The Devils have had quite the tumultuous offseason. Before the offseason even began, we learned that the Devils would become part of the Metropolitan Division in the reorganization of the NHL. The shortened 2013 season wasn't nice to them in that they failed to make the playoffs after making it to the Stanley Cup Finals the year prior. While this was extremely disappointing for Devils fans, the pain wasn't quite over. During the summer, Ilya Kovalchuk decided to retire and default to Russia for a large sum of money. If that wasn't enough change for the fans, Jeff Vanderbeek sold his majority ownership to Josh Harris and Dave Blitzer, owners of the 76ers.
Whew, now that that's all settled, let's dive into the major overhaul the roster went through prior to the beginning of the season. The Devils have a plethora of new faces including superstar Jaromir Jagr as well as additions of Damien Brunner, Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder, and Rostislav Olesz. Finally, the Devils also traded away their 2013 draft pick to pick up Martin Brodeur's heir apparent, Cory Schneider. Finally, there was not a whole lot of change at defense, but the Devils have a wealth of strong, young players who are ready to step up to the NHL when needed.
Now, on to the most certainly unbiased predictions from the staff!
John Fischer: The Devils missed the playoffs in 2013 namely because they let in a few too many goals and scored way too few. The team addressed the former problem by getting Cory Schneider, who has been fantastic in preseason and will delight the Devils faithful this season. The defense may have flaws individually but they were quite stingy in terms of shot prevention last season and seven of the eight defensemen from last season return. They should be fine in the back despite moments of frustration. The Devils saw two big forwards go elsewhere but they re-stocked their group with five new acquisitions. As a team, the Devils were very strong in possession and the new forwards shouldn't detract much from that. However, the second issue remains large. Who's going to provide the scoring A 37-year old Patrik Elias still needs to be brilliant Their shooting percentage as a team hearkened back to 2010-11 at times in 2013, and should lady luck not be so kind in that regard again, then the 2013-14 team is in serious trouble regardless of improved goaltending. If they can fire more pucks on net and shoot somewhere closer to league average, then the 2013-14 Devils will be one very strong team and surprise many pundits.
I'd like to think that they can but even so, I would expect a lot of close games this season. I think the Devils have the quality to make the playoffs and I hope they'll get some more breaks. They'll have to battle throughout the season with Philadelphia, Washington, and the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division for positioning. I think they'll finish a tight race in fourth and grab a playoff spot. But they could be on a knife's edge to get there. They might get higher but plenty could cause them to do worse.
Karen Meilands: The Devils are a much deeper team than they were during the shortened 2012-2013 season, but there is no guarantee of how this vastly different group of forwards will perform together. As a team, I think the Devils will take some of the positives from last season, like possession, for example, and build on that with the new forwards on the squad. While there is no major superstar leading the team upfront, if they can score by committee, perhaps the nightmarish cold streaks from each player last season will become a distant memory. Hopefully the additions of Ryder, Clowe, Jagr, and Brunner will replace and add to the loss of Kovalchuk and Clarkson.
Of the additions, Damien Brunner will add some much needed speed, which is one of my main concerns heading into the 2013-2014 season. It will also be exciting to see the duo of Brodeur and Schneider in net - I don't think it will lead to much drama, if any at all, and both will play well when called upon. From returning players, it would be great to see Adam Larsson have a break out year and play most every game this season. Perhaps another young defenseman will get a shot and add some offense to the blue line, as well.
A big question mark will be special teams. They have yet to show any major spark in the preseason but that is due, at least in part, to the fact that the entire powerplay is changing without Kovalchuk. This combined with the many new team members for the team to incorporate into both the man advantage and the penalty kill could be the reason we have yet to see much out of the Devils' special teams.
With the new Metropolitan Division, it is going to be harder than ever to make the playoffs. I don't know that the Devils have the team to crack the top three, but I would not count them out of a wildcard spot. A lot depends on how this new New Jersey team comes together and if they can put the puck in the net.
Nate Pilling: The Devils are a radically different team from the one that hit the ice last season, yet once again we find ourselves wondering if the team will be able to actually, you know ... score goals. Statistically the Devils were very unfortunate, so I find myself tending toward the camp that says, "SURELY THERE'S NO WAY THEY CAN GET THAT UNLUCKY AGAIN, right?" We can all hope, right?
Looking at each of the groups individually leads me to believe the Devils should make the playoffs:
● A much deeper group of forwards will give Peter DeBoer the ability to run the four lines he's wanted for awhile. I'm even going to go out on a limb and say that the depth of this group will allow him to roll four LEGITIMATE (read: non-Barch/Janssen-anchored) lines throughout the season. It's hard to say for sure, but I'd venture that this group is an upgrade over last season thanks to [Ilya's sacrificial move]. (link bracketed text to: http://www.inlouwetrust.com/devils-in-the-details-news-and-links/2013/8/28/4666678/devils-in-the-details-8-28-2013-new-jerseys-edition#181180405]
● Given what we've seen in his history in Vancouver and in this preseason, Cory Schneider will give the team the rock-solid goaltending the team has missed in the past few years (Marty we all love you, but it's just not the same.).
● With the exception of the possibility of the addition of a young, offensive-minded defenseman, the defense is, well, what it is: old. They're essentially what you think they are: meh.
I see a lot of plusses in those two of those three groups (I can live with the defense). As a result I see a bit of a bounceback season in which the Devils make it into the playoffs. I don't think it'll be comfortable, but I also don't think it'll be on the last day of the season. I see them pushing that first-round series, but ultimately exiting in the first round.
Mike Stromberg: I'm actually pretty bullish on the Devils' outlook going into this season. Up front, they don't have an elite-level forward outside of perhaps Patrik Elias, but they should have a lot of depth and a lot of different scoring options. As long as the deployment of Krys Barch is limited, this team will be able to roll four solid lines on most nights. The addition of Brunner has only strengthened them, depth-wise, and also added some speed to a lineup that doesn't have a ton of it. I think between the Clowe/Ryder/Brunner/Olesz acquisitions and a likely rebound from last year's dreadful shooting percentage, there will be enough to make up for the departures of Kovalchuk and Clarkson.
On defense, I think they will be solid for the most part, again. Yes, the unit has it's warts and we're all aware of the lousy contracts stapled to the likes of Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov, but the group seems to perform at a level greater than the sum of their parts. If they can limit the turnovers which plagued them at times last season, I think this team will be tough to score on - particularly if Larsson takes a big step forward this season. Between their ability to limit shots and a superior goaltending tandem in place compared to last year with the acquisition of Cory Schneider, I expect them to frustrate a lot of teams.
So as far as their finish in the standings, I think the division will be a battle this year. The East as a whole seems tough this season and while I think this Devils team is good, they are by no means a lock to end up in the playoffs. I think they are good enough to surprise a lot of people, but I'm not sure they're quite at contender status. Maybe if the lines gel, Schneider shines, and they get some good puck luck, they can make a run, though. They have depth and were a formidable possession team last year, so I wouldn't rule them out. Personally, I expect them to finish somewhere in 3-5 range in the division so I'll split the difference and say 4th with something like 96 points. Once in the playoffs, it's always a crapshoot, of course, but my best guess is that they will be a tough out but they'll drop a hard-fought first-round series. I'd love to have my expectations exceeded, though.
Jerry Tierney: I am going to make a somewhat bold prediction for the 2013-14 Devils. For starters, I am a lot more excited about this team now then I was last season, when there were glaring holes up front and barely enough depth to find 12 forwards to put on the ice every night. Despite losing Kovalchuk and Clarkson, this unit is much stronger up front. The defense has stayed relatively the same, and the goaltending is also improved. This should be a better team than most people give them credit for, especially if they can limit the opposition's shots and chances effectively as they did last year. Their puck luck cannot get any worse than it was last season. Their puck possession should remain strong. Still, this probably will not be a high scoring team. There probably won't be a 40 goal scorer. But, it's not inconceivable that there could be six 20 goal scorers this season (Henrique, Elias, Brunner, Jagr, Ryder, Zajac).
This team may face some growing pains initially as everyone tries to get on the same page. I think the long early season road trip could definitely help everyone gel a bit faster. This is an older team, and they play a ton of back to back games. Pete DeBoer will have to effectively manage the workload of some players, and he has shown the ability to do so in the past. Speed could be an issue with this team at times, although they have great size. So, they will have to effectively leverage their size to make up for their lack of speed. The system they play should help in that regard.
I think this Devils team will be tough to play against, and will be involved in a lot of close, low scoring games. But, those are exactly the type of games I think this team is built to win. Cory Schneider should help a lot in this regard. I am predicting a record of 42 - 32 - 8 for 92 points, and a return to the playoffs, claiming one of the final two spots in the East.
Matt Evans: Since I had the pleasure of reading all the opinions before I made my own, I will go out on a limb. Let's say Jagr plays as well as he did last year and develops chemistry with Elias. They can easily turn up the scoring on the top line. The defense will be solid. and...
IF Josefson stays healthy and develops into a 20 goal scorer and IF Henrique returns to his 2011-12 self, the Devils will make the playoffs. On top of that, IF Brunner is the real deal and Clowe stays healthy, we win a playoff series or two. IF Schneider is on his game all season, the Devils make another deep playoff run.
This concludes the week-long season preview of the New Jersey Devils. If you haven't read all the other previews, you can find them below.
- Part 1: The Forwards by John Fischer
- Part 2: The Defense by Mike Stromberg
- Part 3: The Goaltending by Jerry Tierney
- Part 4: Special Teams by Karen Mielands
With all that being said, how do you feel about the New Jersey Devils? How do you feel about our predictions and what do you foresee from the Devils? Just remember, it is less than a week, six days actually, until the Devils hit the ice!