NEWARK, N.J. - After missing the playoffs for the second straight season and for the third time in four, New Jersey Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello wanted to take a step back to ponder the future rather than rip off a list of changes that the franchise needed to get back to the post-season.
It would have been easy to say the Devils need another quality goal scorer, possibly a puck-moving defenceman and someone—anybody—who can score in the shootout, where the Devils were 0-13 this past season.
Lamoriello was hesitant because he knows the difference between making the playoffs and missing them usually isn't big.
The Devils went 35-29-18 in goaltender Martin Brodeur's 20th and possibly final season with the three-time Stanley Cup winners. Their 88 points were five shy of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"This team to me is very close," Lamoriello said Monday after the team gathered for a final picture and cleaned out its lockers. "How close? I am not a believer in what that line is. There is such a fine line between winning and losing. There is a fine line in these playoffs you are going to see right now. There are going to be some outstanding teams getting knocked off in the first round. We're in the playoffs, if this, if that, but it didn't happen. "
Had the Devils won six shootouts, that would have put them in. Had they not lost 16 of 22 in which they were tied after the second period that would have put them in post-season again. A 1-5-4 start certainly didn't help.
"I think it is a very fine line," said Devils coach Pete DeBoer, who will be returning next season despite the recent failures. "We're obviously on the wrong side of it and it's obviously a big jump to get on the right side of it. That's going to be one of the debriefs over the next month on how do we make sure we are on the right side of it."
The Devils, who made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, head into the off-season with a number of decisions to make. Goaltender Martin Brodeur, right wing and leading scorer Jaromir Jagr, defencemen Marek Zidlicky and Mark Fayne and the fourth line of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier are all free agents.
The easiest one getting back might be the 42-year-old Jagr, who was outstanding with 24 goals and 43 assists for a team-best 67 points playing in every game on the top line.
Jagr wants to return. Lamoriello wants him back.
"I bring a lot of pressure on myself," said Jagr, who thinks he can play better. "I want to be the guy. I want to be the guy who produces offensively. I still feel like I have enough talent to do that."
Returning Brodeur, the NHL's all-time leader among goaltenders in wins (688) and shutouts (124), might be harder. The soon-to-be 42-year-old Brodeur posted a 19-14-6 mark in 39 games, but it was clear by the end of the season that Cory Schneider was the Devils' No. 1 goaltender.
Schneider, 28, finished with a 16-15-12 record. He made seven straight starts late in the season with New Jersey trying to get to the post-season.
Lamoriello intends to talk to Schneider about a contract extension over the summer.
"I am going to have to sit down with Marty and have a discussion," Lamorielllo said.
The Devils had some confusing statistics. They were ranked No. 1 on the penalty kill and No. 10 on the power play. However, they only scored 197 goals, the fourth lowest number in the league.
Their longest winning streak all season was three games.
"I don't think we have to change everything," centre Travis Zajac said. "There are some things we need to get better at. If we can find some more offensive while keeping our defensive game the same, we'll be in good shape. Consistently we have to put winning streaks together during the season. We just weren't able to do that this season. Other teams that made the playoffs put three or four or five of those together. We left points on the table."
New Jersey did have a couple of bright spots. Young defenceman Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson showed a lot of potential and third-year forward Adam Henrique had a team-high 25 goals despite missing the last week of the season with a groin injury.
"I think we have the group in here to get there," Henrique said. "We believe that. Obviously we want to be in the playoffs. The effort was here. We want to win. We'll come back next year and make that push."
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