Throughout the offseason, there were several articles written on this website that discussed the New Jersey Devils, the overcrowding at forward that was taking place, and what could potentially be done about it. Back in May, I wrote an initial article about how the team had already signed its top 9 forwards from the year before, and if anyone was brought in, it would create an overabundance of forwards. That then was exactly what happened. During free agent frenzy, the Devils went out and inked Mike Cammalleri to a long term deal, and then signed Marty Havlat to a one year deal not even a couple hours later.
Not long after these signings, Gerard wrote an article predicting which forwards would be safe locks for the team, and which could have a chance to be demoted or traded. His ultimate decision to move either Dainius Zubrus or Michael Ryder could still come to fruition at some point as well. A little over a month later, I then wrote another article questioning whether or not a forward needed to be traded, given that the depth the team had would come in handy when injuries inevitably occur.
In the end, a trade never happened in the offseason, and we have arrived at the start of the regular season with 14 forwards on the roster, none of them being youngsters Reid Boucher or Stefan Matteau, who were sent down to Albany. Plus, Scott Gomez is staying around hoping for a spot to open up eventually. I wanted to write this article to really summarize what happened with the forward situation throughout the course of the offseason, and to give my opinion and some statistics about where this team is as result of those moves, or lack thereof.
My conclusion...this team has three solid lines to roll out there for the early part of the season, and I believe that could pay dividends for this organization (note: it already has!)
A Look at those Three Lines
Thursday night, the Devils opened their season in Philadelphia. They used basically the same line combinations that were forming during the preseason. These lines looked at such:
Top Line: Cammalleri - Zajac - Jagr
Second Line: Havlat - Elias - Zubrus
Third Line: Clowe - Henrique - Ryder
Just at a quick glance, these lines give New Jersey a deep and efficient set of forwards. The first line is certainly tops, and should produce the most points and do the best throughout the season. Their quality and productivity should not need to be mentioned. However, the second and third lines are still very solid overall. Adam Henrique, surely a top-6 forward by this point in his career, is playing on the third line with Clowe and Ryder. Ryane Clowe was a top-6 forward in his younger days, and perhaps still could be if he can avoid concussions or the injury bug. Michael Ryder, when he is hot, can pass as a top-6 forward, and the hope is that he can remain hot for longer than he did last season. This is all not to mention that this line played together a decent amount last season and did fairly well together.
Then, the second line itself is also of comparable skill. Patrik Elias is a leader of this team and one of the most solid contributors to this offense still. A perhaps little known fact about him is that he has produced a very respectable 0.86 points per game since the age of 35. So while age is of course a concern, he has proven over the past three seasons that he still is a major factor for this squad. On his left is fellow countryman and friend Marty Havlat. While injury prone, he has been a quality player while healthy. He has not played more than 48 games a season since turning 30, but over that span he has produced just under 0.53 points per game. If he can continue to produce that for the Devils, not many would complain considering his cost-efficient contract. And finally, Dainius Zubrus plays to Elias' right. While possibly declining due to age, Zubrus has been a solid contributor to this team for years. Anyone watching during the lockout-shortened season a couple years ago could easily tell you how missed Zubrus was when he was hurt for significant time that season. He may not produce a lot of points, but he is a strong possession player, posting an on ice Corsi percentage of 53.1% since 2010.
On the Ice
Of course, these groups may look great on paper, but they also need to produce on the ice. While there has not been nearly enough of a sample size to make any conclusions about that yet, they were on the ice on Thursday night for the team's opening game against Philadelphia. And the result was glorious, at least from an offensive perspective. All of the six goals scored came from those top three lines, with each line hitting the twine twice. The top line had two goals thanks to Cammalleri's deflection and open-netter. The second line had two thanks to Elias and Zubrus (who had the eventual game winner). And the third line saw Ryder open the game with scoring and Henrique score later on.
Again, while that is only one game, and one game does not make a valid sample size, it was really great to see that these lines can work together and can be successful together. They all produced, produced fairly equally, and did a great job in netting 6 goals. While this team will only get 6 goals on the rarest of occasions, the fact that it can happen, and that it happened like it did, is a great sign of things to come.
Wrapping it Up
What does it all mean to me? It means that this team has a deep group of forwards. The Devils can consistently ice its top three lines and feel fairly confident in what they will produce. There might not be one dominant, amazing line like other teams have, but the top three lines can easily be described as solid, and when all three of them are performing well, it will work to consistently push and pressure the opposing defensemen. That can only be described as a good thing for our favorite team.
What do you think? Do you agree that this team currently has three real solid forward lines? Or do you see more holes and concerns than I do? If so, how could these lines possibly be improved? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.