The question is what is ailing the New Jersey Devils? Well, the answer is quite simple. They cannot score goals. However, the cure may not be so easy.
Essentially, the team has the same components as the one that got all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. They are also the same group that started this lockout shortened NHL season on fire.
Yet, they endured a six game losing streak at the end of February only to start another on March 25. The current one is seven and counting.
Sure the club has had injuries, losing goaltender Martin Brodeur and forward Dainius Zubrus for an extended period as well as Russian sharp-shooter Ilya Kovalchuk, but other teams have lost key players as well. The Ottawa Senators were hit hard on the injury front and kept going. It’s called depth and the Devils thought they had it.
Players go through slumps. Hockey is a streaky sport. You can be hot one week and colder than the ice the next. That too is part of the game, and it’s when your teammates are supposed to step up behind you.
The trouble with the Devils is that there isn’t anyone stepping up.
Two key elements from last year’s run are notably absent. Forward Petr Sykora, who was a major contributor, was not offered a contract and is playing in Europe. Of course, there was the much anticipated and talked about departure of former captain Zach Parise who went back to his native Minnesota.
However, Parise missed almost the entire 2010-11 campaign and the Devils’ goal production still wasn’t as bad as it is now. While that team had a painful beginning, they were one of the best in the league during the second half, but the hole they dug for themselves was just too deep. They made their comeback run without Parise.
One has to wonder if contracts are weighing on the minds of some. Three Devils are headed toward free agency this summer in Patrick Elias, Zubrus and David Clarkson. In the past, it has been General Manager Lou Lamoriello’s policy not to negotiate contracts during the season. He considers it a distraction.
Yet, sometimes not discussing them is a bigger one. Case in point last year’s situation with Parise. While Lamoriello’s policy may or may not have led to the winger’s defection, it definitely took away from his time in the Garden State. Last season was like a never-ending rendition of the Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go? whenever Parise addressed the media.
Not negotiating puts players in no man’s land with an uncertain future, and some are better able to handle that then others.
Whereas the big, long-term contracts like Kovalchuk and to a lesser degree, Travis Zajac may also put undue pressure on players to perform causing the opposite to happen.
Either way, something is ailing the Devils and the time for the cure is now because it is almost too late. So, who has the antidote?