Last night's loss to Calgary effectively ended the season for the New Jersey Devils. Yes, they still cling so some smidgen of hope (about 7%, according to SportsClubStats) but if we're being honest with ourselves at this point, it's pretty much over. Where do the Devils go from here? There will be a lot of decisions to be made in the offseason, from the coach on down to the current 4th line. I think there will be a lot of soul-searching for Lou Lamoriello and his staff and deciding whether this team can compete as it is generally constructed. They remained in the race (albeit primarily on the outside looking in) for the entire season, despite not-great overall goaltending and a historically bad run in the shootout. The team is a possession powerhouse, and I tend to lean more towards the "they need some tweaks" camp rather than the "blow it up, they stink" camp, but your mileage may vary. All of these issues will be outlined in greater detail once the offseason officially arrives, but here are some of the major issues that will have to be dealt with over the next few months.
This is probably about as heated a debate as there will be among the Devils' fanbase this offseason. Peter DeBoer is now finishing up his third season behind the bench for the Devils, and the experience has certainly been a mixed bag. Obviously, we all remember the great playoff run back in 2012, but now the Devils are on the verge of missing the playoffs two consecutive times for the first time since the 1980's. There are plenty of arguments to be made both for keeping him around and giving him the boot. The Devils are among the best possession teams in the NHL, but they continue to struggle to put up goals and some of DeBoer's roster management has been questionable at times. It's a tough choice, but it is one the Devils will have to face, come the end of the season.
The Legendary Goalie
It's been a frustrating and confusing year for long time fans of Devils icon Martin Brodeur. His slide into mediocrity (being generous) with his advanced age continued this year as he has posted a .900 sv% over his 37 starts. Him getting a larger share of starts than he should have has been a factor in the Devils downfall this year, and his maneuvering in the media has been irritating for a lot of fans. Brodeur claims he would like to continue playing beyond this year, but at this point, it might be best for both parties to part ways. Brodeur playing in another uniform is hard to imagine, but the Devils have to do what is best for the organization at some point. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, to say the least.
The Legendary Forward
Prior to the season, I don't think the expectations for Jaromir Jagr were super high. It's hard to expect too much from a player entering his age 42 season. What followed though, was simply amazing. Jagr was almost certainly the best forward on this team and he was an absolute treat to watch, both on and off the ice. He'll be 43 next year, but for now, he shows no signs of slowing down as he has been a workhorse on the Devils' top line since November. He and Travis Zajac found a real groove together and proved to be quite a dominant duo, even without ever really finding a permanent candidate on their left wing. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a Devils fan who doesn't want to see 68 back in Devils red and black next year, and I, for one, will be rooting for it. Jagr seems to like it here, so perhaps this is finally the season that he stays with the same team in the offseason.
The Restricted Free Agents
The Devils will have three young players (at the NHL level) entering restricted free agency this summer: Jacob Josefson, Adam Larsson, and Eric Gelinas. All three players remain works in progress, but I would expect to see all of them return next season. Gelinas and Larsson are obviously no-brainers when it comes to being qualified, it just will be a matter of what types of deals the Devils end up giving out for them. My guess would be a couple of two-year "show me" type bridge deals at a modest raise. Josefson's future is admittedly a little more murky, but I think (and hope) the Devils at least keep him around for one more year.
The Free Agent Defensemen
Marek Zidlicky and Mark Fayne will both be free agents, come this offseason, and the Devils will have to weigh their options on both. With all of the young D at or approaching the NHL level, it seems possible that one or both have seen their last days in a Devils uniform. For Fayne, I'd be sad to see him go, as he has proven himself to be a top-pairing caliber defender and the pairing of he and Andy Greene have been a big bright spot for New Jersey this season. Fayne almost certainly deserves a raise and if the Devils are unwilling to give it to him, it would be hard to blame him. Marek Zidlicky is another interesting case as his value on offense from the back end is undeniable. He is the first defender to log 40 or more points in a season since Brian Rafalski left town, but his defensive prowess has always been spotty at best. If he does go, it's possible the young guys can collectively pick up the slack on offense but they will be significant shoes to fill.
The Buyout Candidates
The idea of a compliance buyout of one of the Devils' more overpaid, underperforming D has always been a bit of a pipe dream, but Lou has surprised us before, so maybe it happens for one of the Salvador/Volchenkov duo. My preferred candidate is Bryce Salvador at this point, but I would peg Volchenkov as the one they are more likely to actually pull the trigger on. The option of a trade with a retained salary transaction also has to be a consideration if they are really trying to make room. They'll basically have to if they want to make room for the youngsters and retain one of the Fayne/Zidlicky free agent pair.
Finding Help on Offense
As it stands, there will be a half-decent crop of forwards out there in free agency to choose from. The Devils already have 8 forwards signed for next season (9 if they can re-sign Jagr, more if any of CBGB/Josefson are back), so the key will be to try to find perhaps just one or two guys who can bolster the offense. Whether they try to make a splash with Thomas Vanek or Matt Moulson or go a little lower profile with an Ales Hemsky or Radim Vrbata, any help on offense will be welcomed, especially if they can't make it work with Jagr (please make it work with Jagr).
Your Thoughts/Other Issues
So with the Devils all but eliminated, what are your feelings on what should be done to improve this team in the offseason? Who do you want staying? Who do you want going? Are there other issues not touched on here that are on your mind? Does the team need tinkering or is a larger overhaul necessary at this point? Sound off with your thoughts on the offseason or any other general venting regarding this season below.