It’s a weird time for the New Jersey Devils.
The team that was once one of the most consistent powerhouses in the NHL has fallen on what some might call hard times. Though they were the finalists in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, they missed the playoffs the year before that, and did so again in 2013. Such failure was unheard of during the team’s run of dominance in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but the fact is that today’s Devils are no longer one of the NHL’s sure things.
That’s reflected in their odds this year, which put them squarely in the middle of the pack of NHL teams. Nobody is picking the Devils to win their first Cup since 2003.
What are some things they can do to defy expectations this year?
Odds To Win Stanley Cup: 40/1
Key #1: Solid goaltending both old and new
It’s probably not a coincidence that the Devils dip into mediocrity has coincided with the twilight years of all-world goaltender Martin Brodeur’s career. As great as Brodeur has been throughout his long career, it could not rightfully be expected that he would continue to perform at such an elite level into his 40’s. A dip in competiveness was bound to occur, and it’s a testament to Brodeur that even at 41 he is still a viable NHL number one goaltender, if not one of the league’s best anymore. He can deliver some quality goaltending, but clearly the Devils see the writing on the wall as they made a high profile trade to acquire Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks. Once thought to be the heir apparent to Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, Schneider will now compete for ice time with the older Brodeur, with the expectation that he’ll one day have the job all to himself.
Key #2: Fill the hole left by Ilya Kovalchuk
When star and former number one draft choice Ilya Kovalchuk decided to retire from the NHL this summer in favor of returning to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, he crippled his former team’s offense. Suddenly the high priced centrepiece of the Devils scoring machine was removed. Kovalchuk also made his decision to leave the NHL a few days after the opening of the free agent market. As a result, the Devils missed out on using their new salary cap space on the big stars available on the free agent market. The players left in New Jersey, like Patrick Elias and newcomer Jaromir Jagr, will have their work cut out for them.
Key #3: Get money’s worth from free agent signings
Missing out on the first crop of free agents, the Devils had to make due with the ‘left overs’ when trying to replace Kovalchuk. An aging Jagr, Michael Ryder and Ryan Clowe were the answers, and they need to show they’re worth the money for the Devils to succeed this year.
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