The Devils finished the 2009-2010 regular season in a familiar position: At the top of the Atlantic Division. Their 103 points put them in the second spot in the Eastern Conference and gave them a first round match-up against the Philadelphia Flyers. That series did not end well for the Devils as they were eliminated in five games. The Devils disappointment – combined with his performance in the 2010 Olympics – left some questioning whether or not Martin Brodeur still has the ability to win the big game.
In June Jason Arnott was traded back to the Devils, the team he won the Stanley Cup with in 2000. The hockey world waited with baited breath for the NHL return of Petr Sykora and the reunion of the A Line, but it was not to be. The Devils did, however, strengthen their blue line by adding Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder. Both are solid defensive defensemen who will give Jersey definite stability on the back end. Volchenkov may block as many shots as Brodeur this season.
In goal, the Devils have brought in Johan Hedberg to back up Marty Brodeur. Hedberg is a solid goaltender in his own right and should provide some insurance should Brodeur decide to miss more than a handful of games this season.
The New Jersey Devils face significant changes behind the bench as well. Jacques Lemaire’s retirement has given way to John MacLean becoming the new head coach of the Devils. Larry Robinson and Adam Oates will be his assistants. Will the team play a more offensive-minded style now that one of the leading scorers in team history in charge? Or will traditional defensive Devils hockey reign supreme?
Defenseman Paul Martin left the Devils as a free agent, choosing to sign with the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins. His loss will certainly be felt by the team. Right Wing Rob Niedermayer left via free agency as well, signing with the Buffalo Sabres. The services of Martin Skoula were not retained by New Jersey so Skoula will be playing in Russia this season. Long time New Jersey Devil Jay Pandolfo was bought out by the team after 12 years in New Jersey. He remains a free agent as do Dean McAmmond and Mike Mottau, who will both skate elsewhere this season as well.
You may have heard a little something about this Kovalchuk fellow in the past few months. While the cost of retaining his services for the rest of his career was quite high, he is one of the most explosive offensive players in the game and can be a difference maker on any night. Having spent his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers prior to his trade to New Jersey last season, Kovalchuk’s playoff abilities have rarely been explored. He did have six points in five games against the Flyers last post season, so it could just be a matter of getting the chance to perform on the highest stage that he was never given in Atlanta.
Outside of Kovalchuk, Zach Parise will continue to be an offensive force for the Devils. He scored 38 goals and recorded 82 points for the Devils last season, which was good enough to rank 16th in the NHL. Travis Zajac and Jamie Langerbrunner give the Devils a strong presence up front and prove that the team can score goals if it wants to.
On the blue line, Andy Greene had a strong season last year scoring 37 points and picking up a lot of the slack left by injuries and departures. He was the only current Devils defenseman to record more than 15 points last season.
The additions of Volchenkov and Tallinder make the Devils defense formidable. Volchenkov is a tank and has made life difficult for the opposition for years. Tallinder in incredibly steady and will certainly play a vital role on the Devils’ penalty kill. The team will miss the services of Paul Martin, but they still boast a strong defensive lineup that includes Colin White and Bryce Salvador as well.
As has been the case for the past fifteen seasons or so, the New Jersey Devils goaltending situation begins and ends with Martin Brodeur. The reigning Jennings Trophy winner and the holder of countless number of goaltending records has shown no signs of slowing down… at least not in the regular season. Outside the 2008-2009 season, when he missed a large portion of the year with an injury, Brodeur has not played fewer than 70 games a season since 1996-97 – when he played 67. Regardless of his consistent regular season play, questions have started to arise about his ability to win carry the Devils through the the postseason. The Devils have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in the past three seasons.
Johan Hedberg was brought in as the team’s back-up goaltender and should do an admirable job in that role.
Best Case Scenario
The Devils once again win the Atlantic Division and enter the playoffs as one of the top ranked teams in the Eastern Conference. In the playoffs Brodeur shakes off all criticism and backstops the Devils to a long run. Ilya Kovalchuk finally gets the chance to shine when it truly matters and no one ever talks about his long contract ever again.
Worst Case Scenario
The Devils gave up too much for Kovalchuk, they end up in salary cap hell, and barely squeak into the playoffs where they are promptly eliminated. Martin Brodeur realizes he is 38 years old and finally starts to crumble.
The Devils gave up several prospects (Niclas Bergfors and Patrice Cormier) and draft picks to acquire Kovalchuk and pay the NHL’s penance. However, that doesn’t mean that the prospect cupboard is bare. Mattias Tedenby is a small but quick forward with excellent stickhandling ability and enough grit to make him dangerous. Jacob Josefson is a strong playmaker with good two-way skills. However, the Devils’ depth at forward will likely mean little if any playing time for either of those prospects, unless a trade goes down to clear cap space.
Alexander Urbom is a big, strong defenseman who may see time in the NHL this season. At 20 years of age, he may be able to make an impact on the Devils in the coming season.
All Eyes On…
The choice here came down to Martin Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk. However, because of the sheer number of assets that the Devils gave up to acquire and keep Kovalchuk, and the ridiculous amount of press he’s received over the summer, Ilya is the man to watch this season.
He is an insanely talented, incredibly dangerous player. His offensive skills rank among the best in the NHL and he is deadly with the puck. Defense is not is strong point, but no one expects it to be. After years of languishing in Atlanta with little hope or support, his first full season with the Devils is his chance to cement himself among the best in the league.
Breakin’ rocks in the hot sun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
-The Clash “I Fought The Law”