The start of the season is just a few days away so there is no better time to put together my Devils season preview.
Last Season: Finished third in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division champions (51-27-4, 106 points), eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in a shocker in the first round of the conference playoffs, 4-3.
For the second year in a row, the Devils saw their season end early in the playoffs, this time to the sticks of the Carolina Hurricanes. To be truthful, I thought Carolina and NJ were very evenly matched teams, the killer about that series would be the come from behind wins in Game 6 and Game 7 as well as the Jussi Jokinen buzzer beating goal in Game 4 which turned Marty from a fun loving guy into a monster his own daughter wouldn't talk to. (He's since seen the error of his ways!!)
The Devils were a surprise to everyone last season because of the injury to Marty Broduer that forced him to miss 50 games. Scott Clemenson came up from Lowell, made Kevein Weekes continue to sit on the bench and saved the season for the Devils. Parise had an incredible season creating talk of being the first Devil in franchise history to reach a 100 points, something he eventually fell short of by only 6 points.
Off-Season Action: Brent Sutter stepped down as head coach and duped the organization into thinking he wanted to be with his family. Technically, Calgary is closer to his family and he gets to work with his brother but I am still calling foul on this situation. Lou turned to his good friend Jaques Lemaire to return to the Devils bench after leaving Minnesota. John McLean was given the head coaching duties in Lowell, which part of me wonders if this is to prep him for being the Devils head coach in the future. Scott Stevens was given a more active coaching role with the team (another preperation for the future) and Jaques good friend Mario Tremblay is along for the ride.
Long time favorite of mine, John Madden traded in his NJ address for one in Chicago while Scott Clemmensen, Brian Gionta, Niclas Havelid and Mike Rupp also opted for a change of address. Bobby Holik officially hung up his skates and Kevin Weekes took a job with Hockey Night in Canda (add your own HNIC jokes here!) Lou has never been a major player in the Free Agent Frenzy and continued that trend this year adding only Yann Danis and Cory Murphy well after July 1st deadline. Ilkka Pikkarainen hopes to follow in the footsteps of John Madden and Brian Raflaksi as guys that no one drafts, gets a chance from Lou and eventually becomes a major contributor in the NHL and as fans, we do too!! Brendan Shanahan returns to the Devils for a second straight season signing another one-year deal with team, which begs us to question is this going to be it for him? Travis Zajac and Johnny Oduya sign long term deals with the club.
Leading The Way: Zack Parise will continue to get more and more people to open their wallets and buy a #9 jersey. Last season he was on a line with Zajac and Langenbruuner and we watched him score 45 goals and 94 points which were almost record highs in both categories. There is no reason to believe he won't be able to at least equal those numbers this season, even on a team coached by Lemaire and thus aggrevating the Rangers fans out there because they have to live with knowing they took Hugh Jessiman over Zack Parise. Brian Rolston SHOULD step it up this season. He's back with his coach, back on the wing and should find a system that he's familiar with and does will in.
Breakout Player: Without a doubt this has to be David Clarkson this season. There is no reason to believe he can't be a 20 goal scorer this season and even put up 20 assists. Clarkson went from 9 goals in 2007/2008 to 17 goals last season and continues to remind every long time Devils fan of Randy McKay. Like McKay, he'll find himself in front of the net a lot putting in those so called "garbage goals" and, like McKay, not hesitate in throwing down the gloves. McKay scored a career high 24 goals while playing for Lemaire.
Blueline Hero: Paul Martin scored 33 points last season, led all D-men in ice time and average shifts by a long shot but doesn't get the praise like certain D-men before him. He's a critical player to this organization. Right behind him some would put Colin White's name here but I am going to go with Johnny Oduya (am I the only one who quotes Fargo when people talk of him?? Oh do ya now?) because he is so gifted with moving the puck.
Between The Pipes: The usual debates have already begun about whether Marty (who turns 38 in May) should play 70+ games but it's a bit moot after he played only 31 last season and still had inconsistency in the postseason. If the Devils make the playoffs again, it will be (as always) on Brodeur's shoulders.
2009/2010 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: C- (hard to give it that much considering the lose Madden on the P-Kill).
Coaching: B (Lemaire didn't have great recent success in Minnesota).
Management: A (Come on it's LOU!!)
The Atlantic Division is once again a tough division. It has seen 4 of its 5 teams make the playoffs for 3 straight seasons. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are two teams that I think could finish ahead of NJ and the Rangers and Islanders are two teams that could finish behind the Devils. I see the Devils finishing third in the division and fifth overall meeting the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. Is a cup in the future for this team? I can't answer that question but the Devils should continue their consistent march to the playoffs in the Spring and as a Devils fan, that's all you can ask for, a shot!
Before we move on to the 2009/2010 season, let's just go back a visit the highlights from last season one more time!!