2013-14 Devils season preview: Where’s the offense?

Damien Brunner
Damien Brunner joins the Devils after spending last season with the Red Wings.
Credit: Getty Images

Devils Hall of Fame executive Lou Lamoriello was dealt twin blows to his team this offseason.

“If there’s something we can do, we will,” Lamoriello said during the July 11 conference call to announce Ilya Kovalchuk’s retirement from the NHL. “We’re going to put the best possible team on the ice.”

Gone are Kovalchuk and David Clarkson, who signed a seven-year, $36.75 million unrestricted free agent deal with his childhood team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kovalchuk and Clarkson combined for 26 goals and 55 points in 2013. In their place are Ryane Clowe, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder and Damien Brunner.

“I think we have more depth since I’ve been here,” head coach Pete DeBoer said prior to the Sept. 21 preseason game at the Barclays Center. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”

Whether the Devils’ depth can replace the offensive production lost remains to be seen.

Breaking down the roster …

Forwards: One of the best-kept secrets in the NHL during the lockout-shortened season was that the Devils were one of the better puck-possession teams in the league. They finished third in the NHL in puck possession, behind only the Kings and Blackhawks. The additions of Jagr, Clowe and Ryder won’t hurt the Devils’ puck possession statistics. Jagr and Ryder each finished with 16 goals and 35 points last season. Clowe, who signed a five-year, $24.25 million unrestricted free agent deal on the first day of free agency, totaled three goals and 19 points in 40 games with the Sharks and Rangers last season while being sidelined twice with concussions.

Brunner signed a two-year, $5 million deal with the Devils last week after being invited to training camp on a professional tryout basis. The signing may be a boon for the Devils as Brunner finished last season with 12 goals and 26 points in 44 games with the Red Wings. Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and Andrei Loktionov should be the top three centers, while the fourth line of Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter can contribute offensively.

Defensemen: The Devils’ defense corps returns virtually intact, save for Henrik Tallinder, who was traded to Buffalo. The top duo of Andy Greene and Bryce Salvador is the ostensible shutdown pairing. Marek Zidlicky and Adam Larsson are expected to provide offense — specifically on the power play which was tied for 20th in the NHL last season. Anton Volchenkov brings physicality and shot blocking.

Once a franchise strength, the current-day Devils are a mixed bag on the back end.

Goaltending: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced on June 30 at the Prudential Center that the Devils guaranteed its future in goal by trading the ninth overall pick to Vancouver for Cory Schneider. The 27-year-old compiled a 17-9-4 mark with a 2.11 goals against average and .927 save percentage in 30 games with the Canucks last season. He will split time in 2013-14 with 41-year-old Martin Brodeur (13-9-7, 2.22 goals against average, .901 save percentage) this season, but the job will be Schneider’s in the long term.

Outlook …

The construction of the 2013-14 version of the Devils is an odd collection of youth and age. But are they are better team than the one that finished 11th in the East and 22nd overall in the league? Have they improved enough to compete for one of the eight playoff spots in the East? The answer to both questions is likely no.

Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.



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