Leading up to September 18th, when training camp opens for the Columbus Blue Jackets, we’re taking a look at their Metropolitan Division opponents. Last week, we analyzed the Carolina Hurricanes. This week, it’s Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils turn to walk in the spotlight.
Today: The New Jersey Devils
New Jersey finished the 2013-14 season in sixth place in the division with 88 points. This made it two years in a row that they did not qualify for post-season play, a bit off a falloff from going to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011-12 and losing in six games to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Devils have been in transition since that Finals appearance, with new owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer buying the team in 2013. In March of this year, the NHL partially reversed the penalties it had imposed on the team in the wake of the salary cap circumventing contract signing of Ilya Kovalchuk.
As head coach Peter DeBoer gets set to enter his fourth season behind the bench, can he put the pieces together and make them work for the three-time Stanley Cup Champions?
Two things that stand out about the Devils as they enter the 2014-15 season are injuries and age. The injury bug has not been kind to them over the last few years, with the team announcing 261 man games lost in 2013-14, fourth highest in the division behind Pittsburgh (529), Columbus (297) and Carolina (297). While this number in and of itself is not staggering (the Penguins hold that dubious honor), it did hurt them over the course of the season.
The players in the "injury-prone" category for the Devils are Ryan Clowe (concussions), Mike Cammalleri (various injuries), Martin Havlat (various injuries) and Bryce Salvador (concussion, various injuries). The team needs these players to stay relatively healthy for the majority of the season.
The age of the team is the other burning question mark entering the new season. They hold the top spot in average age at 31.5, which is almost two full years older than the Flyers (in second at 29.7). Leading the way is the ageless wonder that is Jaromir Jagr, who is 42 years old. He was the teams’ leading scorer last season, garnering 24-43-67 in 82 games played. He was signed to another one-year contract in April, 2014.
Long-time Devils player Patrick Elias is another player with a lot of mileage on him at the age of 38. Last year he put up 18-35-53 in 65 games. Overall, Elias has been relatively healthy, although one has to wonder if the years are starting to catch up with him. While injuries and age do not always go hand-in-hand, it has to be a concern that some of their "go-to" players are on the wrong side of 30.
The other notables above 30 years of age are Bryce Salvador (38), Martin Havlat (33) and Ryan Clowe (31). This does not mean to say that their best years are behind, but the question remains about the correlation between injury and age in regards to these players and not a ton of depth to fill-in with the eventual and almost certain injury call-ups.
As for offseason acquisitions, the Devils signed left wing Mike Cammalleri to a five-year, $25M deal on July 1. In 63 games last season with the Calgary Flames, Cammalleri posted 26-19-45. Health is the main issue with him, as 2008-09 was the last time he played over 67 games in a season.
Also on July 1, Martin Havlat (bought-out by the San Jose Sharks in June, 2014) signed a one year, $1.5M deal with the Devils. He’s been affected by injury and a lack of production, going 27-40-107 in 127 games played over the last three years with the Sharks. Will the change of scenery bode well for him, enough to get his game back on track?
In goal, New Jersey had relied on the services of Martin Brodeur for the past 21 years. With the seven year, $42M signing of Cory Schneider, a changing of the guard has taken place. That price seems a bit steep for a goaltender that has never been a true number one in net and only started 45 games last season.
After missing the playoffs by a measly five points last year, the New Jersey Devils could be the "sleeper" team that makes a run in 2014-15, provided they stay healthy. The Metropolitan Division seems to be a somewhat wide open crap-shoot for the playoff positions available next April. Pittsburgh looks to be the "top dog" in the Metro, although that’s debatable after the run that Columbus gave them in the playoffs, while the rest of the division is wide open.