Mar 2, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider (35) makes a save during the second period against the San Jose Sharks at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 NHL season preview: New Jersey Devils

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This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the New Jersey Devils.

What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?

As we’ve come to expect from the Devils, they didn’t give opponents much last season. They finished 6th in the NHL in goals against (2.38), allowed the fewest shots per game (25.5) and had the league’s best penalty kill (86.4%).

Anchoring the defense was goaltender Cory Schneider, who came over from Vancouver at last year’s draft. In his first season with New Jersey, where he split starts with future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, he posted a .921 save percentage and 1.97 goals-against-average (3rd best in the NHL) with 3 shutouts in 45 games.

After signing a one-year deal with the Devils, many thought a 41 year-old Jaromir Jagr was nothing but a support player, much like he’d been in Boston, Dallas and Philadelphia in the seasons before. Not only did he play in all 82 games, but he also led the Devils with 43 assists and 67 points. He was also a +16, also a team-high. Not bad for an old man.

After a difficult sophomore season where he registered just 16 points in 42 games, Adam Henrique had a nice bounce-back year for the Devils. He led the team with a career-high 25 goals thanks to an incredible 18.2% shooting percentage. He also ended the season on a tear, scoring 9 goals and 14 points in his final 17 games.

What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?

This season will be the first since 1992-93 that Martin Brodeur will not be New Jersey’s starting goaltender. Arguably the best goaltender of all time, Brodeur had a difficult last couple of seasons, which likely contributed to the decision to first bring in Schneider and then let Brodeur test the free agent waters this past summer. His .901 save percentage was the worst of his career, and his 2.51 goals-against-average came close (his worst was 2.57 in 2005-06). It’s incredible to think about, but as of this writing Brodeur has yet to find a new team for the upcoming season.

While signing Jagr worked out very well for the Devils, their other big free agent acquisitions up front were less-than-impressive.

Michael Ryder was coming off two consecutive seasons where he scored near a 30-goal pace. The Devils figured Ryder would be able to help an ailing powerplay and provide some good top 6 scoring ability. All he provided for 3.5 million dollars was 18 goals in 82 games, with just 4 coming with the man advantage.

Damien Brunner was slightly cheaper, as the Devils picked him up for 2.5 million on a two-year deal. He didn’t provide much more offense though, scoring just 11 goals in 60 games and was a -11.

The worst signing of the summer however might be Ryane Clowe. 5 years, 4.85 million per year is a lot of money and a lot of years for a player who supplied the Devils with 7 goals, 26 points and a -10 in 43 games last season. This is also a player who has scored in double figures in goals in just 5 of his 9 NHL seasons.

So what did they do to get better?

Last season, the Devils were 1-3 with their free agent signings at forward. They’ll be hoping for better results this year.

Mike Cammalleri was given a 5-year, 25 million dollar deal this past summer to try to provide what Ryder couldn’t: a bona fide goal-scoring winger who can contribute on the powerplay. His 26 goals in 63 games represented his highest goals-per-game average since he put up 39 goals in 2008-09.

Joining Cammalleri up front is Martin Havlat, albeit on a much less risky one-year deal worth 1.5 million. In his last three seasons in San Jose, he’s missed 85 games. He also scored just 27 goals in that span. The Devils hope he can return to the form that once made him one of the better two-way wingers in the NHL, but that’s asking a lot of a 33 year-old player who has not had a healthy season in several years.

Player to watch

As with Martin Brodeur before, the Devils will live and die with their goaltender Cory Schneider. While he’s certainly shown the ability to steal games in the NHL, there are questions on whether or not he can carry a starter’s load over a full season.

While his numbers were solid last season, they were also the lowest of his career in a season where he played the most games he ever has in a season (45).

 …it’s hard to imagine Jagr not slowing down or breaking down physically

They will make the playoffs if…

Someone scores a few goals. Anyone?

They will miss the playoffs if…

Cory Schneider either cannot handle 65-70 games or goes down with an injury. The backup-plan in New Jersey is currently Keith Kinkaid, an undrafted goaltender who has played in one NHL game.

What should we expect this season?

Many expected the Devils to be near the bottom of the NHL last season. While they were far from an elite team, they still won 35 games, all of them in regulation.

They may have another surprise in store for us this year, but it’s hard to imagine Jagr not slowing down or breaking down physically, and Ryder, Brunner and Clowe making miraculous comebacks offensively.

The Devils will be in tough to replicate their 88 points unless they get more balanced offensive production and (yes, AND) an MVP-calibre season from Schneider.

Prediction

33-38-11 77 points, 8th in the Metropolitan Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference

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Tags: 2014-15 NHL Season Previews New Jersey Devils NHL

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