NHL Season Preview: Devils
The Devils were, arguably, the pre-eminent franchise in professional sports at a point in time.
The organization that won three Cups in nine years looks to be an old, slow, ill-fitting collection of athletes. And then, there’s the little matter of being able to lock up left wing Zach Parise to a long-term contract. Parise, who was a restricted free agent last summer, signed a one-year, $6 million deal in July. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
The word that best describes the Devils forward units is thin. Yes, Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk are unquestionably stars, while Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson are solid players.
Are Jacob Josefson, Adam Henrique and Nick Palmieri ready to play second- and third-line roles? Zajac will miss at least the first month as he recuperates from Achilles surgery. Who will fill in for him on the top line? Can Dainius Zubrus and Mattias Tedenby provide enough secondary offense?
The Devils 2.08 goals per game ranked last in the league, while their power play was 28th out of 30.
In the Devils’ two decades of dominance, defense was a position strength. It wasn’t last year and doesn’t appear to be one this year. Fourth-overall pick Adam Larsson impressed in training camp and in the exhibition season. The 18-year-old Larsson, who played for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League last season, won admirers in Parise and Kovalchuk for his ability to run the power play.
After Larsson, there’s not a whole lot to be excited about.
Anton Volchenkov is one of the league’s better hitters and shot-blockers on the blueline, but his salary (five years and $21.25 million remaining) screams for a franchise defenseman instead of solid piece. Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder are fifth and sixth defensemen on most teams.
A question mark. Martin Brodeur is 39 years old and Johan Hedberg is 38. Both showed their age during the preseason. Moreover, both are unrestricted free agents after this season. Is Jeff Frazee the long-term answer in goal? If not, is there a young, NHL-ready goaltender in the Devils system?
PREDICTION: Last season was the first since 1995-96 that the Devils did not make the playoffs. It appears that the Devils will miss the playoffs this season because of the plethora of on-and-off-ice issues facing the organization. The 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons marked the last time the Devils did not qualify for the playoffs in consecutive years.
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for coverage of all three area teams.