Projected Lines for the 2013-14 New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils: Projected Lines 2013-14
The New Jersey Devils may be the team going through the largest transition in the NHL. Their star player Ilya Kovalchuk retired with $77 million left on his contract to go play in his home country for the KHL. David Clarkson took his talents north and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They brought in someone who can take the load off of Martin Brodeur for the first time in his career (unless you count Kevin Weekes, which I don't). Lou Lamoriello had one of the busiest offseasons in the NHL.
When Kovalchuk left, Lamoriello responded by signing the 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal not two weeks afterwards. They replaced Clarkson with a guy who scores in the same exact fashion with Ryane Clowe. They came away with one of the best deals of the offseason when Michael Ryder became a Devil for two years and $7 million. They re-signed their franchise forward Patrick Elias to a deal that almost assures he will be wearing the Red and Black from start to finish of his career. They re-signed his buddy Dainius Zubrus to a three-year deal. They gave a one-year deal to bring back their big shot from the point in Marek Zidlicky.
With all the moves that were made and all the doom and gloom that has been proclaimed on this team, they actually have a solid four line squad. They made a ton of changes, and that will affect the lines they put out. This is one team that it isn't bad to be on the bottom six. Depending on the game, you could play just as much as the first line. With that being said, there are certain pairings that need to be settled. Which four lines make the most sense for the New Jersey Devils moving forward?
Adam Henrique - Travis Zajac - Michael Ryder
Ryder came into the Devils thinking he was going to be a secondary scorer, but his role changed with one decision. He has shown that he has the ability to be a top level scorer with three 30-goal seasons. He played more of a grit game in Boston for years, which is why I believe he will be a perfect fit for this Devils team. Pairing him on the top line with two players who can also make their own scoring chance will only help the transition for Ryder. If Zajac can stay healthy he is the perfect player to get the most out of him. Henrique is also coming off a season that can only be described as disappointing. He never seemed to get his legs under him after hurting his wrist before the season started. 11 goals and five assists are not the numbers you expect from the Calder Trophy finalist from the year prior. Expect the kid to really bounce back with a full training camp and being back on a top line with the most skilled players the Devils have to offer. This line will be the best at making goals happen when they need it the most. If all three stay on the ice for the entire season, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with.
Patrick Elias - Dainius Zubrus - Jaromir Jagr
This looks like the old guy line on paper. You can let the jokes fly while these "old men" put the puck in the net. Between the three they have 1,264 goals in their respective careers. This line will know how to get this offense going. They may have lost a step, but their veteran prowess and the chemistry they will ultimately obtain will be something you don't see on most teams. Jagr is coming off a season in which he helped the Bruins go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. He was a great addition for them down the stretch. Elias had another solid season even though the Devils offense was non-existent. He put up 36 points in 48 games and seemed to be the only Devils star who didn't miss any time in the shortened season. He has quietly put up a very good career and has shown no signs of slowing down. Zubrus is not going to score the most points, but he has shown chemistry with Elias. He is one of the strongest Devils in the faceoff circle and will be able to get the puck to his skilled wingers. Zubrus may not be here all year, but I think game one this is what the line will look like.
Ryane Clowe - Andrei Loktionov - Rostislav Olesz
It looks crazy that the Devils would give Clowe nearly $5 million per year just to be a third line player, but this is where he best fits. The three of these players will complement each other perfectly. Olesz was a low risk investment the Devils made based on what coach Peter DeBoer saw from him when they were both in Florida. He isn't the best shooter, but he can get the puck to the net. What we saw last season from Loktionov is he knows how to put a rebound in the net. He lost a lot with Kovalchuk's departure, but he will see that life goes on. He is going to put up better numbers with the opportunities he will get playing with Olesz. The big question mark for this line -- and maybe the entire Devils team -- is how Clowe will play. If Clowe can play like he did when he was with the Sharks, then he will be a good signing for this team and a perfect replacement for a departing Clarkson. He knows where to be at all times in the offensive zone. Hopefully he can bounce back from the awful season he put up in 2012-13. If he does, this could be a scary line for a team with a lot of question marks.
Stephen Gionta - Ryan Carter - Steve Bernier
Ever hear of the saying don't mess with a good thing? When you have a fourth line that can change the pace and get the rest of the team going, you do not mess with that. I know it is tempting to move Steve Bernier up to add to his production, but the positives don't outweigh the negatives. The way that line played during the Devils' Stanley Cup Final run two seasons ago should be enough to keep these players together. They all forecheck beautifully and they seem to know where the others are when making a move. They are a scrappy type of line that can drop the gloves when they absolutely have to. They can do all the things that you can't read in a stat book. With most teams throwing out fourth lines of players who barely see the ice, the Devils put out a line that is just as formidable as the other lines. Instead of veteran players who are barely hanging onto their careers, they are putting out three players that are playing in their primes. This may be the Devil's best asset -- the fact that their fourth line can match up with anyone. Expect the same out of the CBGB line. They may be playing for their first big contracts, which will just be an extra motivation for these players.
The Players Who Won't Make It
The most glaring omission from the lines is Jacob Josefson. He re-signed a one-way deal that guaranteed him his salary whether he was with New Jersey or Albany. Not to take a term from baseball, but he seems to be what they call a "quadruple A player". That means that he is too good to play in the minors but not good enough to play in the NHL. He has six goals in 91games. He will be the Devils' first player they call upon in the event of an injury. Mattias Tedenby is another player this team is giving one more chance. He also got a one-way contract, but I still don't think they expect much from the 23-year-old winger. The 2008 first round pick had a decent 2010-11 season but has been on the decline ever since. Krys Barch, the tough guy winger they signed last season, just does not seem to play well on this team. He only gets into the lineup when they need a goon. Don't expect to see a lot of him during the season. Stefan Matteau was a surprise when he made the team coming out of the lockout. He spent 17 games with the NHL club and the rest of the season in Juniors. The incident with the Junior team is well documented and it showed that Matteau has some maturity issues he needs to fix. He will most likely spend the majority of the season on Albany trying to hone his craft. Reid Boucher is one prospect that the Devils' fans have been excited about after his record setting season. He will have to show brass that he can do what he did in Juniors in the AHL before he gets a shot at the big club. We may see him at some point during the season, just not at the beginning.
This may not be a Devils lineup that jumps out at you with its star power, but this team has never been known for that. They have won before on depth of their team and a defensive game, which is something they seem to have that this season. Expect this team to bounce back, as they made some underrated moves this offseason. With the additions of Washington, Carolina and Columbus on top of what they faced in the Atlantic, this will be an uphill climb for this team. They have the talent to figure it out and a full training camp to put it all together. They may not score at will, but they will still win plenty of games with the lineup they put out there.
Nick Villano is a New Jersey Devils writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @nick_villano