"Hi. I'm Ilya Kovalchuk. And I welcome you to the SBN-deemed third best team in the Eastern Conference, the New Jersey Devils. Please, enjoy the goals I will score this season." (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
While training camp has begun for the New Jersey Devils rookies, it's time for season previews and early analysis. SB Nation is no different and the first power rankings for the 2010-11 season are now up online. The various writers among the SBN-NHL blogs voted within their conference to determine who they feel is the best going into preseason. The Devils were ranked third in the Eastern Conference, and I honestly think that's a fair ranking all things considered. (Not coincidentally, I ranked the Devils there too.)
While the Devils will have to move salary before October 6, they do look quite good on paper. Goaltending is set with Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg. While lacking in offensive defensemen, the blueline has gotten bigger and meaner with the signings of Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder. The re-signing of Ilya Kovalchuk (a.k.a. the best shooter in the NHL according to Gabe at Behind the Net) seriously boosts the Devils' top 6 forwards, which already boasts Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, and Jamie Langenbrunner. There are still roster spots to fill (both before and after salary dumps), but the team is set among "featured" players.
That said, I don't think this team is superior to the offensively-strong, and pretty-good-elsewhere Washington Capitals. It was no accident that they won the President's Trophy last season, and I don't see a reason why they wouldn't be in contention this season. I think the Pittsburgh Penguins being at the #2 spot is correct as well. They signed the best defenseman this summer (Paul Martin), they added to their defense with Zybnek Michalek, and their later signing of Mike Comrie will allow Evgeni Malkin to go to the wing. Most importantly, the Penguins finished only 2 points behind the Devils last season. It's really unlikely that the Penguins will be dropping 6 games to the Devils for a second straight season. It'll be close though.
Going back to the Devils, the ranking confirms what we all know as fans: New Jersey are contenders once again. I don't think making the playoffs will be an issue. I think that winning the Atlantic Division is possible, but most won't really care if they do or not (well, right now, at least). The big question all season will be whether this team can succeed in the playoffs? The goal has to be getting past the first round, given the recent lack of playoff success. They'll have 82 games to show the league that they are a strong squad, prepare their own game, develop their own chemistry, and build their own confidence. But that's too far in the future to worry about now. The preseason is the first step to making it happen.
In the meantime, I'd like two inputs from you. First, please let me know what you think of the rankings in the comments. Do you agree with where the SBN blogs put the Devils? Do you agree with my assessment of them? Second, and more importantly, please leave links to season predictions or previews for the Devils. I'd like to collect them all starting now, to build a consensus on what others think about the Devils going into the 2010-11 season. Please leave all of this in the comments. Thanks for reading.