2011-2012 season preview: New Jersey Devils
2010-2011 record: 38-39-5, 81 points; 4th in Atlantic, 11th in East
Playoffs: Did not qualify
The New Jersey Devils had one of the worst starts to a season any team could imagine. They also had a rally of extreme proportions that got them back into the race for the playoffs, but ultimately fell short. With Jacques Lemaire gone and Peter DeBoer in as the new coach, the Devils hope they can return to the postseason.
The Devils are always a team focused on defense, but this team can put pucks in the net when healthy. This season they’ll have a surgically repaired Zach Parise to join Ilya Kovalchuk as the team’s top two offensive threats. Elder statesmen like Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus hope they can give leadership to youngsters like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson who could be major contributors. The Devils will have to sweat out the absence of Travis Zajac to start the season. Outside of these guys, however, there’s not much going offensively in New Jersey.
Defensively, the Devils are virtually the same as they were last year. They’re led by Andy Greene and Anton Volchenkov with Henrik Tallinder as the veterans. Young guys like Mark Fayne, Matt Taormina, and Mark Fraser round out the group but the focus will be on 2011 first-round pick Adam Larsson and how well he can adapt to the NHL right away. His experience playing in the Swedish pro league will help and make him a potential Calder candidate.
Martin Brodeur is the be-all, end-all here once again. At 39, he’s on the backside of his career and he can’t quite be the workhorse he has been in the past … can he? With 38 year-old Johan Hedberg backing him up and things being a bit thin in the Devils’ system in goal, they’ve got to pray that Brodeur can have at least one more great year. Even Brodeur being average by his standards will mean good things for New Jersey. But if his age and health catch up to him … look out.
Peter DeBoer enters his first year behind the Devils’ bench after being dumped by the Florida Panthers after three losing seasons there. Replacing Jacques Lemaire is never easy in New Jersey because a bad stretch could just mean that Lemaire or GM Lou Lamoriello comes out of the woodwork to do things their way. No pressure there at all.
Aside from Larsson, winger Nick Palmieri shapes up to be the guy that could help the Devils the most. After a solid rookie season and appearance with Team USA at the World Championships, Palmieri is poised to seize the day as a key contributor. He’s got good size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and showed a knack for the net with nine goals in 43 games last season. Getting a good season out of him will help balance out their lines.
Parise and Kovalchuk each score 40 goals while Travis Zajac returns and becomes a top setup man in the middle. Larsson is a revelation on the blue line, streaking forward to a Calder Trophy season. Brodeur stays healthy and goes back to the well with one more brilliant Vezina nomination-worthy season and the Devils ease into the playoffs without stress.
Parise, who was recently named captain, will have a big season. He’s healthy, looks fast and sharp on the ice and he’ll take the pressure off of Kovalchuk to carry the burden of the offense. The defense gives reason to pause, but the Devils and their system always find a way to make it work and hide any deficiencies. We don’t want to say it all boils down to how Brodeur fares, but that’s how it almost feels. The Atlantic Division is brutal to play in, however, and none of those games are going to be easy. It’ll be a round of rock ‘em-sock ‘em robots to get into the playoffs for the Devils.