It wasn’t very long ago when the Devils played for the Stanley Cup. But the way the Devils have been since the 2012 lockout has been a 180-degree change. Last season the Devils weren’t a very good team despite missing the playoffs by five points. They were one of the worse teams in the league in regards to offense, scoring 2.40 goals per game. Even if they bumped their average by .25, they would have been somewhere in the middle.
Scoring (or lack there of) is what prevented the Devils from being a playoff team. Sure, they lost a big chunk of their scoring from 2012-13 when Ilya Kovalchuk suddenly retired. They tried to depend on Jaromir Jagr to lead the offense, but there’s only so much a 41-year-old can do. He was one of two players (the other one being Adam Henrique) to score over 20 goals last season.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello made adding offensive pieces his top priority, in which he added Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat. Cammalleri is expected to join Jagr and Travis Zajac on the top line, while the second scoring line will consist of Patrik Elias in the middle flanked by Havlat and Ryane Clowe.
One of the head-scratching statistics from last season was they were the worse team in the NHL when it came to winning percentage when trailing first. When the other team scored first against the Devils, the Devils were 5-23-10. The Devils had a had enough time scoring period, let alone when they needed goals when trailing. One bright spot the offensive unit had last season was on the power play. Their 19.5 power play success rate actually put them in the top 10. They should be able to improve on that mark with Cammaleri’s addition. His six goals and 14 points on the power play was second-best for Calgary last season.
The bright spot the Devils had last season was defense. They possessed the best penalty kill in the league with an 86.4 percent success rate. They also tied for sixth in the league with nine shorthanded goals. In terms of personnel, they lost Anton Volchenkov and Mark Frayne, who combined for 19 points last season. Their replacements will be from within, and it could be players such as Adam Larsson, Damon Severson, or Peter Harrold. They return their top defensemen in Andy Greene, Marek Zidicky, and Bryce Salvador. Zidicky and Eric Gelinas will head the top power play unit from the blue line.
For the first time in his seven-year career, Cory Schneider will enter the season as the No. 1 goalie. He’s spent his career backing up Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and came to New Jersey last season to backup Martin Brodeur. The biggest challenge he will have is that he has to be himself in goal and not try to live up to the bar that Brodeur set. With Brodeur is out of the picture, now is the chance for Schneider to step up and prove he’s worth the seven-year, $42 million contract he signed in July. He’s expected to carry a load of the work with Scott Clemmensen behind him.
There are only two certain things with the Devils this season. One is there is no longer a goaltending controversy and that Schneider will be the No. 1 goalie. The other certainty is Jagr having another productive season with 60+ points. As for the rest of the team? It can be a complete X-factor. Will the high number of players (seven) over age 34 help or hurt them? Can Damien Brunner improve in his second season? These factors could leave them as sellers and outside the playoff race come the trade deadline. There are more teams in the East who got better in their weak areas than the Devils did in their weak spots. They will fight to the end, but don’t expect them to make the playoffs.