There’s plenty of blame to go around for the miserable 2013 season the New Jersey Devils put together.
You can start with the coach that failed to hold it together when injuries to Martin Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk sent the Devils into a spiral. Continue to the GM that failed to bring in new talent, both before the season began and as Kovalchuk went down as the trade deadline approached. Bad luck and untimely slumps certainly factored into the mix as well, but the Devils’ failures stem in large part from the loss of Zach Parise last offseason.
It’s not that Zach Parise’s production wasn’t easy enough to replace — it’s more that the Devils didn’t try. Parise’s offensive contributions were fairly pedestrian, particularly in comparison to his new salary after free agency. He’s not the type of player to carry a team, but he certainly has a role. The Devils failed to bring in another top-six forward, and as a result the offense became entirely dependent on Ilya Kovalchuk’s play-making ability, particularly on the power play. Kovalchuk went down, and the Devils collapsed.
In addition to Parise’s scoring going entirely unreplaced, his forecheck pressure was sorely missed in Peter DeBoer‘s system. New Jersey used one of the most athletic goaltenders of all time to consistently make up for the constant pressure they tried to apply. Brodeur carried a bad defensive group, and the forecheck flourished with Parise leading the top-line. Without Parise, New Jersey wasn’t athletic enough to utilize such an aggressive system. The defense broke down with regularity, and their goaltending suffered at times as a result. Without the scoring chances that came from an effective forecheck, the offense broke down as well.
Parise’s leadership may have been missed towards the end of the season. During a 10-game losing skid with the playoffs on the line, the team lacked direction. A fourth-line group of grinders comprised the only consistent line the Devils had as the team fell apart.
Going forward, New Jersey needs to find a top-six scorer of above-average talent to move on from Zach Parise’s decision to leave the team — and that does not mean re-signing David Clarkson. An athletic forward that can skate would be a perfect fit to round out their top two lines up front. Assuming Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac bounce back, the Devils have a decent group of forwards.
Of course, that also assumes they’re able to bring back Patrik Elias.