While the New Jersey Devils have hit some pot holes this summer, the future is very promising for fans here and they need to realize we have valuable players on the team that can get the job done. Despite Zach Parise going to the Minnesota Wild, which was by far the biggest loss for the team, losing Larry Robinson and Adam Oates, and parting ways Alexei Ponikarovsky, I’m here to shed some light on why we have reasons to be excited come April.
1) Coaching Upgrades
If we’ve ever seen change in the past, it’s been in the coaching department. Despite losing quality assistant coaches Larry Robinson to the San Jose Sharks and Adam Oates to the Washington Capitals, the Devils rebound with Hall of Fame defensemen Scott Stevens who can offer up an impressive set of skills in the likes of vision on the ice, how to shut down players in our defensive end, and has forever been a student of a game. Matt Shaw had three years behind the bench in San Jose watching the Sharks develop through some post season woes. He’s helped their power play rank 2nd, 2nd, and 4th over the last three seasons in the league. While Adam Oates did show us some success throughout the 2011-12 season, it still needed help and wasn’t very effective late into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Shaw should be a nice addition behind the bench.
Last and most important, our head coach Peter DeBoer is right back to work after a very impressive first season leading our club to its first finals appearance since 2003. Missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons, fans and the front office didn’t want another short season. We’ve been pretty spoiled in New Jersey with playoff hockey so naturally we would kick and scream like kids that did not want to go to school when our post season streak ended in 2010-11. Pete has his team mentally and physically prepared for battle every night. While the playoff series’ versus the Panthers and Rangers were mental victories, the series versus the Flyers and Kings were absolutely more physical and despite coming up short by four periods, the Devils stepped up. Pete has been able to help bring the best out in a lot of players this season and had every one of the 22 players on the roster buy into what he expected to accomplish. I’m looking forward to his sophomore year behind the bench with the added assets in Stevens and Shaw.
2) Defense all intact.
When you look through the Devils defensive lineup, no name will impress you simply by the itself. You’re not going to see a Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Matt Carle, Mike Green, Zdeno Chara, or Erik Karlsson. You’re going to see Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador, Peter Harold, Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, Mark Fayne, Adam Larsson, and Marek Zidlicky. None have won a cup & none have won the Norris Trophy. The truth is these guys have stepped up at the right time and have proven that they could get the job done. I’ve never seen Andy Greene play more physical than he did in the 2012 post season. I’ve been beyond impressed with Bryce coming back from a terrible concussion, doing the little things right and tallying points that put him 3rd in the post season for the Devils. Despite being 10th last year for goals scored against us, I’m happy with our squad in front of Marty Broduer for the 2012-13 season.
By far the biggest issue for the Devils post 2003 was having the scoring depth and help they needed from all four lines on the ice. Now don’t get me wrong, filling in the blank of Zach Parise’s 31 goals will be tough, however, we have a very healthy group for 2012-13 and players that can and should step up.
I expect Travis Zajac to help immensely since he only played 15 regular season games due to injury. I see Jacob Josefson having a big season along with vets like Ilya Kovalchuk & Patrik Elias leading the way. Also, our entire 4th line has been resigned and I’m excited to see what they do for a full season together. They woke up Devils fans and put smiles on our faces while giving opposing teams headaches when they were on the ice. Again, we were the only team to have five 20 goal scorers last season and that hasn’t happened since the 2000-2001 season.
If you want to talk about any player that has been under the microscope for the Devils the past 4-5 seasons, it’s been Martin Brodeur. Age, agility, and stamina have all been scrutinized by analysts, Devils fans, and opposing team fans because they simply don’t have a Martin Brodeur between the pipes and like to give us a hard time about the “old man.” Plenty of Devils fans wanted Marty to hang up the skates because they didn’t think he could get the job done anymore. When was enough enough? He ranked 13th in regular season stats for 2011-12 and 2nd for the 2012 post season.
It was a breath of fresh air to watch Marty battle his way through the post season and simply reclaim some of the glory many thought he lost. Despite the scoring depth, the coaching changes, and our defense, Brodeur was THE reason the Devils made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. And if the “5 minutes in hell” penalty never happened, maybe New Jersey would have been witnessing a Stanley Cup Parade down Broad Street. Not only is Marty back for 2 seasons and likely to retire in a Devils sweater playing his entire career with one team, his handy Swedish back up, Johan Hedberg is also back. Acclaimed as one of the most capable backups in the league today. With a career .902 sv% and 2.83 GAA, he’s a valuable player to keep as a backup giving the prospects in our system time to develop in Albany.