The New Jersey Devils have been an interesting story this year. In 2011, GM Lou Lamoriello acquired superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk from the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers. This deal eventually ended up costing the Devils a lot more than what they gave up in the trade. Kovalchuk signed a 15-year $100 million deal with the Devils after signing a deal with the Devils that circumvented the salary cap. The league penalized the Devils by having them forfeit $3 million, as well as a third round pick and this years first round pick. Then, in 2012 when it came time to re-sign team captain Zach Parise, the Devils couldn’t afford to sign him with the majority of their cap space spent on Kovalchuk, so Parise left and signed with his hometown in Minnesota. Then, this past offseason, Kovalchuk retired from the NHL, walking away from the Devils and the remaining 12 years and $77 million on his contract. Kovalchuk too left for the green grass of home, as he is now playing in the KHL with SKA St. Petersberg. This happened on July 11th, and Lamoriello had to act quickly in order to attempt to compensate for the offense Kovalchuk took to Russia with him. He signed forwards Michael Ryder, Damien Brunner, and future hall-of-famer Jaromir Jagr. Even with all of these additions, this season did not look very promising for New Jersey.
Despite being 26th in the NHL with only 46 goals scored (just over 2 a game), the Devils find themselves sitting 20th overall in the NHL and are only 4 points out of a playoff spot. Through the first 21 games this season, we’ve seen something of a changing of the guard in net, as for the first time since 1993, someone other than Martin Brodeur has been the Devils starting goalie. That someone is Marblehead, Massachusetts native Cory Schneider. Being called on to replace the all-time winningest goaltender in NHL history has to add just a bit of pressure to the already stressful task of stopping vulcanized rubber from entering a 4-by-6 foot net, but Schneider is has hit the ground running with his 1.98 GAA and .918 SV%. Brodeur has even publicly stated that he believes Schneider is their starter in net. All of this comes one of the weaker defensives corps in the league.
I’m going to drop a bomb here and say that the devils are going to make the playoffs this year. Their goaltending tandem is too strong to ignore and their veteran forwards have been leading the way and mentoring younger players like Adam Henrique along the way. Having said that, the future of this franchise looks incredibly bleak. Defenseman Adam Larsson sill hasn’t shown us the potential that got him drafted fourth overall in 2011 by the Devils, and expectations are high for the Swedish-born defenseman, especially now that Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Brodin are experiencing success at the NHL level after being drafted 9th and 10th overall in the same year. Larsson can no longer be considered a prospect as he has been playing in the big league for the last two years, and prospects are something the Devils could really use. Their best prospect is Stefan Matteau, the son of former NHLer Stéphane Matteau who scored the double OT game winner against the Devils that clinched a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals for the Rangers in 1994 when they beat the Canucks in seven games to win it all. Outside of him, the Devils prospect pool dries up quickly, and after giving up their 9th overall pick last year to get Schneider and being forced to forfeit their first rounder this year, it still may be a while before the Devils add some much needed young talent to their franchise.