A year after reaching the Stanley Cup final, the Devils missed the playoffs and sunk to 11th in the East. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: No. 8 in Metropolitan Division
2013: 19-19-10. 11th in the East.
THN's TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Patrik Elias (62), Michael Ryder (52), Ryane Clowe (47)
KEY DEPARTURES: Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson, Johan Hedberg, Henrik Tallinder
KEY ADDITIONS: Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder, Jaromir Jagr, Rostislav Olesz, Cory Schneider
THE PROS: Even though they’ve lost Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk in successive off-seasons, you just can’t underestimate Devils magic. Last we saw it pay off, New Jersey went on a surprise run all the way to the Cup final in 2012. But that seems like ancient history today.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Devils have allowed the fewest or second-fewest shots against each of the past four years and now have two – count ‘em, two – excellent goalkeepers with Schneider now in the fold for the long-term. In theory, that combination should put them in position to win a few games they have no business winning. But…
THE CONS: …the Devils also had the 29th-ranked offense last season. And that was with Clarkson, who led the team in goals, and superstar Kovalchuk. If defense and goaltending will keep the Devils in games from time to time this season, will the offense be able to pull out the win? So much (too much) star power has been lost in two off-seasons that hasn’t been replaced by anything to inspire confidence. Oh – and they’re scheduled to lose their first round pick from this season as well, as punishment from the original Kovalchuk contract.
X-FACTOR: The offense is going to need a boost from someone and Travis Zajac will be front and center. Literally. Likely to be the first line pivot, Zajac reached a career high 25 goals and 67 points in 2009-10, but then fell to 13 and 44 in 2010-11 and injured his Achilles the following season. Couple the injury with last year’s lockout and Zajac hasn’t played 82 games in two years, though historically he’s a healthy player. If he can’t produce like a top line center, undue pressure will be thrust upon others, from Clowe to Jagr to Ryder, whose best seasons are probably behind them. At the least, they’re unlikely to post career high numbers with New Jersey.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Coming as a surprise to no one, Jagr gets traded before the deadline to a playoff team.
METROPOLITAN NO. 8: NEW JERSEY DEVILS