New Jersey Devils
Now that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are heading down the home stretch and the Conference Finals are fast approaching I thought now would be a good time to start my off season breakdown for the New Jersey Devils. Over the course of the next few weeks I will spend some time breaking down the team player by player. I’ll take a look at whom the team should definitely keep and who may find themselves with a new zip code come the fall.
For New Jersey, the 2010-2011 season was about a wild of a ride a professional sports team can take their fan base on. All of this has been well documented. I include myself in this because I literally felt like a broken record repeating myself over and over. I have been reading other writers opinions on the present and future state of the organization and most of it seems to me to be way off base or only partly on base. Of course, I may be a bit biased, but I actually saw slot of great things from this team during the season. I saw a team that is hungry and with the right coach can be one of the elite clubs in the league.
I gave myself a great segue into the first order of business, find a new coach. GM Lou Lamoriello has got to get the right man in that position and fast. The constant changing of the guard behind the bench is becoming a tired act and it’s important for the next coach to be a solid foundation in which the team especially the young talent can build upon and grow with.
The next coach needs to be a veteran coach that can find a nice Zen mix between the older and younger players. The idea that a new hot first time coach, ala John Maclean would be a great innovative decision is actually extremely misguided. Maclean’s poor record (9-22-2) and the fact that he already had players tuning him out by Thanksgiving only adds credence to the fact that “fresh and innovative” rookie coaches aren’t the best thing since sliced bread.
It was recently suggested that Ken Hitchcock is in the running. Not only would he be an ideal candidate to lead the Devils, he appears to be the only candidate that would be able to command the respect of the players in the same way Jacques Lemaire did. Players within the New Jersey system are expected to play a defensive style of game and Hitchcock is one of the best defensive coaches in recent memory. So why mess with a good thing?
Whomever ends up behind the Devils bench will have to figure out the make-up of his team fast. During Brent Sutter’s tenure with the Devils he juggled lines like a clown juggles bowling pins at a kids birthday party. Maclean did the same thing, the only difference his line combination’s made no sense. Basically in a nutshell, finding the right sets of line combos that are both cohesive and productive will add to some of that stability that I spoke of earlier.
There is also the dilemma of finding a way to actually fit Ilya Kovalchuk’s style of play into New Jersey grand scheme. The star Russian sniper is signed for the next 14 years! He needs a clearly defined role on the team. Something Lemaire was able to do quite well.
Kovalchuk is an incredible scorer and he needs a chance to be the type of player he was signed to be.
The other white elephant for New Jersey this summer will be to ink restricted free agent Zach Parise to a new deal or take him to arbitration. For fans, the idea of taking Parise to arbitration is a worst case scenario. Parise has expressed a desire to remain with the team and I can’t see why that wouldn’t be a priority for Lamoriello and company.
The reality of the situation is that the Devils are only a good defenseman or two from being a playoff team for many years to come. If anything a down year gave some of the younger players a chance to showcase their talent and prove that they belong in the NHL. This year we be looked at a merely a blip on the radar for this organization just like the 95-96 was.
Over the next few weeks I will be breaking down each player and what their respective role will be with the team. Stay tuned and remember to use sun tan lotion to avoid any nasty burns to your pale hockey loving skin this summer.
Follow me at twitter.com/@westcoastdevfan
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Don’t Fool Yourself; Devils Demise was a Fluke
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