For the first time in two decades, Martin Brodeur will not be on the New Jersey Devils roster. Weird, eh? Even without the future Hall of Famer, this team still has plenty of aged veterans who have as much potential to surprise as they do to break down. We’re betting on the latter and that the Devils finish seventh in the Metro.
2013-14 record: 35-29-18
Acquisitions: Scott Clemmensen, Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat
Departures: Anton Volchenkov, Mark Fayne
Top five fantasy players: Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: By all accounts, the Devils should have been a playoff team last season. They were one of the NHL’s best puck possession teams but lost all 13 of their shootouts and got sub-par goaltending from Martin Brodeur. By the time Cory Schneider was given full reign of the crease, it was too late. Brodeur is now gone, and it’s virtually impossible for New Jersey to pooch the shootout so badly again.
So what you’re left with is a smart, modern team led by an ageless charismatic legend in Jaromir Jagr up front. The Czech icon will also have another weapon to complement him thanks to the signing of veteran Mike Cammalleri. Although New Jersey lost stalwart defender Mark Fayne to free agency, a gaggle of youngsters (Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill and Adam Larsson) should be ready to pull their weight in Newark, while Schneider will be a rock in net, giving the Devils a chance to push for a playoff spot
Bust: The team’s best offensive players are old and could free-fall at any moment. Jagr, Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky are all at least 37, while Cammalleri, Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus aren’t far behind. The team has one forward (Adam Henrique) under the age of 28. While the Devils’ forward group is solid from top to bottom, Jagr and Cammalleri will be leaned on for output, and they don’t stack up well against other Eastern Conference firepower.
On the back end, that vaunted possession game could be in for a rude awakening, as Fayne and fellow departee Anton Volchenkov were two of the team’s best Corsi players on the blueline. If the kids aren’t ready for prime time, things could fall apart fast.
And then there’s Martin Havlat. Brought in as a free agent, he fits the Devils’ mold of being a Czech veteran, but a spooky trend has emerged in his career: every team he leaves gets way better shortly thereafter. Ottawa went to the Stanley Cup final the next year, Chicago won the Cup the next year and Minnesota made it back to the playoffs after one more season of struggle.
Bottom Line: The Devils may have been dealt a bad hand in 2013-14, but the things that made them good are eroding fast. In a tight division, they could finish anywhere from second to second-last, but don’t put money on the former. Eventually Jagr, Elias and Zidlicky will tire and the reinforcements aren’t there unless Henrique and Travis Zajac pick up some major slack. Fayne will be missed dearly, even if he didn’t make a lot of headlines.
Prospect To Watch: The most likely destination for Damon Severson is Albany in the American League, especially when you consider up to half of New Jersey’s defense could be made up of players under the age of 24. But if the second round pick from 2012 has a strong camp, he could earn himself an early-season look, or consideration for a call up when the first injuries hit. Severson scored 61 points in 64 games for the WHL’s Kelowna rockets last season, good for sixth in scoring among defenders. He has a good shot and size – 6-foot-2, 210 pounds.
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Seventh in Metro Division
Contributors: Ryan Kennedy, Rory Boylen