Two seasons ago, the Devils had their worst season in over two decades. They missed the playoffs and still managed to win the draft lottery (Small victories!). None of us were really expecting what would happen next season. After an up-and-down season which featured several excellent individual performances as well as a 102 point season (5th most points in the East, 8th most overall), the Devils went on an incredible playoff run which featured a dominating victory over the Flyers (and an awesome game winning blooper) and an epic OT win over the Rangers. Of course, we all watched the Kings dominate the Devils in the finals, which kind of sucked, but yeah- 2011-12 was pretty awesome in general.
Then the off-season happened. Alexei Ponikarovsky left to play in Winnipeg, Petr Sykora still floats around as a free agent and Zach Parise decided that he'd much rather spend his spring playing golf with his best friend in Minnesota, which sucked (don't worry guys, we got Krys Barch and his drunken rants!). And then in September, the NHL and the PA couldn't agree on a new CBA, So for another 3 months, we all had to watch hockey elsewhere- the Albany Devils, the KHL, the ECHL, College Hockey or the CHL/Canadian Juniors. And now, after over 100 days of STUPID, NHL hockey is back in shortened season form.
There are problems with shortened seasons- namely that teams can ride the percentages. The Wild and Leafs would be playoff teams because they rode percentages early on (MIN with Sv%, Leafs with Sh%) and imploded because of their weaknesses (MIN's piss poor puck possession and Toronto's HILARIOUSLY BAD goaltending) and the inevitable regression. On the other hand, a team with bad luck early on (like the Kings) would end up missing the playoffs thanks to all their early losses. So the Devils success at this point more or less relies on not stumbling out of the gate. A cold start could mean that the Devils would probably miss the playoffs (barring an incredible Lemaire-like run halfway through the season).
The ($98) million dollar question for the Devils will be how will they fare without Zach Parise after he left for the greener pastures of Minnesota (greener because that's where you play golf on, the greens. See guys, I still have my razor sharp wit!). While he was their third best forward, it's pretty tough to replace 31 goals (or in a lockout shortened season, 15-17 goals). Add in the fact that the Devils lost a good two-way player in Alexei Ponikarovsky and Petr Sykora's 21 goals as well as some inevitable regression from guys like Patrik Elias and David Clarkson. On the other hand, the Devils do like to surprise us. Not a lot of us saw a massive playoff run (or the complete and/or utter domination of the Flyers) in the cards last year. Maybe they'll come up big again?
With all that being said, here are the predictions from the staff.
John Fischer:It's easy to see why so many other previews and projections don't think highly of the 2013 New Jersey Devils. This New Jersey Devils team doesn't look good on paper. The offensive production will be top-heavy and reliant on only a few players; one of their top players hasn't been replaced at all, the forward depth is questionable to say the least; while most of the roster returns they are year older; the goalies are statistically not good to put it nicely; the defense will be steady but mostly non-offensive; and regression awaits the penalty killing and shootout success rate. Injuries and/or slumps to certain players could and would doom this team. Not only that, but a bunch of teams in the Eastern Conference either just got better (e.g. Pittsburgh, Carolina) or remained solid (e.g. Our Hated Rivals) after 2011-12. A shortened season makes for a much smaller margin for error; this Devils team will have to scrape every point they can get. There will be some opportunity to improve the roster, but moves will not only have to be quick but immediately effective.
I'd love to say that last year's Stanley Cup finalist should have no problem returning to the postseason. I'd love to say that last year's Stanley Cup finalist could win a round or two. However, I can't say either. I don't have much confidence in a guaranteed return, much less winning a round, unless they get some pleasant surprises, some great luck, or the proverbial paper gets proven dead wrong. If they do make it, I think they'll just barely get in at the #8 spot at the end of the season and I might just be happy with that - and that's a pretty substantial "if" from my point of view right now.
Jerry Tierney: To me, it’s a little unclear how the Devils team will shake out for the 2013 season. In reality, last season it took a ridiculous streak of shootout wins and the unlikely emergence of a young star to keep them competitive early. Then, it took two mid-season trades and the return of an injured star to get the depth up to the level needed to compete deep into the playoffs. It’s my feeling that some similar events will have to transpire this year for the Devils to have a similar level of success.
The young star emerging this season could be Jacob Josefson. He has the skill level and hockey sense to make a big impact on the ice in 2013. Especially since he will most likely be a third line center, he should get matchups he can win. Now, if Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier are his two wingers, I’m just not sure how much we can expect. I sincerely doubt Adam Henrique would have had the breakout season he did 1 year ago if he had linemates of that quality.
Bobby Butler is also another candidate for the "emerging young star" position. Based on what I have seen out of him in Albany over the last month or so, he should be able to play in the top 6 and contribute in all situations, including the PP and PK, as he has done in Albany.
Unless Mattias Tedenby establishes himself, somehow, as an everyday NHL player, I do think the Devils trade one of their defensemen for a capable 3rd line forward.
I envision it’s going to be a bit of a struggle out of the gate for NJ this season at times, due to the lack of forward depth, and the key is to not fall too far behind in a shortened season. I am expecting Brodeur to be a bit rusty early on too. The Devils will need to be tight on defense and not make many mistakes in front of Marty to put him in the best position to succeed.
While there are some changes to the coaching staff, the Devils should benefit by having Peter DeBoer returning and running the same system which everyone is familiar with. Hopefully they can demonstrate some cohesion and familiarity with each other’s style of play right from the get go.
I do envision playoff hockey returning to The Rock this season. I think when all things shake out, the Devils will finish above .500, and most likely finish 4th in the Atlantic Division (or maybe 3rd, with some luck). This should leave them somewhere between the 5th – 8th seed in the East, with a stronger chance towards the bottom half of that projection.
Playoff seeding will have even less importance than usual in a shortened season, just ask Marty about that. Simply punching a ticket to the dance should be the focus, and from there anything can happen. I’m not going to speculate on a deep run in the playoffs or anything like that. It’s hard enough to predict something like that in a full season, let alone a short one. I think making the playoffs should be the goal, and anything that this group can achieve on top of that would just be icing on the cake, based on the way the team is shaping up right now.
Karen Mielands: >Everyone will have to step up to fill the holes Parise has left behind and a lot of things will have to fall into place for the Devils to go back to the Stanley Cup Finals, but you can never say never with this team.
With that said, I think Kovalchuk is hungry to win and isn’t going to let his team go down without a fight. I also think that Josefson will stay healthy and break through this season. I feel comfortable with DeBoer behind the bench and so does this team – they believe in his system and hopefully will build off of what they learned from him last year. It will be really tough to replace Parise’s production, but the shortened season will help any tiredness from the run last year and if guys like Zajac, Henrique and Josefson step up I see another sixth seed finish and a second round exit from the playoffs.
Matt Evans: When thinking about a 48 gameseason, I have a hard time trying to predict how the Devils will finish theseason. I have this sneaking suspicion that the Devils will come out slow and that could ultimately jeopardize their season. I do expect Ilya Kovalchuk to come out strong and continue his scoring ways from his time in the KHL. I also suspect Kovalchuk will finish in the top 5 in scoring in the league. The Devils’ blue line will continue to be strong and Adam Larsson will continue to improve and begin to become a leader on defense. The Devils will have a very tough time scoring with the departure of Parise and the injury to Henrique.
There is also concern over the age of the Devils' goaltending duo. The Devils age problems in net will only be a problem if DeBoer does not use Moose enough and Marty begins to get worn out. Overall, I think the Devils will miss Parise and will ultimately lack the scoring up front to make the playoffs. Then again, if last season wouldhave been 48 games, the Wild would have won the president’s trophy, so who knows?
Nate Pilling: Like it or not, the 2013 Devils are a different team than they were last season. With the losses of solid pieces like Zach Parise and Alexei Ponikarovsky, the Devils will have to look to some untested and/or young players. It'll be interesting to see where the young guys fit in this season. The defense corps look solid as ever, something that hasn't changed in the offseason. Between Brodeur and Hedberg, I expect just about what he had last year. Not stellar at times, but just plain good enough all throughout. These two aren't getting any younger, but they've proven that they aren't old and washed up just yet. While I expect slight dips in production from guys like David Clarkson and Adam Henrique, I fully expect Ilya Kovalchuk to be the beast that we saw last season. As his time in the KHL has proven, he still has the scoring touch.
I see consistency from the rest of the gang to what we saw last season and that the Devils will make the playoffs, but just barely. It's a tough division and in all honesty, the Devils haven't done much in the offseason to replace what they've lost. While I do see them making the playoffs, I'm predicting a first round exit.
Kevin Sellathamby: To be honest, I have no clue what will happen this season. The shortened season will likely be influenced by teams riding percentages. Maybe Marty catches fire and stops everything early on, or the Devils shooters are lights out for a period of time. Or maybe the Devils get unlucky again and can't score (or stop pucks).
What's going to be the saving grace for the Devils is that they're a team with a good system. When Peter DeBoer had the resources, he was able to put his team in a position to succeed. He rolled four lines effectively all throughout the playoffs because Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier were capable role players, unlike idiot supreme Cam Janssen and the worst (statistical) player in the NHL, Eric Boulton. The teams with effective systems don't kneel over so easily (i.e. Phoenix after losing Bryzgalov), so I'm expecting the Devils to put up a good fight during the regular season. As for the playoffs, I'm expecting them to make the playoffs. They might miss it because a weaker team (i.e. Leafs, Sabres, Jets) gets hot early on and rides the percentages, but they're still one of the better teams and they have survived without Zach Parise before.
This concludes the week-long season preview of the New Jersey Devils. If you haven't read all the other previews, you can find the in-depth previews below.
- Part 1: The Forwards by John Fischer
- Part 2: The Defense by Jerry Tierney
- Part 3: The Goaltending by Matt Evans
- Part 4: Special Teams by Karen Mielands
With all that being said, how do you feel about the New Jersey Devils? Feel free to put your two cents in on how the Devils are going to fare in the shortened 2012-13 season. Thanks for reading!