2008-09 Team Preview: New Jersey Devils
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OUR EXPERT'S TAKE
By Pierre LeBrunThe Devils have been the model of consistency in their division, making the playoffs 11 straight seasons and winning two Stanley Cups during that stretch. Backed by Martin Brodeur, the game's best goaltender during that time, the Devils were always a guarantee to make the playoffs with a hardworking, defensive game that made opponents pay for every inch of the ice.
But underneath that stretch hides a more recent truth. The post-lockout Devils aren't quite up to the standards of those earlier years. They made the playoffs, yes, but fizzled against faster, more explosive opponents come playoff time. This isn't the same blue-line corps once patrolled by the likes of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer. Also, goals were hard to come by last season.
Every season, the pundits predict the Devils will finally fold, only to be proven wrong.
The Devils were 27th in the NHL with only 2.42 goals per game last season, the second-worst in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the New York Islanders. Lamoriello reeled in the 35-year-old Rolston, a consistent 30-goal scorer with blazing speed and a great shot from the point on the power play. The Devils were 25th on the power play last season and Rolston's addition there will be important.
Colin White, Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya, Bryce Salvador, Mike Mottau and Andy Greene make up a solid but unspectacular group. New Jersey's best defensive assets are up front; checking forwards Jay Pandolfo and John Madden are two of the game's very best. The return of Holik also strengthens this department. Despite the lack of a true stud on defense, expect the Devils to remain one of the league's top defensive teams.
Brodeur shows no signs of slowing down at 36. He has actually put up more impressive numbers in the post-lockout era despite a more offensive NHL to defend against and the lack of a Stevens or Niedermayer protecting him.
"For me, every year, it's a challenge to be the best," Brodeur told ESPN.com. "I know everyone is looking for me to slow down and play less games and not be that much of an impact anymore just because I'm getting older. ...
"But I'm excited at having a chance to compete. Healthwise, I've been really fortunate. But it's a challenge to try and stay on top."
He remains the best in the NHL, and that's why the Devils always have a shot at the playoffs.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
INSIDE THE GM'S BRAIN ...
By Jay FeasterTo the extent novelist Thomas Wolfe was correct in writing "You Can't Go Home Again," the biggest improvement for the New Jersey Devils this offseason may not be enough to keep them in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It has been a case of "Back to the Future" for Brent Sutter's team with the free-agent signings of former Devils Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik.
Rolston will help in many ways, including quarterbacking a power play that felt the loss of Brian Rafalski and Scott Gomez last season. Holik is still very effective on draws (over 58 percent) and in getting under the skin of the opponents. The presence of both should take some of the workload off Patrik Elias and enable him to enjoy a bounce-back year. Youngsters Zach Parise and Travis Zajac will continue to become even better with experience.
The key remains Martin Brodeur, the most dominant goaltender of the past decade. At age 36, how many more seasons of 70-plus games can he endure? Of course, we've been asking that question for how many years, and he still finds a way to confound the "experts" and get his team into the playoffs. There's at least one more trip here.
Jay Feaster served as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning from the 2001-02 season until resigning last season. He is a contributor to ESPN.com.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
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• Record: 46-29-7
• Division: Second in the Atlantic
• Conference: Fourth in the East
• Playoffs: Ousted in first round vs. NYR
• A season-long, six-game road trip from Jan. 10-17 with stops in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Vancouver, Columbus, Long Island and Nashville is capped by a tough home game Jan. 19 with Montreal.
Experience: One year
Stanley Cup titles: 0
• The adjustment period is over. Some junior coaches never survive the jump to the big show, but Brent Sutter isn't your average coach. A sparkling résumé in Major Junior in Canada and on the international stage with Canada's world junior team more than prepared him for his graduation to the Devils. The Devils will be as prepared and organized as any team in the league. But Sutter's big test is to find ways to create more offense in his system.
STARTING FIVE ... AS WE SEE ITF -- Brian Rolston
• Returns to New Jersey from Minnesota via free agency. At 35, he appears to have plenty left in the tank.
F -- Brian Gionta
• Entering his seventh season with the Devils. Had 48 goals in 2005-06, but hasn't cracked 30 since.
F -- Patrik Elias
• Entering his 13th season with the Devils. Scored only 20 goals last season and 21 the season before.
D -- Paul Martin
• Entering his fifth season with the Devils. Posted a career-high plus-20 last season.
D -- Colin White
• Entering his ninth season with the Devils. Was sorely missed when he missed the start of last season.
A: We'll let the man himself answer that one. Said Brodeur: "The league is so tight. We never plan on playing that many games. It's just, at the end, we need to win games. That's the bottom line. We started behind the 8-ball last season and we had to put the pedal to the metal and just go. I don't expect anything less for this season because everyone is so competitive. Do you rest me in the middle and we have to do a sprint at the end and hopefully make it? I win 40-something games every year and still we finish fifth, sixth or seventh [in the conference]. But also, when you get older, the game gets easier. You're smarter about what you do. And I like it when people say I play too much, it means I'm bothering somebody."
So ... the answer is no.
Outlook: While the Devils are routinely a playoff contender, that doesn't mean they're a great source of fantasy numbers. In fact, there might not be another team in all of professional sports with a roster comprised almost entirely of better-in-the-real-game-than-in-fantasy players. When it comes to the Devils, everything begins and ends with Martin Brodeur. It might mean good things from a plus/minus perspective, but understand this: No Devil has amassed as many as 70 points in either of the past two seasons. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft