NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey Devils began the post-Martin Brodeur era.
The Devils hope to return to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, but they’ll have to do it without the NHL’s all-time leader in career goaltending victories.
“It’s going to be weird not having Marty back there,” said captain and defenceman Bryce Salvador. “It was his team for so long. No one can ever do what he did. It’s going to be tough to replace him.”
The Devils cut ties with Brodeur at the end of last season and signed replacement Cory Schneider to a seven-year contract.
“Cory’s going to do a great job back there,” Salvador said. “But it’s going to be tough for him to replace a legend.”
Devils coach Peter DeBoer, who begins his fourth season with the club, thinks the team is ready to move on.
“We know that Cory’s No. 1 now and he’s ready for it,” DeBoer said. “He’s paid his dues and we know he’s one of the top goalies in the league. I think that makes it easier from my seat. There’s no decision to be made.”
Schneider came to New Jersey via a draft-day trade with Vancouver in 2013. He played 45 games last season with the Devils, winning 16 and allowing only 1.97 goals per game, third best in the entire league.
He split time with Brodeur last season. But he’s expected to handle the majority of net minding duties this season, with veteran Scott Clemmensen slated to challenge Keith Kincaid for the backup slot.
Defence and goaltending was never an issue with the Devils last season, as they finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, two spots away from a playoff berth. The team has not reached the playoffs since facing the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.
New Jersey scored only 197 goals last season, 27th out of 30 NHL teams. The team also lost a league-high 18 times via shootouts.
“We’re going to score more this year and be better in the shootouts,” DeBoer said. “We’re not going to spend a lot of time on that subject. We’re going to be improved while we keep our defensive intensity. I think that’s going to get us to where I want us to go.”
The team signed veterans Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat as free agents to help with the scoring and brought back ageless Jaromir Jagr, who was the leading scorer last year at 41 with 24 goals and 43 assists.
“He’s in great shape and he’s excited to be here,” DeBoer said. “I don’t see him dropping off at all.”
Forward Ryane Clowe, who suffered three concussions last season and played in only 43 games after signing a five-year contract with the Devils, thought that his career might have ended. But Clowe received medical clearance to resume all hockey activities.
“I’ve been through a lot of tests in the last week and a half and everything has turned out fine,” said Clowe, who scored seven goals and had 19 assists before suffering the third concussion, ending his season. “I’m comfortable getting back. I feel good and ready to go. I just have to get through a couple of hits to test myself.”
The team also welcomed noteworthy veterans on a tryout basis, including former Devils All-Star and Calder Trophy winner Scott Gomez, left wing Ruslan Fedotenko and former three-time All-Star defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who spent last season playing pro hockey in his native Czech Republic.
But the theme was a return to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus.
“We’re the New Jersey Devils,” Salvador said. “We’re expected to be in the playoffs.”
The Devils begin the regular season Oct. 9 at Philadelphia.