This season went the full 82 games and there was no shortage of concern. The team opened up the season by going winless in their first seven games. They won enough games to not be awful but not enough to be good for month after month. They struggled to score goals and get shots on net, relative to the rest of the league. They didn't win a single shootout. Martin Brodeur started 39 games and Cory Schneider got 43. All of these concerns were not answered with winning streaks or long runs of success. The record will show they missed the playoffs but not by so much that a few shootout wins or a few less goals conceded in the last two minutes or a few more goals scored wouldn't have made a difference. Perhaps this was a bubble team going into this season and perhaps this shouldn't be such a surprise. It's still a disappointment.
However, this isn't to say there was nothing good in this season. No, there were plenty of standout players on the team at various positions. For nearly all of the major awards, the ILWT writers who gave me their choices and I were unanimous in their selections. I guess you could say the simple answer is that there weren't enough of these players on the roster this season. Still, it's only fitting that season is over to highlight who we think were the best at their position along with all kinds of other awards.
Team MVP: Jaromir Jagr
Oh, what would this team be without Jaromir Jagr this season? He's the team's leader in points with 24 goals and 43 assists. He's the team's leader in shots on net with 231. He's the team's leader in both Corsi For% and relative Corsi For% in 5-on-5 play at 59.2% (!) and +7.1% (!!) among regulars per Extra Skater. The latter is important to note because being present for shooting attempts and generating them means that when he's on the ice, the play is going forward. Even by the eye test, #68 has constantly picked on defensemen and forwards along the boards, in the corners, and even in open ice. The remarkable thing isn't that he's done all this at the age of 42. It's that he's done all this and made skeptics like me not only look foolish but seriously feel that bringing him back may be a good idea.
Best Defenseman: Andy Greene
Way back in February, I lamented how Greene (among others) wasn't even considered by USA Hockey to have him go through the necessary drug testing to be Olympic-eligible. He was simply impressive then. While he's had some rough games after the break, he's undoubtedly the team's top defender. He gets more minutes than anyone else on average and he's the lone defender who has played significantly in all situations. He's formed a boss pairing with Mark Fayne. For all of the respect Eric Gelinas and Marek Zidlicky gets for their offensive production, Greene's got a solid eight goals, 24 assists, and leads the blueline in shots with 131. What does Extra Skater have for him? He's the team's top defenseman in terms of Corsi For% with 56.3% with an offensive/defensive zone start ratio below 50% and the highest team quality of competition percentage among defensemen. Like Jagr, things often go well when he's on the ice. Greene was a unanimous decision for best defender and deservedly so.
Best Goaltender: Cory Schneider
I've written way too much on this topic this season. All of us agreed who was the better of the two. Here's the shortest reason I can give: Schneider's save percentage finished at 92.1%; Brodeur's finished at 90.1%.
Best Rookie: Jon Merrill
There were multiple rookies this season who played enough to warrant consideration. It was essentially a two-man decision. Reid Boucher and Mike Sislo each got long looks but could not stick around. The choice was defense: Eric Gelinas or Jon Merrill. Gelinas gave the team seven goals, 22 assists, 121 shots, and The Truth. He also struggled with his positioning and decision making on defense, which led to his limited usage as the season went on. Jon Merrill doesn't have Gelinas' gaudy production or an awesome shot that commands a nickname. But he finished the season with 51 games, an average ice time of 19:13, an average even strength ice time of 17:03, and a better Corsi For% than Gelinas with a lower offensive/defensive zone start ratio. Basically, Merrill grew in his role and is playing like, well, a lot like Adam Larsson. That impressed more of us than Gelinas. It wasn't unanimous but the Michigan Man got a majority of selections.
Best Defensive Forward: Travis Zajac
This one had some diversity as Adam Henrique, Patrik Elias, and Stephen Gionta were brought up. But Zajac got the edge. Zajac has the highest team quality of competition percentage and is only behind Jagr for Corsi For%. It's not just possession numbers against good players. Zajac has been a significant part of the team's very successful penalty kill this season and is often seen taking draws to defend leads. It's not that Henrique or Elias are necessarily bad on defense; they're quite good. Zajac has been leaned on more, so he got more notice.
Best Offensive Forward: Jaromir Jagr
It's pretty obvious that the forward who leads the team in possession and production would get this award.
The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Eric Gelinas
There was some contention for this one as Patrik Elias was noted nearly as much. It wouldn't be such a bad choice. He would fit in that he had to play with a lot of different linemates, switching from wing to center and moving up and down the lineup in some games. However, Eric Gelinas better fits the spirit of the award. He was asked to play defense, and he did. He was given games where he was only used in power play and overtime situations, and he did that too. He was asked to play wing in a few situations, and he did that too. Does Gelinas need to get better? Yes, and he will. But he played in various roles and that's enough for versatility.
Best Comeback: Mark Fayne
There wasn't a real big comeback story this season. There was a mention for Travis Zajac, who started to really justify his contract extension (and he was Most Disappointing last season). There was a mention for Ryane Clowe, who did play well after his first injury. Two players got multiple mentions: Adam Henrique and Mark Fayne. Henrique ended last season with only eleven goals, six assists, and 78 shots on net. That projects out to about 21 goals, 10 assists, and 152 shots on net in a full season. He has 25 goals, 18 assists, and 137 shots. so I suppose he exceeded expectations somewhat. But Fayne went from bizarrely not being a regular last season to regularly bossing opponents alongside Greene. I give the edge to Fayne getting to where he belongs.
Most Disappointing: Damien Brunner
Honestly, this was the hardest for me to decide and probably the other writers too. Martin Brodeur and his roughly 90% save percentage was brought up by two. While bad, he's also 41 so it's not exactly a total shock he's not who he once was. Ryane Clowe also got brought up, due in part of not playing nearly enough - though not by choice. Michael Ryder and his very long, no good goalless streak revealed what little he does when he's not scoring beyond a couple of shots. He got mentioned. But I'm giving the edge to a similar player: Damien Brunner. Last summer, when it was rumored the Devils were interested in him, I supported the idea. When he was signed, I liked the deal. During the season, he started hot and then played so bad that he was scratched for Mattias Tedenby. And deservedly so. He had his moments of speed, flash, and aggression. He had many more of not knowing where he needed to be, nights where he would contribute little if anything, and not defending whatsoever. He finishes the season with eleven goals, thirteen assists, 105 shots on net, and a lot of wondering what he can actually contribute. I don't know what else would make him more of a disappointment than other Devils, really.
Best 2013 Offseason Acquisition: Jaromir Jagr
See: Team MVP. I am so, so happy to be so, so wrong in my doubts.
Worst 2013 Offseason Acquisition: Ryane Clowe
We were nearly unaminous in hating this signing. The lone dissenter offered up Rostislav Olesz. While he didn't pan out, it was a low risk move to begin with. Clowe, well, he's here for a while. The contract was bad right from the get go. He actually wasn't too bad. His 26 points in 43 games would project out to about 50 in a full season, which is pretty good. The problem there is that he only played 43 games. He got seriously injured and missed a lot of time, which was the big concern surrounding his signing. On top of that, while he was above 50% in Corsi For%, he finished only ahead of two-thirds of the CBGB line, Cam Janssen, and Jacob Josefson. That doesn't inspire much confidence in looking back what he did. Again, I think he can play and contribute, possibly more so than Ryder or Brunner. But Clowe was signed for more term, more money, and the biggest worry surrounding it has come true at least twice. Maybe Year 2 will be better but that's a big "maybe" at this point.
Best Goal: Damien Brunner, December 18, 2013
I added this category because goals are awesome. While I termed him Most Disappointing, he did show some amazing flashes of skill and this goal against Ottawa way back in December stood out enough in our minds to be mentioned today. Jagr's 700th career goal and Marek Zidlicky's near-last-second overtime winner got mentioned but this one got more mentions. Those links go to videos of each at NHL.com. But Brunner's goal simply made Jared Cowen and Robin Lehner look remarkably dumb, really sucked the wind out of the sails of the Sens in that period, and made those who wondered why Brunner had so much skill. Well, here it is.
These are more offbeat awards some of us came up with. I've included them without comment. Feel free to add your own in the comments, or to argue otherwise. The initials in the parentheses tell you who came up with what.
Saddest Narrative of the Year (NP): Rich Chere's iPhone's Autocorrect Spasms
Worst Shootout Performer (MS): Patrik Elias. Seriously, didn't he used to be good at this? (Close runner up: pretty much everyone else)
Best Prospect (KM): Myles Bell
The Unicorn Prize for a Wish for One Thing That Was Better this Season Than it Was (JF): Shootouts. Just shootouts. Honorable Mention: Team shooting percentage when Schneider was in net.
Best Postgame Stand-up Act (MS): Jaromir Jagr
Second Annual Best Fictional Player Created by a Rich Chere Typo Award (NP): Adam Hebrique (Honorable mention to Tom Gulitti's "Anton Volchenob.")
Best Potential to Become Best Finnish Devil Ever: Tuomo Ruutu. - It's not a long list to overcome.
Most Important UFA to Re-sign (KM): Mark Fayne
Unsung Hero (MS): Mark Fayne
The Confirmation-Bias Medal for Worst Giveaway for a Goal Against (JF): Mark Fayne - March 14. In Sunrise. Right to Brad Boyes. Sigh.
Best Scorched Earth/Taking an Entire Organization Hostage Campaign (NP): Martin Brodeur
The "Whatever, it's fine. I'm not mad." Award for Passive Aggression (MS): Martin Brodeur
The Best Readers (JF): You.
Which awards do you agree with and why? Which ones do you think we got wrong and why? What superlative awards would you give? Please let us know your take in the comments and other thoughts.