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Exceeding Expectations: A Look Back at 2009-10 New Jersey Devils Season Previews

Prior to the 2009-10 season, as with all seasons across most sports, publications and posts are written to preview how a team will perform. Before the regular season began, I decided to review the season previews themselves to get an idea what others thought the New Jersey Devils were going to do in 09-10 as well as criticize what does and does not make sense. Here is the summary of that post.

Now that the 2009-10 season has concluded, we know that the New Jersey Devils survived several injuries throughout the season, a month-and-a-half downturn in results, a big trade that brought in a special player completely new to the Devils organization, featured a brand new coach, and still managed to win their ninth Atlantic Division title on the final weekend of the season. The New Jersey Devils finished second in the Eastern Conference, sixth overall in the league, with a record of 48-27-7 (103 pts., 3 points less from 08-09), 222 goals for (a decline of 22 goals from 08-09), and 191 goals against (lowest in the NHL, a decline of 18 goals).

While I understand most of your attention will be focused on the playoffs, let's take a day to look back at what was said about the Devils before this season began and see how it all stacks up with the benefit of hindsight. In general, the Devils have exceeded the expectations of most season previews.

And if you absolutely must know what I immediately think about the playoffs before Tuesday, please listen to Rink Side Radio at about 9:15 PM EDT. I will be on for a 15 minute discussion about the upcoming Devils-Flyers series.

Predicted Finishes in Retrospect

Rather than quote the entire post, which you can read here, I'm going to summarize who got their predictions right and who got it the most wrong.

On the right side, from the previews I looked at then, only Carlos Figueiredo of Speaking of the Devils nailed the Devils finishing first in the Atlantic Division in a roundtable discussion preview at View from My Seats. I'm sure he's patting himself on the back for that one. The Hockey News Yearbook writers, Rich Chere and the THN staff, should also get some credit as their preview tabbed the Devils to finish second in the Eastern Conference as their "high point." No, they didn't outright predict that they would finish that high, just that would be their best case scenario. That they even thought that looks good in retrospect.

As a result, most everyone else got it wrong, including myself. Never let it be said that I won't admit my own faults, especially on my breakout player prediction (yikes). Most selected the Devils to finish second or third in the Atlantic. Only one preview was bold enough to have the Devils miss the playoffs entirely: ESPN's preview by Scott Burnside. Feel free to sigh and roll your eyes, Devils fans. I thought it was a poor preview then, and in retrospect, it looks even worse now. Will they learn their lesson? Will they stop doubting Lou Lamoriello? Will they stop picking the Devils to miss the playoffs? I fear the answer to all three could be "no."

General Points in Retrospect

When reviewing and reading all of these Devils previews, I took note of a few general points and themes that were repeated across most of them. I set them aside as general points, and now that the season is over, let's see how they turned out. My analysis is in italics.

  • The Devils lost many players to free agency and didn't necessarily sign players to "replace" them, namely Brian Gionta. - No, the Devils never signed anyone to replace Gionta, but they did sign Rob Niedermayer and Dean McAmmond late for center depth which worked out well. But this was true for the most part.
  • Jacques Lemaire coming to the Devils means it should be expected that the Devils will resort to ultra-defensive hockey, if not bringing the back the neutral zone trap entirely. - Not at all true. Lemaire allowed defenders to jump up on plays when needed even when Paul Martin was out; he ran power plays often featuring four forwards; he's allowed Ilya Kovalchuk to take players on repeatedly and play entire power plays; he uses two forecheckers at time; he gave more minutes to the top six than Brent Sutter did; and the Devils only trap when the other team is pressing, which is no more than. Yes, the Devils saw a big decline in goals and remain a strong defensive team despite their personnel changes; but they were never a stoic 1-2-2, sit-back-and-wait, ultra-defensive hockey team.
  • Zach Parise is an excellent forward, but will he and the other forwards suffer on offense due to the arrival of Lemaire? The goals for did go down but that can be attributed to players like Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, and David Clarkson suffering injuries for significant amounts of time more so than Lemaire's coaching. Parise's production did go down from 08-09, but he finished at a point-per-game pace and he continues to threaten in nearly every game. I wouldn't say he suffered.
  • The Devils' blueline is unheralded but fairly solid. - Definitely true, as the defense managed to average the second best shots against average per game in the league with 27.0. Great considering their top defender was injured for most of the season, Johnny Oduya regressed in New Jersey before he was traded, and Andy Greene and Mike Mottau were eating the most ice time throughout the season. It's more than just solid, it couldn't have gone much better short of Martin playing the whole season.
  • David Clarkson is a good candidate as any to have a breakout season. - Did Clarkson breakout? No. His season was undercut by broken fibula for 13 games and that was re-injured in December, taking him out of another 23 games. He was on pace for career highs, though, so if he was healthy he definitely could have been a break out player. Maybe next season.
  • Martin Brodeur is healthy, but he's older now. And he hasn't taken the Devils beyond the second round since the lockout (because that's all on Marty - not the rest of the team) - We shall see about the playoffs, but is anyone really concerned about a goalie who went 44-25, a GAA of 2.26, a save percentage of 91.6%, and 8 9 shutouts? I'm not.
  • The Devils will likely make the playoffs - though the feeling surrounding the team ranges from a postive to a negative outlook. - They made the playoffs and have home ice against every team in the East not named the Washington Capitals.

Interestingly, general themes across the previews turned out to be more accurate but not quite right in some cases. In my opinion, that's additional proof that predictions made in September and October can often turn out astray. Additional proof that they should be taken with some grains of salt. I hope to remember that myself when September 2010 rolls around.

Even in spite of occurrences like several injuries and slumps that would normally lead a team to suffer, the Devils remained strong. OK, the second half of the season had them "regress to the mean," so to speak; but they still finished with an excellent record. Based on what the pundits, the experts, and even fans like myself thought then, the New Jersey Devils as a team exceeded expectations. Later today, I'll take a look at the individual player expectations in a brief review (wow, was I wrong on a few of them).