The Devils 2010-2011 Season Preview
Can you feel something in the air? There’s a slight chill in the air, and the leaves are changing colors. The baseball playoffs are in full swing, and the NFL is already four weeks into their schedule. It all adds up to the best time of the year – hockey season. And, for the New Jersey Devils, it begins tomorrow night at the Prudential Center against the Dallas Stars.
With the beginning of the season comes the obligatory team preview. Without further adieu, here’s The Devils’ Den’s 2010-2011 Season Preview.
The Devils endured the longest offseason in recent memory. The failed to make it out of the third round for the third consecutive season, losing the series 4-1 to the hated Philadelphia Flyers. That playoff loss left a bad memory on what was a rather successful season. New Jersey clinched second in the conference, won their ninth Atlantic Division title, and made the postseason for the 13th consecutive season. They also swept the Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-0-0, during the regular season.
The organization wasn’t satisfied with their playoff failure, deciding to make several changes. The first change came in the coaching staff. Jacques Lemaire, who lost the locker room by the end of the season, retired on April 26. The Devils decided to go with youth at the helm, promoting then-Lowell coach John MacLean, who served as a NHL assistant for seven years. MacLean brought in Adam Oates to help a woeful powerplay and kept Larry Robinson to help with the defense. With the coaching staff set, Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello turned to the roster.
Lamoriello began the roster overhaul early in the Devils’ offseason, acquiring Jason Arnott from Nashville for Matt Halischuk and a second round pick in 2011. Arnott, who scored the game-winning goal to give the Devils their second Stanley Cup Championship in 2000, would be reunited with former “A-Line” partner Patrik Elias and former Stars teammate Jamie Langenbrunner. The Devils then bought out longtime Devil Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters the day before free agency began.
In an uncharacteristic move, Lamoriello signed several free agents for this year’s team. On July 1, Lamoriello signed defenseman Anton Volchenkov (six-years, $25.5 million), defenseman Henrik Tallinder (four-years, $13.5 million) and goalie Johan Hedberg (one-year, $1.5 million). The team lost Paul Martin to the Penguins and Rob Niedermayer to the Sabres.
On July 19, the Devils doled out the largest contract in NHL history for Ilya Kovalchuk. The left-winger and New Jersey agreed to a 17-year, $102 million dollar contract. It passed through the NHLPA, but not the league office. The league rejected the contract, setting off a summer of arbitration hearings and constant frustration. Eventually the team and league settled on a 15-year, $100 million deal, with amendments made to the collective bargaining agreement to ban these contracts.
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The Devils Offense
In five preseason games this season, the Devils scored 20 goals. That’s not a misprint. Coach MacLean promised a more uptempo, aggressive puck-control strategy this season, and the offense has taken to it. Preseason stats are always skewed, but if it’s an indicator, the Devils should do fine offensively this season. Here’s a breakdown of my expectations by lines:
MacLean decided during the first day of training camp to put the Devils top three scorers on one line. Nicknamed the “Liberal Line” by Bergen Record reporter Tom Gulitti, the three players should be an offensive force. There’s not many teams that can shut down that line. Kovalchuk and Parise should continue to score goals, and both have the possibility of cracking the 50-goal plateau. Zajac, who posted career highs in goals (25) and points (67), should benefit from playing with these two great scorers. Can this line surpass 200 points? It’s a realistic milestone.
The “A-Line #2” – Patrik Elias – Jason Arnott – Jamie Langenbrunner
Both Arnott and Elias will be reunited, and they’ve already rekindled some of their previous chemistry. Arnott was signed to be that second-line center the team desperately needed, and, barring injury, he should do well in that role. I’d expect to see an uptick in Elias’ stats, and the move back to wing should help as well. Langenbrunner won’t be lost on this line, and I’d expect them to be a great source of secondary scoring.
Every player on this line was mentioned in trade/waiver rumors throughout the summer, with Rolston and Zubrus garnering most of the headlines. The Devils need scoring past the top six forwards, and they’ll depend on this line to get it done. Rolston has looked better this offseason, and the inability to move him because of his contract will demand a better year offensively. Zubrus and Clarkson both represent big bodies who should crash the net, yet Clarkson is the only consistent Devil to do so. Speaking of Clarkson, I would expect him to improve if he can stay healthy the entire season.
The Best of the Rest
Adam Mair, who will remain with the Devils even though he remains unsigned, would be a nice addition on the fourth line…Expect to see Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson come up if the Devils need help. They both played well during the preseason, and were only sent to the minors because of cap concerns.
The Devils Defense
Since the departures of defensive stalwarts Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski, the Devils have continued to succeed without marquee players. Last season, Martin Brodeur took home his fourth William Jennings Trophy, a testament to how well the defense played. But with the loss of Martin, the team lacks offensive depth along the blue line. Several analysts are predicting a drop off for the Devils defense this season, especially with the offensive firepower. But the squad always seems to surprise the critics. Here is my breakdown of the Devils‘ defense:
The big shot blocker comes over from Ottawa, and immediately gives the Devils a physical presence they’ve been missing. Volchenkov isn’t afraid to block shots and mix it up in the corners, giving the Devils a physical presence they’ve lacked. He’ll also make the big hit, and should make it tough for the opposing team in the defensive zone.
The Swede played well in Buffalo last season, where he helped Tyler Meyers become one of the better defenders in the league. Tallinder is a smart defenseman, and while he’s not overly fast and doesn’t have a great shot, he makes the smart play. With the influx of Swedish prospects possibly cracking the starting lineup, look for Tallinder to help mentor and prepare them for the rigors of the NHL.
The blueline’s elder statesman, White will look to silence critics during the season. Several fans called for White to be traded or sent down, citing his lack of offensive ability and lackadaisical play in the defensive zone. But White has proved time and time again that he’s still valuable. It helps that White knows the system and knows how to excel in it. He may become a cap casualty, but I’d expect White to continue his solid, if unspectacular, play this season.
With the injury to Paul Martin and the ineffective play of Johnny Oduya, the Devils needed someone to step up and be an offensive force on the blue line. Greene answered that call, setting career highs in every single category. The biggest question facing Greene this season is whether or not he can repeat that success. Greene is the one of two “offensive-defenseman” the Devils have this season, and he’ll be counted on to log heavy minutes and contribute on the powerplay.
The Devils will take an extended look at Urbom to decide whether or not the rookie should stay with the big club. The first nine games will be an extended training camp, but the Devils are impressed with what they’ve seen. He will make some mistakes, which is only natural for a rookie. If he can play well, he’ll fill a vital offensive-defenseman hole for the Devils next season.
The Best of the Rest
The Devils’ Goaltending
Year in and year out, the Devils never stress about one position – goalie. We all know Brodeur will stand between the pipes and play most of the team’s games this season. While the question has been asked this preseason as to whether or not Brodeur will rest more, we all know what he’ll do this season. Pencil Brodeur in for around 70-75 starts and a possible Vezina trophy.
There’s no real expectations for Hedburg this season. He might get 12 to 15 starts, and he only needs to play well enough to keep the Devils in each game. But we can’t forget two years ago, when Brodeur went down with injury. We don’t expect Hedberg to contribute much, but the possibility is still there.
This is the best offense the Devils have had in quite some time. Their top line is capable of 120+ goals, and the second line should get 60+ goals. There aren’t many teams in the league that can shut down this offense, and while there will be off-nights and bad games, the Devils offense should be fun to watch this year.
But if you flip the coin, the defensive outlook isn’t so bright. Will the forwards come back and forecheck enough to help the defense? Will Volchenkov stay healthy for the entire season? What happens when Bryce Salvador is healthy? Where will the offense on the blue line come from? This is the first time in a long time that the Devils blue line has this many questions. While they should be good, they may not be the prototypical New Jersey defense. Brodeur may have to steal a few more games this season.
The Devils should finish near the top of the division and conference, but we all know the main goal – get out of the first round. For three straight years, we’ve been frustrated with the Devils performance in the postseason. The team is re-tooled and, without a doubt, loaded. Many of the players will not be around next season, and Lamoriello has put all his eggs in this season’s basket. It’s a win-it-all mentality, something that’s not common from the New Jersey Devils.
Can they win the Cup? It’s going to be a long season, and with the Devils against the cap, it may be difficult to make moves during the season. But they will bring a talented squad to the ice, and with several players still looking for that first playoff win, and others looking for one last run at the Cup, this team has the potential to play until June.