It is no surprise to say that Bryce Salvador had some serious regression in 2013. He probably had his worst season as a New Jersey Devil. So, which Salvador is the real deal, the one who helped anchor a defense who went to the Stanley Cup Finals, or the one who seemed lost with the rest of his defense last season. He went from a no-doubt first-line defenseman to being screamed for to be a healthy scratch by fans.
There are two big differences between the last two seasons: one being that it was a lockout-shortened season, and the other being that Salvador spent his first season with the “C” on his sweater. It is said that some players just don’t play as well when they have the pressure of being captain. So, was that what was wrong with Salvador last season?
I don’t think that was the issue. There was a lot wrong with this defense in 2013. There seemed to be too many people, and what was looked at as an advantage ended up being the opposite. They went into the season with eight NHL-caliber defenseman. On top of Salvador, they had rookie phenom Adam Larson, great offensive defenseman Marek Zidlicki, a big hitter in Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene who developed into their best defenseman, former first liner Henrik Tallinder and also Mark Fayne and Peter Harrold. It seemed as if everyone underperformed outside of Greene. There always had to be a veteran who had to be a healthy scratch. The chemistry between the group was nothing like their Cup run. You cannot put this team’s defensive woes on one guy, even if he is the captain.
Salvador will bounce back as much as a 37-year-old can. He is going to be fully healed from his wrist injury and he will have a full season to work with his line mates. They traded Tallinder for peanuts just to fix the situation of an overloaded defense. Johan Hedberg put a lot of pressure on his defense with his poor play, and he has been replaced by Corey Schneider. If Salvador is bad again, then the Devils have to make a hard decision. The excuses are gone and the fact would be that their captain has lost a significant step.
With standout prospects like Jon Merrill and Alexander Urbom sitting in the minors waiting for their shot to shine, the Devils need their defense to play well. The veterans on this unit need to stop showing their age and start showing their experience. It all starts with the captain. He will do better. He has two more years with this team. This season will live and die with how the defense plays. With everything that was in their way last season now non-existent, expect this unit to step up in a big way. Again, it all starts with the captain.