It's been a while since I've written anything on here. It's really been more of a change in lifestyle than a lack of things to say. Since the hockey season started, I've become a part-time student with a full-time job instead of the other way around. As such, my days begin at 7:55 AM as opposed to 2 PM. I'll write when I have time, which is not that often, but I have some time now, so let's clear the air about a few things.
Even myself, the eternal optimist, could not have pictured the Devils sitting where they are right now...14-5 with 28 points, 1st in the division and 2nd in the conference. It doesn't sound so out of the ordinary for the Devils, unless you consider who they lost over the summer, the influx of youth that followed, AND the injuries to four key players. I've been saying all along--pretty much on deaf ears--that you cannot judge the development of Niclas Bergfors properly if he's playing on the 4th line for 4 minutes every 5th game or so, as was the case last season. Bergfors is a top two line talent, and now that he has the opportunity to play as such, we're seeing what he's really capable of. He's had a strong showing to date in his rookie year, and it's not unreasonable to suggest that we find Bergfors in the running for the Calder at season's end, provided he doesn't hit a slump.
Speaking of forwards, how about Rob Niedermayer? (Pre-injury, of course.) Many deadpanned the signing, until we saw him play, that is. Niedermayer was looking like a steal before he got hurt. He fit right in with what Jacques Lemaire has brought to the table, and as John Madden's unofficial replacement, was scoring at a clip that Mad Dog never had to begin a season. Defensively, keeping last year's group together is looking like a wise decision. The Devils' 2.10 Goals Against per Game Average is the best in the NHL as we round the quarter pole. This, of course, without top defenseman Paul Martin and more recently, other top defenseman Johnny Oduya. With the two most offensively skilled defensemen out of the lineup, we found ourselves a third in Andy Greene. Buried as a third-pair blueliner, Greene has emerged from the shadows, another undrafted success story, and is an absolute steal at just under $800,000 per for this and next season.
Another D-man who seized his window is Mark Fraser. Very much in the vein of a young Colin White, Fraser's emergence gives relevance to the youth movement. Though returning players may dictate he ultimately be returned to Lowell this year--disappointing as that will be--he's made his case, and won't be gone for long. Hopefully the Devils will cut ties this summer with the once-okay-but-recently-very-disappointing Mike Mottau, and dangle his roster spot in front of Fraser at next year's training camp.
With Scott Clemmensen struggling in Florida and Kevin Weekes now in broadcasting, the Devils hit the backup goaltender jackpot with league-minimum earning Yann Danis. So far, the mere $500,000 Danis is costing the Devils has translated into two of their wins, with only one goal allowed in each. As Danis is young and not likely to demand any more playing time than he gets, he has so far been the perfect solution, and will hopefully be kept around, at least until Jeff Frazee is ready to step up to the big leagues.
Aside from Martin Brodeur, the glue holding this Devils team together is Jacques Lemaire. I'm over the fact that no matter what he does, the hockey media is too lazy to do their research and realize that Lemaire + Devils no longer equals trap. Chris Pronger noticed, and you would too if you watched. But the bottom line is that the wins are coming, and Lemaire has been great with the young talent.
Of course, no one's season is perfect, and there are a few players who are really not pulling their weight that I wish would be treated as such. Andrew Peters was brought in to replace the size and strength of Mike Rupp. The only difference is, while Rupp can skate and actually did fight, while Peters skates like a pee-wee and has barely dropped the gloves or stood up for his teammates, even when he was on the ice and able to do so. Ilkka Pikkarainen was brought back from Finland for a second chance, and is showing us why his first chance went the way that it did. Pikkarainen reminds me very much of Erik Rasmussen, in that he is straight up useless. The only time anyone notices Pikkarainen is even on the ice is when he makes a mistake, or if they happen to wonder why the nameplate on the back of Mike Rupp's jersey suddenly got a lot longer. Both Pikkarainen and the Devils would be far better served if his services were sent to Lowell, where the play is far more in his league.
And of course, there's Brian Rolston. Whereas Dainius Zubrus has picked up the slack from his trainwreck of a season last year, Rolston has now fully gone off the tracks. If his favorite coach cannot bring him back from getting old, than nothing will. It's unfortunate, because when he could actually get his cannon of a shot anywhere near the net, it usually led to good things. But that has stopped, and Rolston now seems a step slower, a one-trick pony who is slowly playing his way out of relevance. Thankfully the team as a whole has largely disguised this, but if things start to slip I can only imagine what the last two years of his contract are going to look like.
I'm excited for what the future holds with the Devils now. Every day is another step closer to regaining a full roster, with the added knowledge that we have the depth to overcome several key injuries at once. If we can continue to play the way we have been until they come back, I'm hopeful as to what we can accomplish with a full lineup.