Are the New Jersey Devils a Playoff Team in 2012-13?

The New Jersey Devils are one of the most interesting teams to make predictions about for 2012-13.  They lost their captain and one of their best scorers to free agency this offseason, but return most of the roster that pushed through the NHL playoffs and won an Eastern Conference Championship against all odds.  Their legendary goaltender is another year older, their offense is weaker, their defense is still extremely mediocre, but the Devils still look like a playoff team to me.

The Devils have only missed the playoffs once since their first Stanley Cup Championship in 1995, and save for an epic mistake in coaching personnel, the Devils have been one of the most consistently-successful franchises in hockey.  It’s hard to see a Devils team that returns a legitimate coach, one of the best scorers in hockey, and the winningest goaltender in league history missing the playoffs.

Beyond the high expectations that the Devils cultivate as a franchise, they’re also coming off one of their best seasons of the last decade.  During their impressive run through the playoffs, the Devils eliminated two division rivals – the heavily favored New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.  Nearly every player from that magical run is back in black and red.

The loss of Zach Parise is certainly a crushing blow to the Devils’ 2013 Stanley Cup hopes, but the team is balanced enough to live without him.  Adam Henrique is poised for another excellent season, Ilya Kovalchuk is still one of the best scorers in hockey, and Patrik Elias still produces in the top-six.  Travis Zajac should be able to replace most of Zach Parise’s 60+ points if he remains healthy for the whole season.  While the Devils had both Zajac and Parise for their playoff run last season, they were without Zajac for the entire regular season.  Returning their top centerman will be a boost to one of the league’s worst faceoff teams, in addition to the obvious offensive value a player like Zajac has.

The question is not about scoring for the Devils, who tallied 228 goals last season.  Instead, the Devils will need to be more consistent defensively to make the playoffs.  Martin Brodeur is another year older, the defense is mediocre-at-best, and the scoring is only enough to win games if the Devils play sound hockey on the defensive end.  I’m not worried about the Devils replacing Parise, but I do wonder if they can continue to hang Brodeur out to dry as frequently as they did last year.  The rest of the Eastern Conference improved, and the Devils will not be able to coast to the postseason this year.  Still, they have the talent and pedigree to contend in the playoffs.

Ultimately, the New Jersey Devils are still a playoff team.  This is a franchise that has cultivated a winning atmosphere and returns a championship roster.  Additionally, they have the personnel to replace top-line deficiencies from within.  Having Zajac for a full season while young players step up will carry the Devils to the playoffs.  Ultimately, the Devils look like the fourth-best team in the Atlantic Division, which should be good enough for a lower seed in the 2013 postseason.

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  • Kase

    What I think needs to be looked at is who exactly got that much better in the East that didn’t make the playoffs last year, because really the only way Devils don’t make it is if someone else takes that spot.

    To me, Montreal is still a mess (No matter what EA says with their outrageous rankings of the Habs), the Islanders will continue to putter even if they slowly get better until eventually they collapse. Did Toronto get any better? Their goaltending is still extremely suspect. Winnipeg added some nice minor pieces, but nothing I deem enough to jump the Devils. Buffalo didn’t add much (as they remain in the Doan hunt).

    Now I think something can be said for the rest of the teams that didn’t make it.

    Tampa actually has a chance to improve their goaltending from last year as Lindback has the chance to get from behind Rinne’s shadow. Matt Carle was also a nice addition. Overall they have the best chance to move up.

    Carolina added Semin which is a big pick up…if he plays to potential. Cam Ward needs a healthy year for them to have a chance however. He turns 29 during the season so he is right around his prime.

    Now how about the teams right behind them? Is Washington any better? Didn’t they just lose the aforementioned Semin? Although they replaced him with Ribeiro in some matter, is that a 10 point swing in standings? Did Ottawa improve at all? Again….10 pt swing?

    Yes, the Devils lost Parise which could prove to be near fatal. But I am holding out hope that a DeBoer coached team will be better in a “Us vs. the World” mentality.

    The Devils have a bunch of “what ifs” that they must check off to have a chance to stay ahead of those teams.
    1) Can the Devils improve their defense being far more gelled? Will this cause fewer blown leads as they had last year? (I think yes…but we won’t have as many leads to blow…)
    2) Can Henrique avoid a sophomore slump? (I think yes…but doesn’t improve dramatically from last season still hitting around 55pts)
    3) Can new blood like Bobby Butler (and I’ll throw in Tedenby as he has yet to prove to be a ‘real’ Devil yet) make an impact? (I think Bobby Butler will put up a nice season overall hitting around 38 pts…Tedenby not so much as I think he finally becomes the bust he had hinted out before).
    4) What happens if one of these aging goalies wears down and gets hurt?
    5) How much will this playoff tested (and passing) 4th line improve the team overall compared to the DREADFUL 4th line of last year that featured the likes of Boulton and Janssen? Will Kovy see 2 minutes less a game? Will that help keep him from burning out? (A big…YES)
    6) But the biggest one of all as I think it is a very overlooked piece of the puzzle…who fills the void of Parise’s leadership (Salvador…not Kovy)

    Now all we need is a season to test these theories…

    • markdonatiello

      Extremely well said. DOn’t forget the Canes adding a bunch of pieces as well. If Buffalo contends, Lightning do better now that they have a goalie, Habs recover from a surprisingly miserable season, and teams like the Sens and Panthers have the same success they did last year – this will be a dog fight. Also, the Leafs can still work something out for a guy like Luongo. Who knows. You’re exactly right – so many what ifs.

      I think Kovy needs to take over this team liek he did in the second half of the non-playoff season. The combo of Kovy, Zajac, Sal, Elias, Brodeur, etc… will fill in for Parise’s leadership qualities… what they cannot do is grind and forecheck with effort like Zach did. That might be the hardest part of all this.

      Thanks for your comment. A nice read.