way to look at the offseason. And this is from someone who generally prefers to look at the bright side of the Devils' fortunes, I will admit that.
Adding to the optimism emphasis - whether it needed it or not - in the preview is that it includes a sidebar called "Three Reasons for Optimism." Lozo (or some other NHL.com writer) points out three very good reasons: a healthy Martin Brodeur, an emerging Zach Parise, and - this is a bit new from what I've read so far - the reminder that the Devils didn't miss the playoffs when Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Brian Rafalski left. The perspective certainly is nice to include in the preview. However, and again not unexpected, there isn't a more negative/colder take for balance.
The rest of the preview breaks simply down into a section for forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders. First, the forwards. Lozo is right in noting how last year's team scored the most total goals since 2000-01, another bit of perspective for the preview.
He's not quite as right when he offers an actual criticism of last season's team - a lack of secondary scoring. First, he states that Dainius Zubrus was the team's leading scorer after Patrik Elias and the ZZ Pops line. No, he was the sixth, Brian Gionta may have frustrated some but he put up 60 points last season. Second, the secondary scoring did come from Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta, who were two-thirds of their second scoring line. He's right to say it was thin after that, however. CORRECTION UPDATE: Thanks to Space Weed for pointing this out, I got this all wrong - Lozo is very right in an actual criticism about this team's roster - the scoring does appear thin beyond Patrik Elias and ZZ Pops due to Zubrus being the top returning scorer behind them. But, following that "diplomatic" method, he does offer some suggested players to help out. Which doesn't include Brian Rolston - something pointed out by commenter Space Weed as well.
Interestingly, in terms of players he names to help fill in offensive holes, he specifically names David Clarkson - the previews' favorite to breakout, apparently - and Brendan Shanahan. Lozo raises a good point that Shanahan will have the benefit of having gone through training camp and preseason and more games to settle himself - two factors he didn't have last season. He could be right and it is something to consider, though, I'm personally not as confident that he'll be a major factor.
The section on defense is fairly brief. In terms of team goals against average (2.52 last season), Lozo is right to say that the Devils had the fourth best defense in the NHL and he didn't say it was all on the blueline. Though he really should have said that "the goaltenders and the defense contributed to the fourth-stingiest defense." A minor complaint. Most of this section highlights Johnny Oduya being resigned, stated that the team's defense is "steady (if unheralded)," and informs us that there is competition for the seventh defenseman position between Cory Murphy and Jay Leach. I suppose Lozo picked that up from Lemaire's comments that Gulitti reported on Friday?
As far as goaltenders are concerned, it's basically "Martin Brodeur is back and he'll be great." Lozo does helpfully point out that he's about to become the second goalie in NHL history to play 1,000 games and indirectly states he'll break Patrick Roy's games played record (1,026). Interestingly, Lozo ends the section and the preview this way:
Whoever wins the backup job figures to be as un-busy as the Maytag repairman -- expect Brodeur to go right back playing 70-plus games again this season.
He may not be wrong here. But it's a really weird way to end the whole preview. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing? Again, with it being NHL.com, it's not like the preview needs to end with a prediction. However, a conclusion couldn't have hurt.
Incidentally, John Kreiser wrote a piece featuring a number of, well, numbers from the Devils 2008-09 season published at the same time in Lozo's preview. It's linked within the preview along with some related Devils article, but I wish it was more prominently stated within the preview itself. The includes little facts about the team's shootout record, their record in one-goal games, and so forth. Facts that aren't necessarily stated in most previews and give some more insight to how last year's team succeeded (or failed). If you're inclined to that sort of thing, you'll find it interesting.
It would have worked well as part of an introduction about last year's team. Come to think of it, Lozo doesn't even give an overview of, despite noting a number of stats that make the Devils look good. There's something to be said about looking ahead. Yet, given that he uses last year's stats and achievements to make some points about a player playing well or not, I think a general summary would have been good to add. If only to provide some background on where the Devils are coming from going into 2009-10.
Overall Outlook: Optimistic, Prediction: None
Ultimately, the biggest strength, of Lozo's preview is that it is an optimistic look at the team - and it is it's biggest weakness. Nothing wrong with a positive look at the Devils, but it's not a complete look the team as they are and how they might perform. Again, it's expected because a writer for the league's website isn't going to trash one of their franchises on their site. But it's still not a full preview of a team. If you only had to read one Devils preview, I wouldn't recommend it. You'll just end up with a false view of the team as if you read a totally negative preview. If you plan on reading a bunch previews, then it's worth your time. It's brief and it'll be at least one positive preview to read among some balanced or pessimistic previews.