Have the Devils Improved Enough to Make the Playoffs?

By Steve Palumbo

Many including myself expected the New Jersey Devils to focus primarily on building a more competitive hockey team during their first extended vacation since 1996. Instead the Devils have done very little to improve upon a team that lacked enough offensive pop to burst a child’s balloon.

Entering last season Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise were expected to be a dynamic one two punch. A high scoring tandem that could help propel the Devils to the teams fourth Stanley Cup championship. However a lack of early season chemistry, poor coaching and a rash of injuries that included Parise, derailed the season before it had a chance to begin. Kovalchuk became the primary offensive threat in the absence of the banged up Parise and he like the rest of the club faltered.

That was then and this is now…

This summer was thought to be the of the most important in President and GM Lou Lamoriello’s career because the team was filled with more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. So far he’s done a Yeoman’s job keeping certain parts in place by resigning restricted free agent Parise, (albeit for only one year), plus unrestricted free agents Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg.

Beyond that there hasn’t been enough upgrading done to an offense that finished 30th in the league with an average of 2.08 goals per game. I commend Lou on resigning his own players but he failed to address any of the teams other needs. If not for a healthy Parise and a motivated Kovalchuk, Devils’ fans would not have a whole lot to cheer about.

Most can agree the Devils first round pick, Adam Larsson is an exciting new addition to the club but will he have enough of an impact right away? It’s alomost a forgone conclusion that Larsson, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft will make the opening day roster. But will he be enough to upgrade a mediocre defense and is he the offesive defenseman the club lacked last season?

It’s possible the biggest defensive upgrade won’t be Larsson or re-signing Greene. It may in fact be the return of a healthy Bryce Salvador. To a man the Devils mentioned the loss of Salvador and his leadership as a huge factor in the teams struggles last year. A healthy Salvador would be a huge step in the right direction for the Devils defensively.

The only area New Jersey actually went out tried to improve was team toughness. They brought back former fan favorite Cam Janssen and signed free agent Eric Boulton. Both guys are known more for their fists than anything else. Hardly the personnel additions fans were clamoring for. Although since Scott Stevens retired and ex-Devil Colin White injured his eye, the team has been a bit soft. Additional grit will be nice for a change.

Besides the offense, a major question mark is how well Martin Brodeur will respond to the worst statistical season of his career. The 39 year old Brodeur (23-26-3, 2.45 GAA, .903 SV %) was a major factor in the Devils struggles last season. The usual solid netminder was uncharacteristically mediocre last season and his poor play led to several embarrassing losses for himself and his teammates. I expect Brodeur to play exceptionally well this year and his play alone will have a hug impact of his team and the standings. This may be his final season and he desperately wants another Stanley Cup ring. Expect him to play like it.

Just in case Brodeur falters again the Devils have an insurance policy. They re-uped back-up goaltender Johan Hedberg for another year. The 38 year old Hedberg (15-12-2, 2.38 GAA. .912 SV %) was the lone bright spot for New Jersey last year as his steady play, in place of the struggling Brodeur, helped the Devils get back into contention in the second half of the year.

The John Maclean nightmare will be fresh on people’s minds when new head coach Pete DeBoer steps behind the bench for his first game at the helm. It will be up to DeBoer to implement a system that will compliment the type of talent on the squad Lamoriello has assembled. Maclean lost the team early on, don’t expect the same from “Pistol” Pete. I really like what DeBoer will brings to the table. During Deboer’s three years with the Florida Panthers he compiled a record of 103-107-36. Florida always seemed to be on the cusp of breaking out but didn’t quite have the personnel to make it happen. If he can duplicate any of the success he had in the Sunshine State, the Devils could challenge for a playoff birth.

Don’t get too excited….I said “could” challenge for a play birth.

It’s obvious management believes they have enough talent within the organization to improve the pathetically anemic offense. The problem is they are wrong.The reality is unless one of more of the young guns that include Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson or Adam Henrique has a tremendous season the Devils may actually be in worse shape this season. I do not in any way want to discredit the talent this teams has. I’m thrilled with the direction of the team, but too much is expected of unproven players, too soon.

Despite the active summer I don’t think the Devils have done enough. They lack the necessary firepower to compete in the East. At this point never mind making the top 8, They’ll be lucky to get into the top 10. I don’t think Lou is done. He still needs to add another proven defender and a top line center, especially in the wake of Travis Zajac’s Achilles injury.

If not, New Jersey may be looking at consecutive seasons without a post season trip.

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