If the Devils have absorbed seismic changes to their foundation the last two offseasons, then this season could see the organization rocked to its core.
Minutes after the Devils concluded their 2013-14 season with a 3-2 win over the Bruins Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center, goaltender Martin Brodeur essentially announced he will not return to the only professional franchise he has ever known.
“It might be the last game I played as a Devil,” Brodeur, an unrestricted free agent, said after the Devils finished with a 35-29-18 record, and a 10th place finish in the Eastern Conference.
Their 88 points were five fewer than the 93 compiled by No. 7 seed Columbus and No. 8 seed Detroit.
As the organization prepares to examine a second straight non-playoff appearance, the main area of concern is bolstering an offensive attack whose 197 goals ranked ahead of only Vancouver, Florida and Buffalo.
Then there is attempting to examine why the Devils were a league-worst 0-for-13 in the shootout.
“The biggest challenge for me was by far the shootouts just because we all knew the importance and points we were leaving on the table,” head coach Pete DeBoer said after Sunday’s finale. “When we were going through them, we felt the snowball effect of confidence. As a coach, it was a real helpless feeling because you don’t know how to fix it. You try practicing it. You try different players. You use statistics. That was by far the most frustrating part of the season.”
It was made all the maddening for a team that believed its defensive structure and puck possession game were strengths heading into 2014-15. The Devils allowed 195 goals, an average of 2.38 goals per game, sixth-fewest in the game, while their puck possession ranked fifth in the league.
“I really believe our team game is as good as anyone's in the league,” DeBoer said. “I believe that on a night-to-night basis. Obviously you have nights where you're off a little bit here and there, [but] our commitment to our team game, our team game, is as good as anyone's. There [are] a few reasons we're sitting here today and I said I'd rather wait until after the season to discuss, but I don't think there's any secrets. The shootout killed us, and when you look at the standings and stats, we're only half a goal a night short of being a very good team in this league.
“For me, the game's not complicated. If you have the puck, if you're out-chancing your opponent, if you got it more than they have it, if you're putting more shots on net than they are, we should have success. It didn't translate enough this year. We led the league in shots against a night, our shots for wasn't where it needed to be. But our possession time was good, our specialty teams were good. The whole package didn't translate and we have to fix the pieces that kept it from translating.”
With general manager and president Lou Lamoriello announcing DeBoer will coach the Devils next season during the first intermission Sunday, the question becomes one of how to improve the on-ice personnel. The Devils will have a first-round pick in this June’s Entry Draft after the league announced it would relax the penalties on the franchise stemming from the Ilya Kovalchuk cap-circumvention ruling. However, the pick is 30th overall and the Devils are ineligible to win the draft lottery.
So it seems likely Lamoriello will have to go into the free agent market to find a goal scorer. Minnesota’s Matt Moulson, Calgary’s Mike Cammalleri, Los Angeles’ Marian Gaborik and Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan, among others, could add scoring depth.
The Devils also have to determine whether to resign free agents Jaromir Jagr, Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier, Jacob Josefson, Stephen Gionta, Mike Sislo, Marek Zidlicky, Mark Fayne and Adam Larsson.
According to figures provided by the website Capgeek.com, the Devils have earmarked $50.595 million worth of contracts to 15 players. It is believed that the salary cap will rise to a ceiling of $71.1 million.
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.