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Important Off-Season for New Jersey Devils

For the first time since 1995-1996, the Devils did not skate in the playoffs.  Back then though, the Devils were the defending Stanley Cup Champions, a team built around a 23 year old goalie who would become one of the greatest of all time, Martin Brodeur, a defense corps that featured two eventual Hall of Famers in Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, as well as reliable veterans Ken Daneyko and Shawn Chambers, and up and coming 19 year old forwards Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora to go with Brian Rolston, John MacLean, Steve Thomas, Dave Andreychuk and Neal Broten.  A nice mix of young and old, with an average age of 27.5 this team through the guidance of Lou Lamoriello was poised to make a run for years to come, and they would, winning two more Stanley Cups, reaching a fourth finals, and along with Detroit, became one of the two model franchises in the NHL.

Fast-forward to this year, the Devils are now a team who are facing an identity crisis.  Brodeur is entering the final year of his contract, and likely the final year of his Hall of Fame career.  The defense no longer features any standouts, but instead has solid, unspectacular players like Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene (UFA), Colin White and Henrik Tallinder.  The offense has two elite players in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise who is a restricted free agent, Travis Zajac who is a skilled two way centre perpetually on the verge of breaking out, two highly paid, aging players in Elias and Rolston, and a nice collection of roleplayers like David Steckel, David Clarkson, Mattius Tedenby and Danius Zubrus. 

Questions on the horizon

The Devils have a number of things to do this off-season.  Number one on the priority list is resign Zach Parise.  If Kovalchuk is the face of the franchise after signing that huge contract, Parise could well be the heart of it.  Zach is a restricted free agent who should see a lot of interest from teams looking to add a hard working forward with an uncanny ability to put the puck in the net, so basically everyone.  He’s going to be wanting a big time contract and it’s fair to question just how much the Devils can afford to pay out, when they are currently on the hook for over 16 million dollars for their three oldest players, not to mention the six million plus they are paying to Kovalchuk.  Expect the Rangers, Avalanche, and Kings in particular to be in heavy on Parise.  In the end though, the smart money here says the Devils find the money and end up giving Zach about five and a half per year for five years.

Resigning Zach Parise is key to the NJ Devils off-season

If Zach is priority 1, consider 1A finding a head coach.  The Devils were a terrible franchise under rookie coach John MacLean, finishing with 9 wins, 20 losses, and 2 overtime losses.  The team suffered greatly from a lack of defense under MacLean, and when Jacques Lemaire was hired back as the head coach the team streaked to a 29-17-3 finish.  Despite that, Jacques made it clear from the beginning that he would not be coaching in 2011-2012.

Who Can Coach?

Ken Hitchock

The current crop of candidates include former Stanley Cup winner Ken Hitchcock, who is the same type of defensive minded coach that Lemaire is, yet has coached his share of talented goal scores (Brett Hull, Mike Modano, Rick Nash).  He has that tough minded mentality that all successful Devils coaches have shared.

Kirk Muller

The Montreal Canadiens’ assistant coach is this year’s top rookie coaching prodigy.  Considered a great player during his career, he has shown to be able to get along well with players, and could choose to play a more wide open style.  I’m not sure if the Devils are particularly willing to grab another rookie head coach and let them learn on the fly.

Michel Therrien

Former Penguins coach, who took the team to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, is currently a scout for the Minnesota Wild.  Probably not the best choice for the Devils, as he was fired with an impressive array of talent after a bad losing streak cost him his job, and he watched the Penguins hoist the cup later that same year.

Is there a draft in here?

The Devils actually won for losing this year, as they won the NHL Draft lottery, however due to NHL rules that state a team can only move up four places in the draft, the Devils have will be picking 4thin this years draft.  This is the highest the Devils have picked since 1993 when they took Scott Niedermayer number three overall.  NHL insiders have pegged this as a draft with four potential stars, and actually heavily loaded enough in the top 10 that everyone picking there will get a very good player.  I think the Devils draft a defenseman at number 4, whether its Adam Larsson or Dougie Hamilton.  Either one will be a building block for years to come.  If the Devils go the forward route, the greatest need is at center and Jonathan Huberdeau or Sean Couturier seem to be the most likely choices. 

Its an interesting time to be a Devils fan, and there could be some growing pains as the team changes from its defensive roots to a more wide open style to fit in with the “New” NHL.  Last year we saw some glimmers of the good and the bad, but if things broke the right way, this team would have been in the playoffs.  This off-season and next year’s will determine a lot about that state of the New Jersey Devils. 



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