Can healthy Parise, new coach lift Devs?
It was a strange season in 2010-11 for the Devils, who couldn't overcome a horrid start and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96. New Jersey stood at a woeful 10-29-2 at the midpoint of the season. Jacques Lemaire came out of retirement to return to the Devils bench and led the club to a 28-10-3 record in the second half, but that wasn't enough to get them back to the postseason.
With Lemaire back in retirement, the Devils have turned to Peter DeBoer, who takes over behind the bench after failing to get Florida to the playoffs in the last three seasons.
2010-11 record: 38-39-5, 81 points (4th Atlantic Division; 11th Eastern Conference; did not qualify for playoffs)
Key additions: F Eric Boulton (free agent); F Cam Janssen (free agent); F Stephen Veilleux (free agent); D Adam Larsson (draft)
Key losses: F Brian Rolston (traded to NY Islanders); D Colin White (bought out, signed with San Jose); F Trent Hunter (bought out); F Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (traded to Calgary); D Anssi Salmela (signed with Avangard Omsk, KHL)
Burning question: How much does Martin Brodeur have left in the tank?
No one in NHL history has more wins (625) or shutouts (116) than Brodeur, whose Hall of Fame credentials are above reproach. But Brodeur is coming off the first losing season in his 18 years in the NHL. There were plenty of problems with the team in front of him last year, but Brodeur (23-26-3, 2.45 GAA, .903 save percentage) has to shoulder some of the blame as well for a season that didn't meet his usual lofty standards.
Brodeur has also appeared human in recent postseasons, with the Devils failing to get out of the first round for three straight years before missing the playoffs altogether last year. Can Brodeur reverse that trend and key another long playoff run at age 39? The Devils are banking on it, with only Johan Hedberg in place to back up Brodeur.
2011-12 outlook: Last year, the Devils made news all summer with their pursuit of Ilya Kovalchuk, and the controversy over his mammoth contract. The NHL finally approved a reworked 15-year, $100-million deal, but Kovalchuk didn't return much on that investment early. He had just four goals at the start of December, but like the team he finished strong with 31-29-60 totals. New Jersey will need more consistency from him, as well as a big year from Zach Parise, who missed most of last season with a knee injury. The Devils could be in trouble if he has too big a year though, as he signed just a one-year deal this summer and will be in line for a huge payday of his own next year.
The Devils didn't add a lot of help for that talented tandem, counting instead on youngsters within the organization to step up. That could include Adam Larsson, the fourth overall pick in this year's draft who has a good chance to make the leap directly to the NHL. The one area New Jersey did improve this offseason was in adding some toughness, bringing back Janssen and also signing Boulton. The Devils' other moves consisted mostly of continuing to create room for the youngsters by jettisoning veterans. They traded Rolston to the Islanders in a salary dump, then bought out White and Hunter, who was acquired from New York for Rolston.
Did you know? DeBoer is the 10th coach the Devils have had behind the bench since their last Cup win in 2003. Pat Burns hoisted the Cup that spring, and has since been followed by Larry Robinson, Lou Lamoriello, Claude Julien, Lamoriello again, Brent Sutter, Jacques Lemaire, John MacLean, Lemaire again and now DeBoer.