You know, things in the NHL can change pretty quickly. One season, you are in the Stanley Cup Finals. The next, you finish at the bottom of your division and miss the playoffs. That was the case with the New Jersey Devils. One day, you are making a shrewd trade to pick up your goalie of the future. The next thing you know, your best players, who is in their prime, decides they'd rather play in Russia. This is, appropriately enough, also the case for New Jersey.
Ilya Kovalchuk is gone. That leaves the Devils relying on aging veterans like Patrick Elias for their offense, and even with Kovalchuk their offense wasn't good. They have brought in guys like Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe, but they can only do so much, especially since, in addition to Kovalchuk, the Devils lost Clarkson to the ridiculous contract Toronto gave him. I don't see a lot of young talent on offense likely to make big moves either, with all due respect to Adam Henrique.
I also don't see a lot of talent on defense. They are a group of decent guys like Marek Zidlicky and, they hope, an improved Adam Larsson. The big thing is the upgrade in net. Martin Brodeur is a legend in New Jersey, but he has not been good in years. He was awful last season, and Johan Hedberg was worse. They are both old men on the verge of retirement. Hedberg may have hung up the skates already for all I know. Enter Cory Schneider. We don't have a ton of information on him, admittedly, but in 98 games, and 86 starts, he has a .927 save percentage. If he even gets close to that, he is a huge improvement on what Brodeur provided last year. The question is, will the Devils do the smart thing and let Schneider be the starter, relegating Brodeur to being a sparsely used backup? Jersey fans should hope so.
The Devils aren't going to contend for the playoffs this year. Their division is too tough and, frankly, if they don't finish at the bottom of the Atlantic I will be slightly surprised. Well, maybe not, if Carolina is the team that finishes below them. I think New Jersey is closer to the conference's worst team than a playoff team. If they trot Brodeur out there a lot, and he doesn't experience a major late career renaissance, they may even be the worst team in the East. However, by next year Brodeur will likely have ceded the job to Schneider, and they will have money to spend thanks, in part, to Kovalchuk's NHL retirement. Devils fans may have to sit through a rough season, but this downturn shouldn't last long.