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2010-11 NHL Previews: New Jersey Devils

RETURN TO 2010-11 NHL PREVIEW INDEX

2009-10 RECORD:
48-27-7/103 points
1st in Atlantic Division
2nd in Eastern Conf.
—————-
GM: Lou Lamoriello
COACH: John MacLean
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2010-11 PAYROLL:
$63,974,000 ($0.04M below cap)

When you”ve got a coach like John MacLean who was all about hitting the offensive zone with an immediate, high tempo pulse and a top line touted the ZIP line (Zajac, Ilya and Parise) you can bet that the 2010-2011 edition of the New Jersey Devils will be of a different breed than previous renditions of the club. Gone will be the mundane, meticulous defense first philosophy of yesteryear as the Devils seem poised to launch a more aggressive, offensive speed burner type brand of hockey. They certainly have the tools for this exciting style of play as you will be hard pressed to find a top line on any team in the league with as much quickness and goal scoring prowess than the ZIP line. We can’t sleep on the offensive potential of their second and third lines either, though guys like Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, Jamie Lagenbrunner, Brian Rolston, Dainius and David Clarkson do not come close to generating the scoring capabilities of the Devils’ top line they all play the game with enough aggressiveness and speed that they will doubt give the other team’s headaches while thriving in MacLean’s more flexible system.

Along with their great depth at forward the addition of sturdy veteran net minder Johan Hedberg give them an opportunity to sit the aging Martin Brodeur now and again without having to worry about a dramatic drop off in quality play between the pipes.

The Devils definitely have special talent at the forward and goalie spots but their personnel at the blue line present’s serious question marks and gaping holes. Though I do love the addition of shot blocking, hard hitting extraordinaire Anton Volchenkov ( think Darius Kasparitis with class) after the A-Train, the talent at the blue line is very thin. Andy Greene  is too inconsistent to be considered your best puck moving d-man and Henrik Tallinder plays too soft to be the solid shutdown defenseman the Devils are hoping he will be. Colin White and Bryce Salvador display tremendous heart and leadership but other than those two attributes neither guy brings much else to the rink. Who knows?

Perhaps good old fashioned chemistry will make the D-corps more than what they appear to be but until I see them exceed my expectations I must say that they are the big weak link of this squad.

# Pos Name Height Weight Age
25 F Jason Arnott 6′ 5″ 219 35
23 F David Clarkson 6′ 1″ 200 26
26 F Patrik Elias 6′ 1″ 195 34
16 F Adam Henrique 6′ 0″ 195 20
17 F Ilya Kovalchuk 6′ 2″ 230 27
15 F Jamie Langenbrunner 6′ 1″ 205 35
22 F Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond 6′ 2″ 215 25
9 F Zach Parise 5′ 11″ 190 26
10 F Rod Pelley 5′ 11″ 195 26
12 F Brian Rolston 6′ 2″ 210 37
19 F Travis Zajac 6′ 3″ 200 25
8 F Dainius Zubrus 6′ 5″ 225 32
2 D Mark Fraser 6′ 3″ 220 24
6 D Andy Greene 5′ 11″ 190 27
29 D Anssi Salmela 6′ 1″ 200 26
24 D Bryce Salvador 6′ 3″ 215 34
7 D Henrik Tallinder 6′ 3″ 214 31
29 D Alexander Urbom 6′ 3″ 196 19
28 D Anton Volchenkov 6′ 1″ 226 28
5 D Colin White 6′ 4″ 215 32
30 G Martin Brodeur 6′ 2″ 215 38
1 G Johan Hedberg 6′ 0″ 185 37

MOST IMPORTANT COG IN 2010: Ilya Kovalchuk (bank-breaking RW) — For years this guy was a one-man show in Atlanta and molded his game after the notion that none of teammates were gonna give him much help in putting pucks in the net. Some people saw this unspoken creed as the mark of a one-dimensional, selfish, puck hound and rightly so. The guy will never be mistaken for a Selke Trophy candidate and as for a puck distributor, I imagine his teammates have trouble getting him to pass the ketchup during the pregame meal. On the other hand, you can’t blame him for developing the “do what I gotta do” attitude in the pitiful hockey confines of Atlanta. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, a dynastic architect,  is nobody’s fool and he would have never locked Kovalchuk down to such a long-term deal without giving it serious thought and concluding that Kovalchuk will sacrifice a couple of tallies to create for his linemates and forecheck a little. We already understand that few can match his offensive capabilities and if he does develop a more versatile skill set I will have no problem crowning him the best player on the planet. The Devils are already a feasible threat with a one-dimensional Kovalchuk but if he does decide to be that team first, megastar this team could become a serious threat.

KEY ACQUISITION: Johan Hedberg (G – FA from Atlanta) — So what if Hedburg and Brodeur are the combined age of 75? Brodeur is a student of the game who loves watching game film and plays with such concentrated confidence that even at the age of 38 he can control an entire game from the crease. Only problem is his body does not allow him to maintain the work horse detail he was once able to and over the past couple year’s fatigue has been his greatest enemy. The acquisition of Hedberg gives the Devil’s the chance to rest Brodeur and considering that Hedberg is a cerebral, confident net minder in the same ilk as Brodeur he gives the rest of the team a much needed sense of rest easy continuity.

KEY DEPARTURE: Paul Martin (D – Signed with Pittsburgh) — Martin was vastly underappreciated during his tenure with New Jersey. His well rounded play and ability to move the puck are characteristics that New Jersey is terribly missing on their blue line. Even worse is the fact that division foe Pittsburgh snagged him up via free agency. So instead of having a key need addressed and in the bag the Devils’ loss was a huge gain for the team that will be their biggest obstacle for the division crown.

KEY YOUNGSTER: David Clarkson (RW/26 years old) –It may be a stretch calling this guy – at 26 and with 3 seasons under his belt — a youngster, but all signs are pointing to a breakout season for Clarkson this season. He loves to hit and thrives in the corners. He has great size and does not mind fighting (he’s one of the elite middleweight pugilists in the league, by the way) when his style evokes hard feelings from the other bench. Clarkson also displays great versatility when it comes to his skill set. He can play both wing spots, skates very well and he has exhibited a potential 20-goal-a-season scoring touch. I have no problem anticipating the emergence of Clarkson as one of the league’s top power forwards. His potential is that promising.

OUTLOOK: The Devils have tons of talent, battle tested veterans and provocative coaching. I think that they have enough to make a run at the division title and just might be able to produce a deep, lively playoff run. Their questionable blue line is really the only factor that is keeping me from proclaiming them a possible representative of the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Of course, shrewd GM Lamoriello will not sit back and watch the blue line wreck the party and if they do prove to be the weak link of the group I can see him wheeling and dealing a bit and picking up some sort of upgrade via trade. On thing is certain, the brand of hockey that Maclean plans to implement will bring plenty of SportsCenter highlight reels that the NHL sorely needs. We can all be grateful for that.

FINAL PREDICTION:

  • 44 wins
  • 94 points
  • 2nd in Atlantic/5th in Eastern Conference




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