Metropolitan Division Preview: New Jersey Devils


Apr 23, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (30) makes a blocker save during the third period against the Montreal Canadiens at the Prudential Center. The Devils defeated the Canadiens 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

In part two of my around-the-division look at the teams making up the Flyers’ quarter of the league, the Metropolitan Division, I’ll breakdown an Atlantic Division rival of the Orange-and-Black, the New Jersey Devils. Much like the Flyers, perhaps even more so to an extent, the Devils were unable to build on a successful playoff run the year prior, and really struggled during the lockout shortened 2013 season. They missed the playoffs for only the 2nd time since 1996, and finished 5th in the division, a point behind the Flyers. Unlike the Flyers, who remain one of the more wealthy franchises in the NHL under the ownership of Ed Snider, the Devils entered their offseason with their immediate future very much in the balance. With the grips of bankruptcy bearing down on the franchise in the form of a $230 million dollar debt, there was speculation on whether or not the Devils would be able to remain in New Jersey, or in the league at all. Earlier this August, 76ers owner Josh Harris, among others, took on the financial burdens of the previous ownership group and purchased the team for $320 million. Harris decided to keep longtime, well-respected general manager and executive Lou Lamoriello in the fold and, for now, the Devils financial future is in better shape.

As far as their roster, depending on who you talk to, that may be an entirely different story all together. Despite their disappointing 2013 season following the departure of Zach Parise, most of the Devils team that made it all the way to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals was still on the roster and playing at a relatively high level. Lamoriello, arguably the top general manager in the league, let the rest of the league know he wanted to reinforce the roster at the draft, when he moved the 9th overall pick to the Canucks for goalie Cory Schneider. With Martin Brodeur, 41, nearing the tail-end of his storied career, the acquisition of the 27-year old Schneider looked as a move to stabilize a position that cost the Devils during the lockout shortened season.

Aug 8, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello speaks at a press conference at Yankee Stadium. Two outdoor regular-season NHL games will be played at Yankee Stadium during the 2013-14 season as part of the 2014 Stadium Series. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Devils went about free agency in a similar manner, locking up their own veteran talent in Patrick Elias and Danius Zubrus, and bringing in veteran wingers Ryan Clowe and Michael Ryder. Notorious Flyer-killer and free agent David Clarkson was given a lucrative contract by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Given his impressive track record and winning profile, Lou Lamoriello has made a living on avoiding the types of contracts that could hurt the teams financial situation down the road. While Clarkson is a solid player who bounced between the Devils 2nd and 3rd lines throughout the past few seasons, he was paid like a top-line winter and the Devils let him go without much of a fight. Even after losing Clarkson it was looking as if New Jersey would be sporting one of the deeper offensive units until, for the second year in a row, the team’s star player jilted them in the worst way.

The 30-year old Russian superstar, having just finished year three of a 15-year, $100 million contract, walked away from the NHL, siting his homesickness of Russia as his reason, and promptly signing a 4-year deal with one of the professional teams overseas. While the Devils have won Stanley Cups with a highly defensive system that relied more on offensive depth than star power, Kovalchuk, and his 24:44 average time on ice (1st among forwards), served as much more than a scorer for the Devils. Losing him, while not necessarily a death-blow for the team looking forward, should be a tough pill to swallow in the expanded division. Considering the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Claude Giroux among others littering the rosters of the other teams, the Devils will not have much to offer as far as go-to scoring for the time being.

ALERT: @NHLDevils Kovalchuk retires.

— SNY Assignment Desk (@SNY_Studio) July 11, 2013

Apr 27, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New Jersey Devils right wing Ilya Kovalchuk (17) looks to pass the puck against the New York Rangers during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

New Jersey did sign former Flyer Jaromir Jagr to cover up some of the losses in terms of puck-handling and offensive awareness, but Jagr’s all-around game is nowhere close to where Kovalchuk was on last season’s team. Head coach Peter DeBoer will have to make do with the roster that he was left with before the Devils can truly start making up ground on the other teams in the division that did not have their star player walk out on them.

2013 Season: 19-19-10 (5th in division) Missed Playoffs


With the returns of Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, and newly signed Adam Henrique, there will be several familiar faces on the front line for New Jersey. Specifically against the Peter Laviolette coached Flyers, at least in the last two seasons, the Devils forwards excel at putting defenders in a difficult situation and exposing weaknesses on the back-end. Few teams ‘manufacture’ goals like the Devils, pinning teams in the defensive zone and cycling through lines until exhaustion gets the best of their opponents. The additions of Jagr, Ryan Clowe, who spent last year on the Rangers, and Michael Ryder should supplement their current crop of forwards with a group that is well-versed in heavy puck possession and patience in the offensive zone.

Steve Bernier, a former 1st round pick of the Sharks, turned in a respectable season for the Devils, chipping in 8 goals and 7 assists. Centerman Ryan Carter should expect to see his time trend upward a bit with the departure of Kovalchuk. Carter dealt with some concussion issues in 2013, a potentially troubling development should any symptoms resurface, as the Devils are already quite thin at center.

As far as their prospect pool, while there are a couple of players who could fill in on the 3rd or 4th line for New Jersey, there is very little as far as impact offensive threats waiting in the wings. For at least the next season, the brunt of the scoring, from the forwards at least, will come from the veteran presences on the team.

Elias, whose age never seems to catch up with him, will take over as the team’s most prolific scoring threat with the departure of Kovalchuk. Elias actually outscored the Russian superstar by five points in 2013, albeit in 11 more games. Even so, Elias is one of the most notable offensive threats in Devils history and should continue to consistently factor into the Devils scoring breakdown next season.

Jun 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Boston Bruins right wing Jaromir Jagr during practice the day before game two of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Jagr turned in another extremely impressive campaign in 2013, scoring 16 goals and adding 19 assists in 45 games between the Stars and Devils. There are certain points where one has to scratch his or her head at some of the things Jagr, at 41 years old, is still able to do. Having said that, he appeared to putter out down the stretch in the playoffs, and considering his similar decline with the Flyers in 2011-2012, it is difficult to imagine a similar trend not resurfacing for New Jersey.

Clowe and Ryder will be expected to chip in a substantial amount in the scoring department in their first respective years with the team. Clowe, as long as his concussion symptoms do not resurface, has a deft touch around the net and should benefit from extensive time in the offensive zone. In his heyday, Ryder had one of the more impressive all-around offensive arsenals. While he still shows flashes, the Devils will have to try to put Ryder in as many situations to excel as possible, as he is not able to dominate throughout the game as he once was.

The Devils mantra has never been outscoring teams, and that trend will most definitely continue this season. The primary responsibility for Devils forwards have been to grind teams down with the forecheck and put their top two lines in better scoring situations. While I think this crop of forwards will be able to continue to do this, one has to wonder if the top lines can score as much when they need to and allow the team philosophy to succeed in the division.


Apr 7, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov (28) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Devils 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

While the Devils offensive corps is nothing to look twice at, New Jersey’s crop of blue liners is as impressive as ever, even if not the flashiest. Offensive-minded veterans Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene return for another year after both finished in the top-10 on the team in points, regardless of position. Following the 2011-2012 season and postseason, 2011 4th overall pick Adam Larsson looked like one of the most promising young two-way defensemen in the league. However, Larsson regressed substantially in his second season, tallying only six points and having his average time on ice dip more than two minutes a game. While the Devils defensive corps is as solid a unit as there is in the league, if they have any aspirations of making the playoffs, they will need Larsson to regain, and even improve on, the game he showed his rookie season. While defensive prospects can sometimes be difficult as far as maintaining a steady developmental track, the Devils know how important Larsson is to the future of their franchise and, considering their history of world-class D-men, I would bet Larsson takes a huge step forward this season.

In addition to an impressive collection of offensive-minded defensemen, the Devils roster contains some of the premiere stay-at-home players in the game. Between Anton Volchenkov, captain Bryce Salvador, and Mark Fayne, an impressive, young defensive defenseman who logged solid minutes for the Devils in 2013 and posted a +6 rating, good for second on the team.

Apr. 7, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Adam Larsson (5) against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

With how established New Jersey is at defense, do not expect many prospects to log significant minutes for the team this year. With the strengths of the Devils being their blue line and goaltenders, it is expected that the team’s defensive rotation will be counted on to carry out whatever gameplan DeBoer plans to implement as the team transitions toward the future. While this unit can handle the grind of the 82-game season and even flash an offensive game that, collectively, is among the best in the league, Larsson’s progression holds the key on whether or not the defense can carry the team to a playoff berth. The athletic Swede has the frame to be a legitimate, number one defensemen with an offensive game that could challenge some of the top names in the NHL. If he gets back on the track that he was on during the team’s latest Stanley Cup run, opponents will be dealing with one of the premiere defenders in the league for the foreseeable future.


Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur speaks to the media about being named the EA Sports NHL 14 cover athlete before the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Often times, analysts are critical of teams adding to their strengths via trade or free agency. Since the mid-1990s, the Devils’ strength has been, without any question, the play of Martin Brodeur between the pipes. Brodeur is a lock, first-ballot Hall of Famer and, when healthy, still has what it takes to hold his own with the best in the NHL. Unfortunately for New Jersey, while Brodeur still played at an extremely high level (2.22 GAA), a nagging back injury sustained by Brodeur in February lingered with the legendary netminder all season and derailed what was at one point a very promising campaign for the Devils. Brodeur finished off the year with a 13-9-7 record and a .901 save percentage. Considering his stature, and his ability to still keep the puck out of the net whenever he is on the ice, Brodeur’s return for next season seems justified and probably the organization’s best move.

What ultimately prevented the Devils from being a serious playoff contender after Brodeur’s injury was the play of second-string goalie Johan Hedberg. While the veteran netminder was one of the more dependable backups when needed for spot-duty, at 39 years old, and at a major drop-off talent-wise compared to Brodeur, the rigors of being the go-to guy for New Jersey proved to be too much for ‘The Moose’. With Hedberg on the way out, it would be crucial for the Devils to make an acquisition that, should the worst case scenario repeat itself, would provide the team with enough stability to not lose traction during the season.

Apr 20, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider (35) during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned earlier, not only did Lamoriello bring in another goalie who was a substantial upgrade from Hedberg, but he brought in one of the top, proven young goalies in the league in Cory Schneider. Schneider, whose competition with Roberto Luongo for the top goaltending job for the Canucks was as heavily covered as any story in the league, is clearly the Devils goalie for the future, and for good reason. Schneider started the majority of the games for the Northwest Division winning Canucks, posting a top-10 goals against average of 2.11 and an even more impressive save percentage of .927. Had Schneider not struggled in the Canucks’ first round playoff loss to the Sharks, one could argue that he would be as untouchable a player as any other in the league. However, in a move that shocked league circles, the Canucks shipped off Schneider to Lamoriello. The move stunned even Roberto Luongo, who had all but accepted the fact that his tenure with the Canucks was drawing to an unceremonious end, via trade or buyout. 

After the dust settled, in an offseason of turmoil for the Devils, they can still stake claim to the fact that, as far as present and future situations, their status between the pipes is firmly entrenched. It has already been reported that Brodeur will enter his 21st season with the Devils as the number one option. With that said, the acquisition of Schneider will allow the Devils to have an advantage over most opponents in the goaltending department, regardless of who plays. Schneider has played in one of the highest pressure hockey markets in the world, and he is more than used to the scrutiny that he will face filling in for Brodeur, both as a backup and a goalie of the future. I would not be surprised if the breakdown of games started between the two is close to an even split and, with the team’s impressive defensive corps to go along with their dynamic tandem of goalies, expect the Devils to be near the stingiest in the league as far as keeping the puck out of their net.


While I do not paint the brightest picture from a positional standpoint with the Devils, it seems like it is those years when they sneak up and shock the world. The Devils have a lot of things going for them that not many other teams do. There are no questions regarding the teams goaltending and defense situation. As a Flyers fan, it is a concept that is difficult to comprehend, but the Devils have become one of the most respected, successful franchises in sports by sticking to that equation. In fact, at the time, their acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk caught several people off-guard, as it strayed away from their normal, internal approach. With Kovalchuk gone, a rare risk taken by the Devils, to a certain extent, blew up in their face.

March 21, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer looks on from the bench against he Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC center. The Devils defeated the Hurricanes 4-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

With that said, Lamoriello, like other great GMs in sports, does not look for excuses, but solutions. Along with DeBoer, who is one of the steadier, even-keeled hockey minds in the NHL, look for the Devils brain-trust to find ways to stay competitive and deal with the swings of the regular season while other teams let the grind get to them. Mostly due to the type of game that they play, the Devils are more immune to the long losing streaks that can derail teams, much like the Carolina Hurricanes last season. As long as their goaltending remains healthy, the Devils do not need too much scoring to win games. The loss of Kovalchuk will force players to step up and that should decide whether or not New Jersey can return to the playoffs. An important thing for those players to realize, is that their coach and general manager will find ways to win without the staggering skill set that Kovalchuk brought to the table. If those players embrace that and use their own strengths to impact the game, I would not be surprised if the Devils do make the playoffs. If such players try and put the scoring drop-off and puck-handling responsibilities solely on their shoulders, they will fail miserably.

I am of the opinion that, even at 30, Kovalchuk was one of the top-10 talents in the league at the forward position. While his countrymen Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin possess a relentlessness that puts them a cut above, Kovalchuk has all the same talents and, when he wanted to, dominated the same way they did. Yet, even with their improbable Stanley Cup run where Kovalchuk carried the brunt of the scoring load, the Devils never seemed to be a fit for the former #1 overall pick. Once they realize they do not need Kovalchuk to win, and I expect Lamoriello and DeBoer to reinforce that motto relentlessly, the Devils should not have too much trouble in staying competitive.

For the Devils to succeed, they will need both of their goalies to stay healthy for most of the season. The addition of Schneider will allow the team to monitor Brodeur’s work-load and play the veteran in the big games he has always excelled in. Schneider will be expected to win some of those rivalry games as well, but for this season Brodeur is the guy and Schneider will get to learn even more from the best goalie of this generation.

If one of the team’s marquee additions: Jagr, Ryder, and Clowe, can help carry the scoring load along with Elias, Henrique, and Zajac, the team can probably get by with a balanced distribution of scoring from the rest of their offensive corps. With the offensive contributions from their blue-line, especially if Larsson can progress the way they hope, look for the Devils to quietly have one of the most evenly spread scoring breakdowns in the league.

Much like the New York Giants of the NFL, the Devils seem to be one of those teams that are dangerous when no one expects much out of them. While the Flyers, Penguins, Rangers, and Islanders garner the headlines from what will undoubtedly be a gauntlet of high-scoring affairs, the Devils will be perfectly at ease avoiding the limelight and picking up points on a consistent basis. It is difficult to imagine them running away with the division, but I expect the Devils to be right there in the playoff hunt as the season draws to a close. Maybe it’s a case of Stockholm Syndrome, as I put the Devils ahead of the Penguins as the team that has tortured my generation of Flyers’ fans more than any other team, but I just cannot see the Devils missing the playoffs two years in a row. I do not know how they will do it, but that is what makes them so frustrating to play against and so envy-inducing to lose to. At the end of the day, I expect the Devils to make the playoffs as one of the wild-card teams. After that, on an even playing field with the rest of the qualifiers, anything can happen.

Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello speaks on the phone during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction: 4th in Division; 7th in Conference (Makes Playoffs – Wild Card)