Earlier today on NHL Home Ice (XM Radio), they were discussing the five burning questions surrounding the New Jersey Devils as we head into the 2008-09 season. And from those five questions, they derived five incredibly biased answers. I love my XM and couldn’t live without it, but the truth is that they certainly make no attempt to hide their allegience to Leaf Nation…you know, the poor souls who have nothing better to do but criticize successful teams because they themselves have not even been to the Finals let alone won a Stanley Cup since 1967. But I digress…the point of this blog is not to knock the XM staff; rather, I wanted to answer their five burning questions from the perspective of the Devils fan, the people who truly know their team and don’t care how much Haterade the rest of the NHL seems to love drinking so much.
Question 1: How much do Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik help the Devils’ forward unit?
The answer is they each help in very different ways. The key to Rolston being a successful signing is that he has to be able to put up 35-40 goals each season like was doing in Minnesota. It’s not that coming to New Jersey decreases his ability to do so; more like the chemistry he had developed with the other Wild forwards played a role in his point production, and he is going to have to build that level of chemistry with his new teammates from scratch. When so many of the NHL’s premier teams build their success on the ability to score goals, Rolston’s ability to help score goals and anchor the powerplay will be crucial to the Devils building on last year.
Bobby Holik helps a lot if he can fill a different role. In both the 2007 and 2008 playoffs, the Devils suffered from a severe lack of physical play. In 2007 they were pushed around by the Ottawa Senators with not so much as an afterthought. Last year, they were in desperate need of a player who would stand up to Sean Avery during his crease antics, as well as retaliate on Henrik Lundqvist—something which was promised, but never delivered.
The success of the Devils’ offense is largely dependent on all of the forwards producing the way they are capable of, but it is also heavily related to the success of these two new players. If Rolston can add a 40-goal season to our offense, and Holik can use his size and bravado to keep opponents honest, then the answer is they help our front end a lot.
Question 2: Did the Devils forget how to draft?
I have to clarify something here…they deliberately left out the drafts from 2006-2008, since those players have not yet developed and therefore cannot be judged. Their argument was that from 2000-2005, the Devils have not drafted with the same success rate as they did throughout the entire span of the 1990s. Okay, the problem with that, however, is that no team is immune from drafting dry spells. Drafting is such an inexact science that its bound to happen, and for the Devils it just happened to fall within the comfortable little time frame that is recent enough to measure its direct effects on the pipeline. If one were to guess, based on current progress, as to the success of draft classes 2006-2008, it would appear that they will prove far better than their predecessors. The one truth in this situation is that the Devils roster is not as homegrown as rosters past. There is more of a recent dependence on free agency, a direct result of the aforementoned drafting dry spell. Only time will tell, but the immediate impression of our future troops is that all is well in draft land yet again. Patrice Cormier has been pegged by many as the steal of the ‘08 draft, and high picks Tedenby and Burlon join a growing corps of future Devils such as Corrente, Bergfors, Vrana. By the way, this group should be pegged The Future Five.
Question 3: Is the defense corps good enough?
This is a hard question to answer, because the truth is they really surpassed anyone’s expectations last year. We saw Paul Martin seize the reigns as the #1 defenseman, Johnny Oduya finally have the breakout the scouts saw in him when they signed him as a free agent, Mike Mottau rise from the depths of obscurity and Colin White look a career-ending injury in the face and say “too bad, but I’m going to play anyway.” On the other hand, we also saw a few million dollars spent on Vitaly Vishnevski fly out the window as he battled with mediocrity, we saw Andy Greene rotting in the press box because he could not keep up, and we saw why bringing aboard Sheldon Brookbank doesn’t exactly better your chances of doing much of anything.
There were too many ups and downs to fairly pass judgment in my opinion, so I’ll just go with a “I hope so.”
Question 4: How many games will Martin Brodeur play this season?
The answer should be no more than 70. I know it’s Martin Brodeur, arguably the greatest goalie ever, and I know that he “never gets tired,” but it doesn’t matter; rest helps everyone. It also helps Kevin Weekes, who should start the other 12 games. This is much simpler than the Devils have ever made it out to be. Weekes plays more, stays on top of his game, is ready and waiting whenever needed. Marty rests more, is sharper, come playoff time doesn’t lose a step. If anyone can step in and make this happen, it’s Brent Sutter. You need to say to Marty, “look, I know you want to play every game, and that’s really terrific. But I’m the head coach and you’re going to play when I tell you to play.” 70 games is not a small number, other than by Brodeur standards.
Question 5: Are the Devils legitimate Cup contenders?
As I see it, the Devils are no less a contender than your Pittsburghs and Philadelphias. What they lack in star power, they make up for in discipline and putting the team above all else. That’s how they won it the last three times, and its a system that works. I’m not saying they are going to win, all I’m saying is that you need to include them in the list of teams which could potentially win. Most people won’t, but then again, they didn’t in 1995, 2000, or 2003 either…and we all know how that worked out.