Another successful regular season
, another abrupt playoff
exit. Anyone seeing a trend here? Ever since the Devils won their last Stanley Cup in 2003, the dry New Jersey Devil fan base (which I must say did show up for the playoffs this year), has been treated to the same redundant pattern year in and year out. This year was no exception. The only difference separating this year's first round ouster from the ones of years past is the way our season ended in less than 30 seconds. I'm 19 years old, and I'll admit I was holding back tears of anger as I stared at my laptop in disbelief when the third period buzzer sounded. I even kicked my roommate out for the night, but I digress.
A few praises on the Devils 2008-2009 campaign...
This year's theme was adversity. Not even ten games into the season, we were battered with endless injuries to the likes of Brian Rolston, Bobby Holik, and our franchise goaltender Martin Brodeur. Many rendered us as being finished for the season, but the defense solidified, the offense clicked, and a hero emerged in goaltender Scott Clemmensen to save our season and give us another banner to proudly hang from the rafters of the Prudential Center...another division banner...
This year, we really showed that the Devils are a team that could score. For the first time in years, the Devils offense showed up this season, and played a huge part in our regular season success for a change. A superstar emerged in Zach Parise, who appeared in his first NHL All-Star game this year, and we saw a tremendous resurgence in Patrik Elias, who scored his first 30 goal season since 2003-2004. Not to mention we got an impressive career year from Jamie Langenbrunner, and 20 goal seasons from Brian Gionta and breakout player Travis Zajac.
This team showed the league that they are a squad that is very much capable of play without Martin Brodeur. Brent Sutter has really matured and showed he is very capable of coaching through even the toughest of regular season
situations of NHL caliber.
Now a few criticisms...
The true colors of our mediocre defense showed once again. Given Paul Martin is a superb defenseman who is capable of having a career year if he played all 82 games in a season, our defense cannot rely on the likes of a player, who is a second or third defenseman at best on a more solid team. Johnny Odyua had another superb year, but was our best offensive catalyst on the blue line with only seven goals. Everyone keeps on reminiscing about the days when our blue line had the likes of Scott Stevens, Ken Danekyo, Scott Niedermayer, and Brian Rafalski. Those were great days, but those days are long gone, and given we won our cups with a solid core such as that, this is something that Lou seems to have not yet realized.
Rolston was underused this season, Zubrus was overused. Given Rolston gave our powerplay a tremendous boost to 14th this season he was the most poorly used player five on five. After returning from his injury, Sutter did not want to alter the chemistry going on between Elias, Gionta, and Zubrus, which was a grave mistake in my opinion. I will use the excuse that Rolston's injury killed his season of which he managed to get 15 goals and 32 points out of after missing 18 games. Although he is around 36 years of age, he still has speed, skill, and can put the puck in the net. I say he could have gotten anywhere between 20-30 goals again this season if he returned to centering Elias and Gionta. Zubrus held Elias and Gionta back this season with his limited offensive ability, and his inability to set plays up in the offensive zone. It's times like this when I reluctantly admit I miss the days when Gomez was in between Elias and Gionta, when those two had a legitimate playmaking center to skate with.
Brodeur showed his age...again! I don't care who you want to blame or whose fault you think it is. I think the reason for our six game slide at the end of the season and our game 7 choke lies in the hands of Martin Brodeur. Yeah he is the winningest goaltender of all time, yeah he has carried the franchise on his back for over a decade now, but I think he really showed his age for the third consecutive post season. He did not look sharp in some instances in these playoffs, and he looked lost in that six game slide that diminished our chances of even competing for getting that infamous Z next to our name in the Eastern Conference standings. Brodeur's ego is too huge, and Sutter or Lou would not dare consider having Marty split his season with another goaltender. As long as the sky is blue and Brodeur remains our franchise player, he has the goaltending position secure until he decides to retire.
A few questions going into the offseason...
Will Brent Sutter return next year?
The Devils transitioned well into Sutter's new offensive system. Players like Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, and David Clarkson benefited the most and the Devils finished in or around the top ten in goals scored this year, the first time in years they achieved that feat. I think all thanks goes to Sutter. There have been rumors, whose validity Sutter has implied through interviews and such, about him missing his family and native Alberta home. Whether Sutter resigns and returns to coach another NHL team or takes a job of less caliber is unknown and irrelevant. Given the way this season ended was discouraging, I think it would be a mistake if Sutter leaves the Devils organization. He is a new young face that I thought I can see being here long term. Personally, I think Sutter would be crazy to leave New Jersey http://www.northjersey.co...orts/devils/44653602.html
and other people agree with me.
Change, change, change? Or the same old offseason?
Another first round ouster with the same core of players. This offseason, the Devils have around $17 million of cap space coming off. Players such as Rupp, Holik, Shanahan, Madden, Gionta, and Odyua are unrestricted free agents, with Andy Greene and Travis Zajac restricted free agents. Assuming Zajac, Odyua, and Greene return to the Devils, let's say Zajac and Odyua receive around $3 mil per, respectively, and Greene gets around 7-800K, that leaves the Devils with around $11 million to play around with. This raises the annual question of what action we can expect from Lou this summer? Can another first round exit for a tired and aging team be the last straw for Lou to finally break his philosophy and make a big splash like this cross river rival and good friend Glenn Sather does every summer? Or can we expect a couple of roster tweaks and see the same players return next season? I know all Devils fans have fantasized about Lou finally bringing in the likes of Jay Bouwmeester, Marian Hossa, Mattias Ohlund, or Marian Gaborik, but this is reality, and we all know Lou seems to be prone to doing the exact opposite of moves like that, or at least has a solid consistent reputation of doing so.
Are the Devils just a regular season team?
Let's look at the numbers. Since the lockout ended, the Devils have raised three more divisional banners to the rafters have finished with more than 95 points and records well above the .500 mark, along with finishing no lower than fourth in the Eastern Conference each season. We look strong, really strong throughout the regular season, but when the playoffs come along, the success this team has used to bombard through the past 82 games mysteriously disappears. Now, I can be an SoB and put such mysteries in the category of Bigfoot, Nessie, and the Roswell incident, but I think for this one, I think I can explain. It involves a combination of using an old philosophy that is ineffective in a new era, and relying on a core of players that are approaching the downside of their careers. Lamoriello has always maintained a team first defense first philosophy, which has brought this Devils team great success (despite boring us to tears during the journey to achieving it), and raised two numbers in the rafters. The post-lockout era was designed to diminish team styles and philosophies such that the one New Jersey and Lou loyally follow. Our post season success proves it. For almost a decade, the Devils have relied on the likes of Patrik Elias, Martin Brodeur, John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, and Colin White, just to mention a few core players still on their team to orchestrate this team's success. These players worked like magic 6, 7, 8 years ago when they were young, energetic, and played in a league, where their system could generate success. Now in the new era, these players are older, slower, tire easier, and fail to succeed at trying the same thing. I know change is hard, but in terms of achieving success, it's necessary. When you look at teams that have hoisted the cup since the lockout, the Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, their teams were built around a core of young, skilled, and recently assembled players that just clicked (especially Detroit). They made the necessary moves to get their team to where they have to be, which included going out and signing or trading for a big name, and adapted greatly to the new NHL, which resulted in a successful season and even more successful post season. I think I'll leave it at that.
Finally, some league ramblings...
The Penguins beat the Washington Caps 6-2 last night, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year. While I prefer Ovechkin over Crosby and hoped the Caps would prevail, I'll support the Pens in their quest for their first cup since the Lemieux days. Bring the cup back to the Atlantic Division boys!
Despite being the conductors to our crushing defeat, I give props to the Carolina Hurricanes and the success this team has amounted to after making it to the post season. After a nine game win streak propelled them into the playoffs since their cup year, they came back from being down 3-2 in the first round, because they were the better team that wanted victory more, and are now playing in their second consecutive game 7 tonight against the Bruins. They're a young, skilled, energetic team that deserves to be where they have to be. Best of luck to them from here on out.