I guess what we're really looking for is that the team is better than it was in 2011-2012, right?
On defense, I don't think it's safe to say we are better yet. Losing Tallinder did not make the team better. The defense for the 2011-2012 playoffs was:
We've got Fayne and Larsson aging in a good way, while Sal, Volch, and Zid are aging in a bad way (presumably). Greene is likely getting better, too. The only way to determine whether the defense will actually be better or worse is if a move is made that would allow for a young defenseman to play, in my opinion. My instinct says, though, that Larsson will really step it up this year, and hopefully make up for the Salvador and Volchenkov factor.
As things are now, I would say defense will be about the same as it was in 2011-2012.
Offense is where we're seeing a lot of changes.
Players from 2011-2012 that are likely to start in 2013-2014: Elias, Zajac, Zubrus, Henrique, Josefson, Bernier, Carter.
Elias, Zubrus getting older. Henrique, Josefson getting closer to their prime years. Bernier, Carter, Zajac are probably going to be about the same, unless Zajac finally has his breakout year.
Lost: Parise, Kovalchuk, Clarkson, Ponikarovsky, Gionta (assuming he's in the AHL this year), Sykora.
Gained: Jagr, Loktionov, Clowe, Ryder, Olesz.
The question is: are the players gained good enough to account for the players lost?
We've said that Clowe is essentially a Clarkson upgrade if all goes well. It is my belief that Olesz is a Ponikarovsky replacement, who has potential turn out to be a lot better, especially under DeBoer again. Loktionov + Ryder softens the blow of losing Parise. I'm not sure they'll account for his effectiveness without the puck, but I think it's fair to expect these guys to exceed Parise's point production, hopefully by a good amount if Loktionov has a strong season. I won't get into a Sykora/Gionta analysis since Sykora became useless by playoff time, and we've got several guys who could clearly take Gionta's spot on the roster.
So that leaves Jaromir Jagr vs. Ilya Kovalchuk. You'd be crazy to think that this is a replacement, but don't be surprised if Jagr is able to score a lot of goals this season. But I guess my analysis of the offense ends here, with the conclusion that our offense will probably not be as good as it was 2 seasons ago, unless there's a change in the system.
But, I am confident that the addition of Cory Schneider will be enough to offset the loss of offensive talent with the departure of Parise and Kovalchuk. It seemed that there were times where Kovalchuk was able to take games into his own hands and really win a game for the Devils. Now with Schneider, I think that we may have acquired somebody who can save games on his own, like the way Marty used to years ago.
Another thing to keep in mind is that I'm sure there was a lot of luck associated with that playoff run. We will need to be a better team than that in order to even make it to the conference finals next year. I think the variables lie in whether Schneider gets many starts and the progress of: Josefson, Henrique, Loktionov, and Zajac. But we're looking at a very good team for this season.
A few other things to keep in mind:
1. Jagr will NOT make Henrique into Giroux. There are no signs from Henrique's past that he has what it takes to be anything like Claude Giroux. Playing with Jagr will be no more beneficial to him than playing with Parise and Kovalchuk, IMO. Actually, I could see him doing more for Josefson or Loktionov than Henrique.
2. Just because I like the team going forward, doesn't mean that I'm ignoring the need for elite talent. As it stands now, Elias is the Devils' best forward. When he begins to decline significantly, we're going to be in a lot of trouble. There is no promising first line talent in the prospect system (yes, including Boucher), and I have absolutely no idea how they are going to address this issue moving forward. Rolling 2 second lines and 2 third lines is scary.
3. I am not going to be so quick to call Rostislav Olesz just another Steve Bernier. Call me overly optimistic, but I have very high hopes for this guy. He could be a fourth liner all season, maybe he won't even play much, but he could also return to the player he was during his first few seasons and become a sold second liner.