RIVERSIDE, December 6, 2013 — The New Jersey Devils are slowly turning their season around after a horrible start and, while they have not completely righted the ship, they are playing well enough to win, even the games they end up losing. The high profile goaltending tandem of Corey Schneider and Martin Brodeur has given the Devils solid play and kept them in most games.
The Devils have historically relied on responsible defensive play and elite goaltending for their successes. Conversely, New Jersey has struggled to score goals, even while winning championships. While their woeful start led many to write the Devils off earlier this season, it was indicative more of a moving rebuild than a complete dismantling.
If a team consistently drafts poorly and fails to make shrewd free agent moves, it must eventually blow itself up and rebuild. The elite teams rebuild on the fly, drafting the right players and giving them time to mature before working them into their NHL line up. The Devils, while clearly waiting too long to address their offensive deficiencies, have continued to scout and draft the same types of players they always have.
Within two seasons, the Devils lost top scorers Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jaimie Langenbrunner, and David Clarkson. These sudden departures left a hole at the top of the lineup, forcing general manager Lou Lamoriello to overpay free agents whose best years were behind them. This off season, Lamoriello shrewdly signed veteran Jaromir Jagr to a relatively cheap, one year deal. So far, Jagr has been the backbone of the team’s offense this season, while reinvigorating some of his older teammates.
After Jagr, the offense drops off precipitously. The Devils third and fourth leading scorers are defensemen. Adam Henrique, who most believe will eventually be an elite player, is having a challenging year after signing a fat, long term deal and free agent Damien Brunner, who Lamoriello signed in training camp, has been a complete disaster lately, watching more games than he is playing. Brunner is a deft, skilled player and there is still potential for him to contribute to the team. If sitting out can motivate Brunner, he could be a difference maker in the second half of the season.
Head coach Pete DeBoer is handling the team as well as he can, given that he is also breaking in a relatively inexperienced staff. The Devils recently called up top prospect Reid Boucher for his NHL debut, and he played well, including scoring a shootout goal. Boucher alone is not the answer to the Devils goal scoring problems, but he is an important piece moving forward. Other prospects waiting for their chance to contribute are Mattias Tedenby, who has been inexplicably residing in DeBoer’s dog house, Jacob Josefson and Andrei Loktionov. Rookie defensemen Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill have impressed as well, showing that the club’s patience with them has paid off.
With Schneider and Broduer playing so well in goal, the Devils should have a chance to win most nights, if they can hold their opposition to less than three goals. The offense will come around, especially if Boucher’s offensive skills translate to the NHL level, and the flashy Tedenby can overcome his inconsistencies enough to earn DeBoer’s trust. Despite an already turbulent season, the Devils could still find a way to sneak into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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