This morning, Tom Gulitti posted his first-half grades for the 2009-2010 New Jersey Devils (Please find the link above). While I happen to agree with his comments as well as most of his grades, I would like to make a few changes based upon my own personal opinion:
-Individually, I think the forwards on this team have all experienced their ups and downs. We have many talented goal scorers and point getters. Collectively, I think we have played excellent hockey. There is a huge difference in depth this year in comparison to last year. Bergfors has proven to be a goal-scoring weapon and newcomers like Mcammond and Niedermayer have proven that they have a spot. Parise and Zajac began the season on fire but have cooled down since. Both players are facing confidence problems in their own games that have contributed to a pass first mentality as of late. But whenever some of our players slump, there have been others who have picked up the pace, such as Langenbrunner and Elias. We are still in need of at least one more legitimate offensive weapon through trade to make a worthwhile playoff push. That being said, Lemaire has more talent on the offensive side of the puck now than he ever had in the 90s.
-This defensive core may not be the most talented in the NHL, but we sure do get our money's worth. At one point, our #1 and #2 defensemen were out at the same time (Oduya and Martin), yet the defense only got better after they fell. The rookie Fraser has been a wonderful surprise and has earned his minutes. Oduya has played mediocre to below mediocre this year, but its hard to really be angry at someone who has been injured for a greater portion of the season. He has been our most dissapointing defenseman in comparison to the money he is making this year. Andy Greene has been a revelation and as close to a replacement of Brian Rafalski as anyone we've had in recent years. He plays huge minutes, he collects points, and he hustles on every shift. What a wonderful talent that we may have never unearthed if our top defensemen didn't go down. Colin White is as slow as a dump truck but has played excellent hockey this year as well. Similar to the forward situation, we are in need of one top four defensemen in order to be legitimate contenders.
What more can we say about Martin Brodeur that hasn't already been said? This season, he broke the All-Time Minutes Played record as well as the All-Time Shutouts record. He leads the league in wins (26) and has four shutouts for the season (4). he also has a wonderful GAA (2.20) and save percentage (.920). And once again, he has dilligently anchored a defensive minded Devils team. There have been numerous games this season that he has kept us in because of his brilliant play. From the few games that Danis has played, he has played alright. But its difficult to make much of a case for him either way.
In one word: brilliant. Lemaire has done a hell of a job. Injuries could have crippled this team. Free agents leaving last year could have made this a rebuilding year. There has been an influx of new talent and youth. Lemaire has done what only a great coach can do: taken a good team and made every single player better. He has brought back Devils hockey, and should be rightfully acknowledged as the most important pickup from the off-season. In Lou We Trust, but In Lemaire We Trust as well.
The Devils rank fourth on the power play, and 11th in the penalty kill. As Gulitti points out, these numbers are a little misleading (they are 2-12 on 5-on-3s...disgusting). An excellent penalty kill has been a staple of the Devils franchise. We have had several fantastic squads throughout the years that held the title of best penalty killers in the league. I hope that we can return to this undervalued title. This is an area of the team that needs to be worked on. Otherwise, they are neither bad nor wonderful. Bergfors has developed into a wonderful weapon on the power play.
Final Grade for Semester: A-
Final Comment: The 2009-2010 Devils are an outstanding club for two reasons: they possess a ton of depth, and they are coached perfectly. I still think we are missing one great defenseman and one great offenseman in order to push for a title. I have a feeling Lou will make moves accordingly when the trade deadline nears. Otherwise, it has been an exciting year as a Devils fan thus far. I eagerly anticipate what the remainder of the season has in store. Consistency will be the key to victory.
The Devils 41st game of the season will be held at The Rock tonight against the Dallas Stars, as we honor the 2000 Stanley Cup Champion team. I personally felt that this was our most well rounded team to ever win the cup, and certainly one of the most talented Devils clubs ever to be assembled. Up until this point, the team is 29-10-1 (59 points) and can potentially reach 30 wins by the end of the night. Last season, the Devils were 24-14-3 at the 41-game mark for 51 points. If you recall, the team went on an absolute tear last year in the middle of the season, and I hope they can produce the same kind of results this year.