The New Jersey Devils entered this offseason with a bucket list of items to accomplish after they came within two victories of their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history. The team gave their fans plenty to cheer about during the 2011-12 regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs. But, can they have the same success without a key member of the team?
The Devils main priority in the offseason was to sign star forward and captain Zach Parise. Parise became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and the Devils were amongst the suitors for Parise. But in the end, he departed and signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild on July 4.
The Devils are facing an uphill climb heading into this season with the loss of key members in their organization as well their main rivals in the conference improving. The Devils will need to improve in several areas in order to repeat the success from this season into next. Here are the big questions facing the Devils heading into the 2012-13 season:
1) How will the Devils overcome the loss of Zach Parise?
Parise was not only a leader on the team, but a productive force on the Devils. One of the bigger questions facing the Devils this season is can they overcome the loss of Parise’s production on offense? With the departure of one the most respective players in the locker room, Devils coach Peter DeBoer knows his team most perseveres. DeBoer said after the departure of Parise,” I think the thing we’ve shown last year and even in prior years here this program is bigger than individual people, and we found a way over the years to fill holes.”
The Devils have shown in the past, especially during their amazing and incredible run to the Stanley Cup Finals, that they can overcome the absence of star players. The Devils were without opt center Travis Zajac for all but 15 games last season after he suffered a left Achilles tendon injury in August. DeBoer reiterated this fact, “Zajac missed the entire season, Kovalchuk went down in Game 2 of the Philly series when we were down 1-0, but we played one of our best of the year [in game 2], so that the mentality here. We have to carry that into next year without Zach.”
2) Who’s the next Captain?
There are only a few strong candidates to be named the Devils next captain. Patrik Elias is one who wore the “C” for the Devils in the 2006-07 season. The Devils also could choose Travis Zajac who has spent his entire career with the Devils after being drafted in by the Devils in 2004.
The Devils could go in a completely different direction and name defenseman Bryce Salvador captain. This choice would be the first time a defenseman was named captain since Scott Niedermayer in 2004. Salvador, who missed the entire 2010-11 season with a concussion, signed a three-year contract worth $9.5 million in the offseason and is happy to have stayed with the team. Salvador played the last four seasons with the Devils and played all 82 regular season games last season. He led the Devils defense in points during the playoffs and is leader on and off the ice.
Salvador said upon resigning with the team, ‘To have the Devils value me as much as other teams during free agency made my decision easier. Where I’m at in my career, it’s not about money. The Devils have been a great fir for me.”
3) Can the Devils Defense finally get back to being Elite?
The Devils defense has been a question mark for the organization ever since the retirements of Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, and Scott Niedermayer. Their defense started to come on strong towards the end of last season and into the playoffs under assistant coach Larry Robinson. Robinson was mentor and leader for rookies Adam Larsson and Peter Harrold. Both players flourished under Robinson’s guidance, but Robinson took a job with the San Jose Sharks in the offseason.
Many people around the NHL asked who the Devils could get to replace a legendary figure like that. Enter Devils Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens. DeBoer said of Stevens, “Scott Stevens was a natural fit and he seamlessly jumps in for Larry. The only thing he might lack is that experience that Larry had behind the bench, but that’s something he’ll pick up. With Stevens guiding the defense, the Devils can get back to their roots of being a hard hitting and physical team. If Robinson was able to get the defense going in the right direction, than Stevens will be able to take it to the next level.
4) Can the Devils Win with an Aging Goaltending Duo?
The Devils will enter the upcoming season with the oldest goaltending duo in the league again. The Devils resigned 40-year Martin Brodeur, who has spent his entire 18-year career with the Devils to a two-year deal during free agency. The Devils were also able to retain the services of backup goalie Johan Hedberg for another two years. Broduer and Hedberg will certainly help ease the process for the pipeline of goaltending prospects within the system.
But the bigger question is can this dynamic duo shoulder the load again between the pipes for the Devils? Over the last couple years, Brodeur has shown vulnerability between the net, but he had one of his best seasons as a Devil guiding them to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2003. Brodeur has been injured as well over the last couple of seasons, but with a capable backup in Hedberg the Devils will be in good hands if Brodeur is lost to injury. Hedberg has shown he can step up his game when he gets the call to be the starter. If both goalies continue to split time, they will be fresh towards the end of the season and the Devils can succeed again.
5) Can the Devils make another run to the Stanley Cup Final?
The Devils achieved great success under first year head coach Peter DeBoer. The Devils bought into his system and it showed as the team was able to perform on a high level game to game. The Devils played as a five-man unit shift to shift throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs frustrating the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, and New York Rangers with aggressive fore-check.
The Devils were able to create turnovers by outnumbering their opponents and winnings battles for loose pucks allowing them to create scoring opportunities. New assistant coach Matt Shaw, who came over from San Jose, summed the Devils up perfectly, “They [Devils] are resilient. They were not a one or two line team; they had depth on defense, and the goaltending. In the playoffs you always need some unusual suspects to do some things and they certainly had that with a number of different guys that were always big boosts.” If the Devils can the same contributions they got this year, they will be able to make another deep run.