2003-04 New Jersey Devils Preview

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By Matt Canamucio, NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - Do three Cups in nine years make a dynasty? Maybe more like a semi-dynasty. But if the New Jersey make it four championships in 10 -- three-in-five -- we might have to reconsider that assessment.

The Devs' run to the chalice was capped off by a thrilling seven-game victory over the upstart of Anaheim. Despite nearly squandering a two games to none series lead, Jersey fittingly posted a 3-0 win

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 , and Scott Niedermayer have been the constants and all three are back to lead the way once again.

This summer was relatively quiet for GM Lou Lamoriello. Significant losses include veteran warrior and center Joe Nieuwendyk, who recently


a deal with Toronto. Acquisitions include rock-steady defenseman Sean Brown and the ageless , who is up for another season at the age of 42.

Continuing the display of their ability to change personnel while still contending, the will be a bit younger this season, as some of their prospects are slated to get shots. The back end of the defense corps will feature rookies, and a player like Mike Rupp, a hero in Game 7, will be provided a chance to shine.

Does that mean a step back? Looking at the ' track record for developing from within, it's highly doubtful.

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 , Jacques Lemaire, Ken Hitchcock and Burns are your top three candidates, and Burns fit the bill perfectly.

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 just have to score enough to get by. Unlike the Larry Robinson years a few years back, when they were dominant at both ends, the Devs finished in the middle of the pack in offensive output last campaign.

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.

's career as a legitimate scorer was somewhat resurrected during the regular season with 23 goals, but his playoff showing is what really has people bullish. The former Duck and Shark tallied 10 times in 24 postseason games, including four game-winners.

scored a respectable 22 goals prior to the Cup run, but he also stepped it up come spring. The former Star bested Friesen's goal total by one and was flat-out carrying the club in the early rounds.

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 in their Game 7 win over Anaheim. The kid has the tools to be a legit power forward in this league, and he may get his chance to prove it right now.

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 when he was a Devil.

The one glaring weakness of the is their power play, which converted at an NHL-low 11.9 percent success rate during the regular season.

ON DEFENSE - The top two defense pairings are all but set, with Stevens and making up the first and Niedermayer and the bruising Colin White filling out the second.

After that is where the questions start.

Gone are spare parts like and , who never really fit in last season. Brown, 27, is steady and physical and should make the club and fill the hole left by Daneyko. Rookies like minor leaguer and college products David Hale and Matt Dimarchi will vie for the remaining spots.

Of course, the Devil forwards play an integral role in the team's defensive structure too. Madden, , and Grant Marshall have a perfect mixture of grit and discipline, and Madden and Brylin are two of the best penalty killers around. Last season the Devs squashed an NHL- best 87.9 percent of the power plays they faced.

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.

With now gone, Brodeur is easily the class of the NHL goaltending fraternity. From his consistency to puckhandling, it's tough to find a single flaw in his game.

was a capable backup for Brodeur and put up terrific numbers despite the fact that he sat for lengthy periods of time. Schwab appeared in only 11 games and was still able to post a 1.47 GAA and .933 save-percentage.

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 are just starting out in terms of being true contenders, while the have been at it for a decade. It will be interesting to see if Ottawa, full of some of the brightest young talent in hockey, has erased the learning curve.

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