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Devils 2011-2012 Schedule Preview: Anaheim Ducks

July 26, 2011 1 comment

Patrik Elias scored the game-winning goal in the team's lone game against the Anaheim Ducks last season. Photo Credit: Harry Howe/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Kicking things off is the preview of this season’s matchup with the Anaheim Ducks.

The Devils and Ducks share a deep history despite playing on opposite coasts. Just eight years ago, New Jersey and Anaheim faced off in an epic seven-game Stanley Cup Finals. Everyone remembers the battles between J.S. Giguere and Martin Brodeur, and the heroics of Mike Rupp.

Since then, they haven’t developed much of a rivalry. They only meet once a year, which doesn’t allow for much hatred to develop. Even Scott Niedermayer wearing their sweater couldn’t tip the scales.

Devils vs. Ducks – The History Behind The Matchup

In 23 games against Anaheim, the Devils are 14-8-0 with 1 tie. New Jersey averages 2.96 goals for against the Ducks (68 total), and allow just 2.26 goals per game (52 total).

Last season, the team’s met once, during a Devils west coast trip. New Jersey beat the Ducks, 2-1, using some late game dramatics. Jason Blake opened the scoring in the second period, tallying on the powerplay. Saku Koivu held the puck along the side boards, then moved the puck to Blake below the goal line. The left-winger drove to the net, and Brodeur made the first save. Blake knocked the rebound home for the goal and the lead.

The lead wouldn’t last long, as Jamie Langenbrunner scored just over two minutes later to tie the game. The right-winger corralled a loose puck behind the net, and skated to the goal line. His shot deflected off of Jonas Hiller and into the net for the tying goal. The teams ended the period tied, 1-1. Then Patrik Elias took over.

The Devils left-winger broke the tie just 1:54 into the third period. Alexander Vasyunov picked off a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone, and New Jersey moved into the offensive zone on a 3-on-1. Vasyunov sent a pass to Elias, who blasted a one-timer from the slot past Hiller for the game-winning goal. For game highlights, check out the video below.

Devils vs. Ducks – This Season’s Matchup

Anaheim underwent some significant roster changes this offseason. The team shipped Andy Sutton to Edmonton, acquiring defenseman Kurtis Foster. They continued dealing with their northern neighbors, acquiring Andrew Cogliano for a second round pick. Other signings include Jeff Deslauries, Mathieu Carle and Andrew Gordon. They lost Todd Marchant to retirement and Andres Lilja on the free-agent market.

Ultimately, Anaheim’s success hinges on the health of Hiller. They’ve got great producers in Bobby Ryan and Blake. If Teemu Selanne decides to return, it’ll be another piece to the puzzle. But  Hiller remains the most important piece. He only played in 49 games last year due to vertigo, creating a carousel of goalies. Anaheim tried out backups (Curtis McIlhenny), Ray Emery and Dan Ellis. Only McIlhenny played more than 15 games, and he recorded a 6-9-1 record. Without Hiller, they sit near the bottom of playoff contenders.

Ultimately, one game will not completely sink the Devils. Anaheim will visit The Rock on February 17, and it’ll be the only meeting of the season. There won’t be too much at stake, just the regular two points.

Stat Pack

In 20 games (19 starts) against the Ducks, Brodeur is 13-6-0 with three ties. He’s carrying a gaudy 1.82 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage…Despite playing hero last season, Elias doesn’t have great numbers against Anaheim. In 16 games, he’s tallied six points, but carries a minus-4 rating…Jersey-native Ryan has two points in three games against the Devils.

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Peter DeBoer? Devils Make Head-Scratching Selection

Peter DeBoer became the seventh coach for the Devils in the past seven years. Photo Credit: Andy Marlin/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils finally finished their coaching search two days ago, becoming the last team to fill that spot. The selection is still a bit of a head-scratcher.

Several big names were linked to the team’s open spot. Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therien, two veteran coaches with playoff experience, seemed destined for the job at one time or another. The Montreal Canadiens link still existed, with Guy Carbonneau finding his name attached to the position. Assistants like Mike Haviland were thrown into the discussion. Reports even had the Devils dipping into the college ranks, with Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves possibly taking over. Surprisngly, none of these guys earned the job.

Instead, Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello decided to hire Peter DeBoer. Does it ring a bell? DeBoer spent the past three seasons as the Florida Panthers coach, compiling a less-than-stellar 103-107-36 record. He never made the playoffs, but came close, losing out to the Canadiens in a tiebreaker during the 2008-09 season. Before coaching in the NHL, he spent seven seasons as the Kitchner Rangers head coach. That team won the Memorial Cup in 2003 and featured right-winger David Clarkson.

Clarkson gave the hire a ringing endorsement.

“I think Pete is going to be a great fit,” Clarkson told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record yesterday. “Wherever he goes, he finds a way to get the best out of the players.”

Lamoriello believes DeBoer can serve a dual purpose. First and foremost, the team needed a coach who could bring them back to the playoffs. The veteran-laden roster is seeing their championship window close rapidly. The organization’s 14-year playoff streak snapped last year, and Lamoriello doesn’t want to make that an every year occurance.

He also needed a coach who could relate to young players. The Devils relied heavily on rookies last season, and their better prospects are knocking on the NHL door. DeBoer spent the past three years coaching young players with Florida. The teams weren’t great, but it gave him the opportunity to learn the ropes. Lamoriello believes that experience served him well.

“He’s young,” Lamoriello said to Gulitti. “He has excellent experiences in dealing with all types of players. He also served as an assistant where he an opportunity in international play with league players and to (be able to) sit and watch how other people handed them. And I think he’s had three years of outstanding apprenticeship (with Florida), if that’s what you want to call it.”

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The End of PL3; Three Players Re-signed

This is the career highlight for PL3 - a marathon fight with former Devil Cam Janssen. Photo Credit: Jim McIssac/Getty Images

The days of Devils enforcer are over for Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.

Leblond, nicknamed “PL3,” was traded to the Calgary Flames for a 2012 fifth-round pick. The Devils banished Leblond to the minors last season after he earned an automatic one-game suspension for instigating a fight with Washington’s Marcus Johansson in the final five minutes of a 7-2 loss on October 9. He played only two NHL games last season, collecting no points and 21 penalty minutes. He had 13 points and 334 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Albany Devils. The former seventh-round pick finished his Devils career with no goals, three assists and 91 penalty minutes in 37 NHL games.

A change in Leblond’s contract could have necessitated the trade. His contract changed from a two-way to one-way deal this year, carrying a $525,000 cap hit. Earlier in the summer, I wrote that Letourneau-Leblond’s days with New Jersey were probably done. Looks like that came true.

Zharkov, Corrente, Wiseman Re-sign

The Devils retained three of their own, re-signing Vladimir Zharkov, Matt Corrente and Chad Wiseman.

Zharkov accepted his qualifying offer – a one-year, two-way deal. He’ll make $577,500 in the NHL and $62, 500 in the AHL. Zharkov played in 38 NHL games last season, recording four points. In 31 AHL games, he collected 19 points. He seemed to solidify his position in the lineup last year, fitting in the bottom two lines. His overall performance probably earned him a shot at a consistent roster spot next season.

Corrente, like Zharkov, accepted his qualifying offer. His one-year, two-way deal carries an NHL salary of $660,000. Last season, he skated in just 22 NHL games. A shoulder injury ended his season, and he returns looking to hold onto a roster spot. With some young blueliners threating to grab roster spots, this will be a big year for Corrente to prove himself. His willingness to drop the gloves will easily replace Letourneau-Leblond, and his offensive capabilities will hopefully finally develop.

Chad Wiseman re-signed as an unrestricted free agent, inking a two-year, two-way deal. He’ll carry an NHL salary of $525,000 and an AHL salary of $105,000. Wiseman collected 44 points, and matched the team record for most goals in a period with four. He hasn’t found much success in the NHL, but provides quality organization depth.

Devils Hold Prospect Camp Without Head Coach

The New Jersey Devils welcomed their prospects Monday, a class that includes fourth-overall pick Adam Larsson. But there’s one noticeable vacancy overshadowing all of them.

It’s not the lack of forward Mattias Tedenby, who will miss camp because of visa issues. The Devils have yet to name a head coach, and will not do so this week.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record that the team will have a coach soon. They just won’t have him installed this week.

“It won’t be long,” Lamoriello told Gulitti. “(But) it won’t be this week.”

The delay in naming a new head coach has stretched longer than any time in recent memory. Several names were tied to the vacancy, but none were named by management as targets. Mike Haviland, a Chicago Blackhawks assistant and a New Jersey native, found his name once again connected to a Devils head coaching vacancy. Former NHL coaches Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien both found themselves mentioned as possibilities. Some media members speculated that ex-Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay could fill the position. But after his termination, he joined the Florida Panthers staff.

Media reports even linked the Devils to the collegiate ranks. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, rumored to want a NHL head coaching job, found himself mentioned in the pool of possible candidates. He denied any connection to the position in a report two weeks ago.

With no coach in place, Larry Robinson will lead camp. He twice served as head coach, and spent last season as an assistant. He, like many others, is not an option for the coaching vacancy.

It seems the organization views the situation with a laid-back feeling. But the team should be concerned. They need to establish a system, and the rookies should have an opportunity to prove themselves in front of the most important decision makers. Instead, the players skate for people who don’t hold much control over roster decisions. It’s also important for these young players to learn the system of their (possible) future head coach.

At this time next week, the Devils may have a new head coach. But it’s once again another significant offseason event where the Devils lag behind the rest of the league.

An Analysis of the Johan Hedberg Signing

Hedberg recorded a career-best 2.38 goals against average and was given the Player's Player award. Photo Credit: Justin Aller/Getty Images

Last year, the New Jersey Devils watched Johan Hedberg save their season, posting a career-best 2.38 goals-against average. He more than earned the $1.5 million (plus bonuses) he signed for last July. It was only logical that Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted the goalie back.

While the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement before July 1, Lamoriello didn’t let Hedberg stay on the market long. He re-signed “The Moose” to a one-year, $1.25 million contract. Getting a fan favorite back excited plenty fans. Bringing back a solid player with for less than he made last year made the signing even better. Lamoriello definitely earned himself some praise with this move.

At the beginning of last season, I laid out my expectations for Hedberg. I expected him to be a solid backup, and pegged him as a streaky goalie. Martin Brodeur just came off a season where he played 77 games and returned to Vezina form. I figured Hedberg would start between 12-15 games, so he wouldn’t be too important. But, of course, things didn’t play out that way. Brodeur fought through injuries and inconsistent play, limiting him to just 56 games played. Desperately needing some solid goaltending, the Devils leaned on Hedberg. The Moose wouldn’t disappoint.

Hedberg became one of two Devils to actually play solid hockey until John MacLean. He kept the team in the game, stringing together quality starts. He once allowed his goals-against average to climb north of 3.00, and that month Brodeur came back from injury. When Jacques Lemaire took over, he played even better. Hedberg reeled off 7 straight wins during February, recording a 1.43 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. Fans serenaded him with chants of “Moose” during home games, and antler hats started popping up around the arena.

The good times wouldn’t last, as Brodeur eventually won back his spot. The appreciation shown by both fans and teammates wouldn’t end with him moving back to the bench. In addition to the praise of Devils’ fans, Hedberg’s teammates gave him the Player’s Player award. Everyone in the organization appreciated his contribution, and he rewarded them with a stellar season.

Hedberg once again made a personal sacrifice to join the Devils. Last year, he left his wife and daughter in Atlanta to play in New Jersey. He admitted he didn’t like it, and I’m surprised he chose the Devils again. When a player is willing to give up living near his immediate family to play for your team, it speaks volumes to the respect he must have for New Jersey. Even without a coach, he made the sacrifice to return to the team.

Just like last season, this is a low-risk signing. I don’t want to speculate on games played, because only Brodeur knows how much he’ll play next season. He proved a more than capable backup, and could form a solid goalie tandem if the new coach decides to use one.

It’ll be another year of Moose calls at the Rock. For fans and players, it’ll be another year to enjoy a quality teammate and positive locker room presence.

An Evaluation of the Andy Greene Signing

Greene, who recently signed a four year, $12 million contract, will need to improve on his 21 points last season. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Free agency opened four days ago, and the New Jersey Devils have yet to sign someone new.

Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello opted to retain his own players, re-signing both Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg. He managed to re-sign Hedberg for just $1.25 million, a $250,000 reduction from his base salary last season. Greene, however, cashed in big time.

Lamoriello signed Greene to a four year, $12 million deal Friday. He’ll carry a $3 million cap hit, which isn’t terrible considering the other ridiculous contracts handed out to similar players. But he officially took one-fourth of this season’s remaining cap space. Is $3 million a stretch? While it’s not perfect, it’s a contract that the Devils can support – and possibly trade.

Greene had a terrible contract season last year, recording a minus-24 through the first three months of the season. When Jacques Lemaire took over, he turned around tremendously, playing to a plus-1 for the remainder of the season. We all know that plus/minus is a flawed statistic, so that point alone can’t determine the validity of the huge pay increase.

The Devils leaned on Greene last season, putting him in their top three defenseman. His 22:21 of ice time ranked third, with 1:16 TOI on the powerplay and 2:19 TOI on the penalty kill. He turned in decent numbers during special teams play, but his even strength numbers were terrible. He carried a minus-.83 rating, becoming the only defenseman to carry a negative rating. New Jersey averaged just 1.61 goals for per 60 and a 2.66 Corsi rating. Both those numbers jumped with him off the ice, a clear indictment of his play.

There’s no doubt that Greene could be an effective second or third pairing defenseman. But there’s no shot he’ll ever be the team’s best offensive defenseman. He recorded a career-high 37 points two seasons ago. That’s it. He plays in an offensively-depressed system, but that excuse can only stretch so far. Maybe his numbers dropped because of the Devils’ terrible first half, but that’s yet another excuse. If he’s making $3 million to be an offensive defenseman, then he needs to produce.

However, it’s not the worst deal Lamoriello ever made. Greene is overpaid, no doubt about it. But look at some of the other crazy contracts handed out. James Wishniewski will make $5.5 million despite having no long-term, proven success. Christian Erhoff will make $4 million in a ten-year deal with the Sabres. Hell, even Steve Montador will average $2.75 million, and he’s not a great puck-moving, offensive defenseman. When you look at those ridiculous deals (both in cap hit and length), the signing doesn’t seem terrible.

In the next three to four years, the Devils defense will undergo a dramatic change. Both Mark Fayne and Matt Taormina will fight for roster spots next season. Rookies Alexander Urbom and (maybe) Adam Larsson will push veterans. Colin White and Bryce Salvador, two defensive stalwarts, may play their last season in a Devils uniform. Greene will quickly become the veteran among a greener blue line. That leadership could prove invaluable.

If all else fails, Greene’s contract will be attractive trade bait. Apparently, his agent fielded calls from “Stanley Cup contenders” during the opening of free agency.  If Lamoriello needed to trade him, his $3 million cap hit wouldn’t be detrimental.

Greene isn’t an earth-shattering signing, and hopefully will improve. If he slides back down the depth chart, his stats will improve. But Greene will never be the best offensive defenseman on this team. He needs to, once again, become a solid producer in the lineup.

The Moose Returns: Devils Re-Sign Hedberg

July 1, 2011 1 comment

Hedberg recorded a career-best 2.38 goals-against average last season. He returns to New Jersey on another one-year deal. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

“The Moose” is back.

The New Jersey Devils re-signed unrestricted goalie Johan Hedberg to a one-year contract. Lamoriello wanted to re-sign Hedberg, and began talks last week with his agent. They couldn’t reach a deal before the noon deadline, and Hedberg hit the open market. Several teams were interested, but Hedberg wanted to stay with New Jersey.

“There was interest, which is great,” Hedberg told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “It’s flattering, but with everything accounted for, I felt good about coming back here. That was my first choice and when everything worked out and it felt like we were able to find some good ground I felt good about coming back.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Hedberg apparently took less money to return to New Jersey.

“We were discussing numbers,” Hedberg told Gulitti. “It’s so hard. This is a tough day. There’s so much to take into consideration. Money isn’t everything for me. I just want to feel that I’m getting fairly treated. When I felt that was the case, I was happy to sign. Like I said, that was my No. 1 choice and when we could agree on something that made sense to me I really wanted to do it.”

Hedberg, who turned 38 on May 5, went 15-12-2 last season. He recorded a career-best 2.38 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts. He made $1.5 million (plus bonuses) last season.

Although he didn’t like being away from his family, Hedberg will once again leave his wife and daughter to return to New Jersey.

“That was one of the things too that I had to take into consideration if it could be what I could justify to myself to do,” Hedberg told Gulitti. “But I think it’s going to work out for the best. I still want to play. I still feel like I can contribute and I still feel I’ve got some good years ahead of me, so I don’t want to just not do anything. We’re going to do it liek thsi for now and we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, it will be good.”

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