First and foremost, I wish everyone a happy 2011!
After ending the 2010 year with a modest 3-1 defeat over the Atlanta Thrashers, a year during which the Devils went 30-42-9, they stumbled hard into 2011, getting crushed by the Carolina Hurricanes 6-3. Going into tonight's game (1/4/2011) against the Minnesota Wild, there have been a number of intriguing events that transpired, which could have untold effects on the team. Whether they're primary or alter the remaining duration of the season remains to be seen, some of which can be perceived as positives, others, not so much.
This is relatively old news, but the Devils failed to sucker another team into claiming left wing Brian Rolston, who was put on waivers in mid-December. Rolston was demoted to Albany (AHL) the day after the 2010 Holiday Roster Freeze expired and failed to draw any interest from a team for half his original price tag. Rolston was quoted saying teams were interested in trading for him, but I personally feel he was being led on. Rolston will return to the Devil's lineup against Minnesota and I think it's evident the Devils are stuck with his $5.2 million cap hit until his contract expires next year. It should have been acknowledged the Rolston signing was high risk, being thirty-five with that gross cap hit over four seasons. I tried to excuse Rolston's first season back as an injury plagued adjustment year. My skepticism grew when he failed to play up to his value last year under Jacques Lemaire, who got the best out of him during their respective first stints with New Jersey and in Minnesota.
This year, Rolston's amounted a disdainful two goals and five points, going minus twelve in twenty-one games. He's averaged around sixteen minutes of ice time per game, while younger and more promising forwards such as Mattias Tedenby only average fourteen minutes. Tedenby also has more to show with four goals and nine points in just as many games...Just saying. Out of respect for Rolston, I'm assuming his role on the team won't change, especially with Lemaire at the helm. Since it's likely he'll play out the remainder of his contract with the Devil's I assume Lou will want to get the most out of him, although if I were Lamoriello, I'd collect my losses and banish Rolston to Albany. Regardless of the cap hit, I'd work around it especially if Lamoriello's planning a fire sale around the time of the trade deadline, which will clear out plenty of cap space to compensate. The point I'm getting at is the Rolston signing didn't work out as everyone hoped and right now, he isn't bettering the team or himself.
For the third consecutive season, the Devils have been plagued with multiple injuries. One of the fallen in defenseman Mark Fraser will be making his return tonight. Fraser missed thirty-four games after undergoing surgery and played well under Lemaire before he was exiled to the press box once last year's injury bug outbreak subsided. Fraser plays with grit, hits hard, and has a tendency to throw down. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets into a scrum on his return tonight. He's been the subject of criticism for his questionable positional game, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. If you want to call Fraser a young, up and coming defenseman in the organization, I think his positional problems are the least of the team's current issues.
How can Fraser help this team in its current state? He'll add a physical edge to the blue line that Anton Volchenkov, and occasionally Matthew Corrente have held down for the better part of the season. I wouldn't call him a game changer, but the remainder of the season could be a blessing in disguise for a player like Fraser, who could use the ice time he gets to mature and work out the kinks while the team has little to lose. Center Jacob Josefson was cleared to practice with the team, but I'm personally in anxious anticipation of the return of defenseman Matt Taormina, who was on pace for fourteen goals before falling to injury.
In regards to the news about Brodeur and Hedberg splitting goaltending duties (Hedberg starting second time in three games), I really think this is being made into a much bigger deal than it really is. I'll reiterate some of the numbers that have been circulating...
-Brodeur and Hedberg are tied for wins at five apiece
-Brodeur (5-18-1) has started in twenty-six games
-Hedberg (5-7-1) has started in eleven games
-Hedberg’s GAA is lower than Brodeur’s by .18, his SV% is lower by .17
-The Devils went 3-5 during Brodeur’s absence
-The Devils have gone 2-9 since Brodeur’s return from injury
-Since December 10th, the Devils averaged four goals against in each game Brodeur’s started
What can be made of these facts? There’s obviously something going on with Brodeur’s game. Lemaire believes it’s his confidence and physical shape. All I’m going to say is Brodeur is one of the most sugarcoated athletes in the Tri-State area and I get the vibe there’s a lot of denial in the organization surrounding him. Personally, I’m going to have to see it for myself in regards to Marty splitting goaltending duties with Hedberg from here on out. I’ll update it once I check it out but I can say in confidence that Brodeur has had a losing record since January, 2010. If his performance has remained stagnant since then, I really can’t find many formidable excuses in defense of his current state.
With all that’s said and done, let’s see what 2011 has in store for the Devils.