In a summer where everything started to fall apart for the New Jersey Devils, General Manager Lou Lamoriello did a pretty good job of keeping it together.
When the Devils missed the playoffs in the spring of 2010-2011, they answered back the following season in a surprising finish. After a seven game series with the Florida Panthers the Devils surpassed their biggest divisional rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers before the Los Angeles Kings ended their season in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Devils are looking to make yet another miraculous comeback after finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference in the shortened 2012-2013 season, starting on Thursday when they face the highly-regarded Pittsburgh Penguins in their season opener.
Realignment, an unexpected NHL retirement and the departure of their top-scoring forward last season has combined to make the task that much harder for the Devils, but there’s no reason to think they can’t overcome the obstacle.
Three improvements the New Jersey Devils made this offseason that could shake things up in the Metropolitan Division:
1. It didn’t take Lou Lamoriello long to find a player to replace David Clarkson when Clarkson decided to leave New Jersey to sign with his hometown team the Toronto Maple Leafs. One season removed from a 45 point season, Ryane Clowe signed a 5-year deal worth $24.25 with the Devils in July.
At 6’2, Clowe adds a physical presence and in three preseason games with his new club has shown his play making abilities. An asset to the Devils power play which has struggled and his passes that set up his teammates.
A healthy Clowe will be an upgrade from a streaky Clarkson.
2. When your franchise goaltender turns 42 in the upcoming season, the best thing to do is start looking for a replacement. In a moment that shocked everyone around the league, Lou Lamoriello did just that but trading the 9th overall NHL Entry Draft pick to Vancouver in exchange for goaltender Cory Schneider.
The 27-year old Massachusetts native is coming off of a season where he secured 17 wins and posted a career-high of five shutouts in his 33-games played.
The heir apparent gave up one goal through 200 minutes of preseason hockey leaving Devils’ fans relieved and excited about what Schneider will do for the club.
As Brodeur showed signs of wear and tear the last couple of seasons, it was Johan Hedberg expected to man the cage in Brodeur’s absence but Hedberg couldn’t seem to put it all together in his final season with New Jersey. With a dependable backup in Schneider, the concerns of over-using Brodeur will no longer hang in the minds of the coaching staff. In fact, their biggest concern will be how can they find a way to play Schneider over Martin Brodeur.
Playing in the Metropolitan Division against some of the best talent in the NHL, the Devils will get the edge in goaltending with two ready-to-play goalies competing for the right to play each night.
3. Gone are the days of needing to sign plug players to try and add depth to the Devils roster. Lamoriello over-shopped the trading floor last Spring, bringing on the likes of Matt D’Agostini and Steve Sullivan while also adding Tom Kostopolous from the waiver wire.
This summer, the Devils added proven players like Damien Brunner and Michael Ryder who in just the preseason have shown they will be contributing factors in getting the Devils back into the Playoff fold.
Brunner, who signed with the Devils after attending training camp on a tryout basis had 26 points in his season with the Detroit Red Wings last year. Through four preseason games with the Devils Brunner had one goal and added two assists.
Michael Ryder has proven to be a threat on the ice over his career and the Devils expect him to continue over the length of his two-year contract. The 33-year old had a career high of 35 goals in 2011-2012 where he finished with 62 points with the Dallas Stars. His time in the Lone Star State ended 19 games into the season the following year before he would return to his original club in Montreal. New Jersey will be Ryder’s third destination in the last two seasons.
Ryder finished out the year with 16 goals, 19 assists and added two points in five postseason games.
Though the competition will be tough and many pundits have already written them off, there’s no reason to believe the New Jersey Devils won’t be right there with the best in the East come April.
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