2003-04 New Jersey Devils Preview
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(Sports Network) - Do three Cups in nine years make a dynasty? Maybe more like a semi-dynasty. But if the New Jersey
The Devs' run to the chalice was capped off by a thrilling seven-game victory over the upstart
in the deciding contest to secure its place in history.
Pat Burns' and Co. earned the franchise's third title with its third different coach and a third different cast of characters. Of course, the nucleus has been the same for all three, as
This summer was relatively quiet for
a deal with Toronto. Acquisitions include rock-steady defenseman Sean Brown and the ageless
Continuing the display of their ability to change personnel while still contending, the
Does that mean a step back? Looking at the
AT THE HELM - Burns finally got the Stanley Cup monkey off his back, in his second trek to the Finals. If you're looking for a coach to lead a defensive-minded team like the
At the same time, his no-nonsense style was on full display, as he wasn't afraid to irritate high-profile players like Scott Gomez and Patrik Elias, whom he benched at one time or another last season.
ON THE ATTACK - With their stern defensive style and a continued reliance on Brodeur, the
And with the end result of a mediocre offensive showing a championship, you might think that if things stay the same New Jersey would be just fine. However, the roster had its share of underachievers at the top during the regular season.
First is winger Patrik Elias, the only remnant of the old A-line that dominated opponents in 2000 and '01. Elias led team with 57 points (28g, 29a) but was far too inconsistent for comfort. Getting back to the 40-goal mark he reached in 00-01 might be an unreasonable request, but if it happens don't be shocked.
Larionov will likely be more of a role-player at this point in his career, and look for Rupp to help fill the void left by Nieuwendyk. The 6-5, 235-pounder made a minimal contribution during the regular season and most of the playoffs, but he figured in all three goals scored by the
Former Selke winner John Madden, in addition to being a premier shut down forward, has averaged 18.5 goals per-season in his career, and his speed allowed him to score twice shorthanded last season. He was simply awesome last postseason, scoring six goals with 10 assists while containing some of the best lines in the league.
And we cannot forget to mention former Calder winner Scott Gomez, whose numbers have never gotten back to where they were as a rookie in 1999-2000. Gomez, who chipped in 13 goals and 42 assists last season, plays at his best when he has a high-scoring winger alongside him, i.e. his prime production came on a line with
The one glaring weakness of the
ON DEFENSE - The top two defense pairings are all but set, with Stevens and
After that is where the questions start.
Gone are spare parts like
Of course, the Devil forwards play an integral role in the team's defensive structure too. Madden,
IN THE CREASE - Brodeur is coming off his finest season as a pro and was rewarded with his first Vezina Trophy in June. The future Hall of Famer, now 31, went 41-23-9 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .914 save percentage and is the only netminder ever to post seven straight 35-win campaigns.
X-FACTOR - This team is run so well from top to bottom, it's hard to imagine something that can bring it down. But if there are struggles from those rookie blueliners, that could throw a nice wrench in plans for a repeat. However, if that does occur, you'd expect Lamoriello to acquire veteran help during the season. Also, it remains to be seen just how long Stevens can go at such a high level.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - In the Eastern Conference it is New Jersey, Ottawa and everyone else. The