In the span of just one year the New Jersey Devils went from Eastern Conference champs to last place in the old Atlantic division. They struggled all season long with trying to replace the offensive void left by the departed Zach Parise. They only had four players reach double digits in goals and two of those players, David Clarkson (15) and Ilya Kovalchuk (11) will not be back this season.
The Devils and their new ownership look to continue their winning tradition and get back to the Stanley Cup Final this year. John Fischer from In Lou We Trust was kind enough to help us out with our look at the 2013-14 Devils./
The Devils missed the playoffs last year after making it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. It couldn't have all been because of losing Zach Parise, was it?
No. The main problem with the New Jersey Devils last season is that they did a lot right at even strength in a lot of games and everything else just went awry. They out-shot, out-attempted, out-possessed, and out-played opponents ranging from great to abysmal in possession throughout the season. Yet, they didn't get good goaltending as the only thing close to league average from either goalie was Martin Brodeur's even strength save percentage. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the league; just ahead of San Jose and Ottawa. Only those two teams shot the puck a lot to make up for their low percentages, the Devils did not relative to the rest of the league. Their special teams were a nightmare early on. The top penalty kill from last season wasn't nearly as successful as the team repeatedly had to be taught not to leave opposing forwards open in front of the net. The power play from last season shot the puck more but struggled in all other execution. Throw in a few injuries, unlucky shootout performances for the first time in years, and other bad breaks and it's clear while the Devils looked good and did good things repeatedly, that's why they didn't win so much. Zach Parise is a great player, but he alone could not have caused all of that to happen.
New Jersey lost David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuck this summer, how are they going to replace their production this year?
Great question! I don't really know. Those two led the way in shots on net and were leaned on quite a bit for offense. The Devils did go out and sign Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder, and Jaromir Jagr in the hopes that they can help out. Ryder and Jagr in particular have been good on the power play and they're good shooters. Clowe doesn't shoot a lot like Clarkson, but they play similar styles and Clowe can actually pass the puck. The hope is that if those three can be fairly productive and the rest of the team pulls together - read: hope that shooting percentage goes up to around 8%, which is about league average - then their voids will be filled. But if the percentages are still in the tank and these three don't shoot enough or get others to shoot enough, then it'll be more of the same from last year.
Lou Lamoriello brought in Ryan Clowe, Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr in the offseason. This tells me there must be some good young talent on their way to the NHL. Who are some of the future stars we will see in Newark in the years to come?
The Devils have plenty of good, young, defensive prospects. Alexander Urbom has been in Albany for years and has received tastes of the NHL in the past three seasons. He's a defensive defenseman and it may be now-or-never for him to make it to the next level. He's big yet poised in the back. Eric Gelinas is also a big man but he's actually not a physical player. His skillset is more in line with an offensive defenseman as he has a heavy shot and the instincts suited for the attack. Given that the Devils haven't developed a true offensive defenseman in years, that may give him an inside track in this year's camp. Jon Merrill is now a professional after a few years at Michigan. He's got a lot of tools to become a strong two-way defender; he just has to show that he can do it at the next level. Down in juniors, Damon Severson has been very good in the WHL and I would say he would be in Albany if it wasn't for the age rule on junior players. I think he'll be getting some looks in New Jersey in a few years.
At forward, there's not a lot to look forward to. While he may not be a standout player, Stefan Matteau at least looked like a NHL player at age 18 and there's reasonable hope that he can be a NHL player for years to come. Blake Pietila has done well at Michigan Tech but he shined at the WJCs as a checking center, which will be likely path he takes once he becomes a pro. Fans are real interested in Reid Boucher after he put up 62 goals with Sarnia last season. My understanding is that he's got a NHL shot but everything else about his game needs work. I think he'll need to keep growing in Albany, but I think the Devils organization are really interested to see what he can do in camp this year.
For the goalie position, there's one prospect to know: Scott Wedgewood. He got shelled a bit down in Trenton in the ECHL in his first pro season, but that Trenton team wasn't very good. With Jeff Frazee now playing abroad, a spot is open for him in Albany. If he can excel there, then he may have a future. However, goaltending prospects are hard to figure out so I wouldn't get my hopes up.
Seriously, how cool was it to fleece Mike Gillis for Cory Schneider?
At the draft, the reaction wasn't so much approval or disapproval. It was just surprise. After the initial shock of not using the first round pick fans thought would be used on a top forward prospect, more and more fans liked the decision. Brodeur isn't what he used to be, Johan Hedberg was bad, and the Devils turned a future asset into a current player who immediately helps the team. It was a good deal on draft day. It'll turn out to be a better one if Schneider plays as well as he did in Vancouver and the Devils can keep him long-term before his contract ends in 2015. I will say I did laugh when Gillis used the Devils' first on Bo Horvat. That was a reach at 9.
I know only time will tell, but how do Devils fans feel about their new owner?
Most fans like Josh Harris. It's not as if the Devils faithful hated Jeff Vanderbeek. He just didn't have the capital to keep running the team. Rather than have that hamper the team in free agency and so forth, selling to Harris and his group was the right thing to do. It helps that Harris has billions of dollars and already owns another team, so he knows what he's getting into. Lastly, Vanderbeek does hold a minority share so should Harris want input from a Devils fan, he can go speak to him directly. So far, it's quite nice not having to worry about money. At least, not until some scrub reporter starts claiming the sky is falling.
What was the overall reaction to Kovalchuk’s "retirement?"
WHAT???A mixture of anger, sadness, and mostly total surprise.
Now - I think most fans are either disappointed or moving on by disparaging his time in New Jersey. I don't agree that he was a bad fit (to anyone who says otherwise: 0.91 PPG - only 4 regulars had a higher rate in franchise history) or a bad apple or anything like that. I would agree that the decision helps the Devils in the long run, but I never expected something like this.
Be honest with me, how hard did you laugh when you saw the contact the Maple Leafs gave Clarkson?
Not that much. The Devils gave a deal to Ryane Clowe that was also bad.
Thanks again to John for helping us out with this preview. The Blackhawks will see the Devils at the United Center on 12/23 and again in Newark on 1/3.