Are the New Jersey Devils a Playoff Hockey Team in 2014?

Ed Mulholland – USA TODAY SPORTS

The New Jersey Devils were undeniably one of the streakiest teams in hockey over the last two years.  They got hot at the right moment in 2012 to cruise to a Stanley Cup appearance by outlasting three divisional rivals.  The Devils started 2013 riding that same wave of momentum and streaked to the top of the conference before two lengthy losing skids saw them slip from the playoff race.  As such, it’s hard to know what Devils team you’ll get, and more importantly, when you’ll get them.

Next season, New Jersey has a healthy roster, so their injury excuses for the five and ten-game losing streaks that ruined their lockout-shortened 2013 campaign are gone.  Provided they can stay healthy, two questions will determine the fate of New Jersey’s season: Does Martin Brodeur have anything left, and have the Devils built their roster around the right players?

The Devils clearly depend heavily on their legendary goaltender.  The 41-year-old holds most major records, and his play has yet to deteriorate due to age.  When Brodeur was injured, the Devils collapsed until he returned.  If the aging Brodeur can stay healthy and keep his level of play consistent, New Jersey will most likely resemble the team from the beginning of the year, not the free-falling mess that finished the season.

Ilya Kovalchuk‘s injury also proved that the Devils’ offense is run almost entirely through their star winger.  In the same way that Brodeur keeps the Devils in games defensively, Kovalchuk provides the lone dynamic threat in the Devils’ offense.  Without him, the top line had no offensive depth and the Devils stopped scoring goals.

If the Devils stay healthy, they’re a playoff team as evidenced by their phenomenal play with both Brodeur and Kovalchuk in the lineup.  Still, because just two injuries derailed an entire season, New Jersey clearly needs to add depth.  If Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac struggle again in 2013-14, the Devils could be in a great deal of trouble with a roster that is far too thin.  They need to make a splash this offseason, and they owe it to Brodeur to send him out with a competitive team around him.

Right now, the Devils are a two-man show, and that might not be enough to win in a parity-driven league.  Depth is everything in today’s league, and right now the Devils don’t have any.

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