Defense was once the pride of the New Jersey Devils. Nowadays it it looks more like the teams Achilles heel. Even though they finished tied for sixth in the NHL with just 209 goals surrendered, this past season a series of injuries and poor play led to a revolving door of blueliners manning the ice in the Devils own zone. In fact the Devils used a total of 12 different defenseman throughout the course of the 2010-11 season. If New Jersey is to get back into the playoffs the defense must resemble that of an NHL team and less like the rag tag group that suited up this past season.
Here is my recap of the Devils Swiss cheese defense.
The Devils signed free agent Henrik Tallinder last off season on the heels of Paul Martin’s departure. The 32 year old Swedish defenseman struggled early with his new team. On January 8th he had a team worst -26 plus/minus. However from that point on he improved his game with the rest of the team going and astonishing +20 over his final 41 games. Tallinder is not a franchise defensman but he does have good size and mobility and used in the right situations can be an excellent part of New Jersey defensive core.
Andy Greene, a soon to be unrestricted free agent, took a step back from a solid 2009-2010 season. His inconsistent play from the point leaves alot to be desired from a guy eating up 22 minutes of ice per game. However he does have an upside and still may yet be an inexpensive offensively talented defensman.
A knee surgery cut Anssi Salmela’s season short. The Finnish defender played in just 48 games. Despite his obvious offensive skill he managed a mere 7 points (1g 6a) and a minus-11 rating in those games. He has a strong showing during Finland’s goal medal run at the 2011 IIHF World Championships and may have earned himself another shot at a full -time gig with the Devils.
Mark Fraser is more or less an emergency defenseman who has looked respectable in his 94 career NHL games dating back to the 2006-07 season. His limited role has helped keep the Devils line-up full and even though he had a career high in ice time this past season (13:59 per game). It’s reasonable to think that Fraser will continue in that same role next season but may become expendable if a better option emerges.
A late first-round pick in 2006, Matt Corrente has yet to show he belongs in the NHL on a regular basis. He missed quite a bit of time last season with a broken hand and separated shoulder. The jury is still out on whether the 23 year old will be able to earn a spot on the Devils roster permanently.
The early season ankle injury suffered by Matt Taormina put a quick halt to what could have been the first real chance for him to prove himself at the NHL level. The Devils are hoping Taormina can develop into that real puck-moving defenseman they missed all of last year. Since the departure of Martin the Devils lack a defensive quarterback on the power-play. If would save New Jersey precious pay roll if Taormina could develop into that role. It may be a bit too much to expect a 24 year old to carry that kind of responsibility and New Jersey may still need to go out and get one via trade or free-agency.
Having missed all of 2010-2011 with post concussion syndrome, Bryce Salvador’s career is in serious doubt. It was obvious the team lacked his leadership in the locker room. In an interview earlier in the off season, Devils star Zach Parise mentioned Salvador as a candidate to be the teams captain. That speak volumes to what he means to the other members of the team. With that said his age and a full year off may not bode well for the cash strapped Devils. It would be a relief to the Devils’ cap situation if Salvador wasn’t healthy enough to play again this up coming season.
When the Devils inked Anton Volchenkov to a six-year, $25.5-million contract they had visions of bone crushing hits and ice clogging blocked shots. Instead what they got was 57 games of mediocrity. His games played total was his lowest since his rookie year in 2002-03 and and his shot-blocking numbers dropped to below 2 per game. But if Volchenkov can stay healthy and regain the form the Devils had hoped they were getting then this year will be forgotten.
It’s hard to believe Colin White is just 33-years old. He reminds of Ken Daneyko at the end of his career, slow but steady in his own end. White was drafted by the Devils in 1996 and has been a mainstay at the blue-line since 2000-01, but his game is rapidly on the decline. Despite his loss of skill he remains a solid defender that plays well positionally and will still be a core member of the defense next season. Entering the final year of his contract, 2011-12 will be White’s swan song season with the club, let’s hope he goes out with a bang. .
Because of the injury bug wouldn’t leave New Jersey alone. Mark Fayne got his first taste of NHL action. The 23-year-old played well, in his 57 games he racked up 14 points (4g 10a) with an outstanding +10 rating. He played so well that he may have earned himself a spot of the team next season but his ice time would still be closely monitored and he would probably not be on the ice against the opponents top lines.
Alexander Urbom played eight games with the Devils last season and was impressive in limited action. The 6’3 Swede is regarded and a shut-down defenseman with some offensive potential. His size and skill give him a good shot at cracking the line-up in the upcoming season.
While the Devils d have a serviceable group of defenseman they man still look acquire a proven NHLer via free agency or trade. It’s hard to get a read on what GM Lou Lamoriello will do these days but what ever he ends up doing I can guarantee that it won’t be something any of us saw coming.
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