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It really feels like I’ve already written about the Devils a dozen times this offseason. Truth be told, that’s probably accurate. It’s been a rollercoaster.
They resigned key players like Marek Zidlicky, Dainius Zubrus, and Patrik Elias. They’ve got Travis Zajac under contract for eight more years and picked up Ryan Clowe for 5. They also got Rostislav Olesz for a cheap one year deal to see if he can live up to his early potential. All in all, it was shaping up to be a nice summer for the Devils.
The first bit of shocking news came on June 30th, when the Devils surprisingly entered the “please take one of our goalies” sweepstakes with the Canucks. Not only was this significant because it finally ended the Luongo / Shneider debacle, but it also cast doubt on the role of the future Hall of Famer they already have. There was more than a little grumbling about the Devils trading for a starting goalie with Martin Brodeur still on the team. However, all due respect to legendary status and all, but Marty is 41 and barreling towards Chris Chelios status at a rapid pace. This is unprecedented territory for a goalie, so preparing for the inevitable change in net is the smart thing to do, right? It’s just time, even if the old goalie has done plenty of unprecedented things in the past (you know, like playing in 1220 games and winning 669 of them).
However, Devils and NHL fans alike would not have much time to process this changing of the guard, because the second bombshell hit just 15 days later. SPOILER ALERT: Ilya Kovalchuk isn’t in the NHL anymore. You may have missed that… if you have no interest in hockey whatsoever and go to great lengths to avoid it (okay, you don’t have to really do much to avoid it, just watch ESPN). I’ve already said a great deal about this before, but as a quick recap, the Devils have lost their best player, but will probably be better off for it in 4-5 seasons. In the meantime, it probably just means that the final years of some of the remaining New Jersey legends, like Elias and Brodeur, may be wasted in mediocrity. But then…
Enter Jagr! And the rollercoaster ride continues (I hadn’t abandoned the metaphor in favor of bomb shells, okay? Sheesh). Why have one 41-year old first ballot Hall of Famer when you can have two? Just imagine the fastest skater contest between those two. Somebody must set this up at a practice. Well, it may stretch over several practices before there’s a finisher. Also, added bonus, Brodeur actually gets to be a couple of months younger than somebody on his team. Odder things have happened, right? I can’t think of anything though.
So what is this rag tag bunch of veterans likely to bring us in 2013-14 (didn’t Sylvester Stallone already make this movie)? I’m stumped. In one respect, it all seems pretty predictable. Elias, Zidlicky, Zubrus, Jagr, Volchenkov, Ryder, etc.. They’re all known quantities and will likely produce to somewhat similar levels as last year. Ryane Clowe and Travis Zajac could use bounce back seasons, but the rest seem likely to produce what they’ve been producing. The only big potential for improvement is with the youngsters like Andrei Loktionov, Adam Larsson, and Adam Henrique. They are each young players with room for improvement. However, a big question is whether Loktionov can continue to show positive signs of becoming a regular NHLer without Kovalchuk as his linemate now. Loktionov looked like a different player when Kovalchuk went down with an injury last year.
In fact, the whole team looked markedly worse without Kovalchuk. The season took a nose dive for the Devils. So, the question that will haunt this season is, do they have enough to overcome his loss? Is Jagr, Clowe, and better years out of the core a sufficient answer? It seems unlikely, but it’d be wrong to ever count the Devils out. No team is better at looking lost at sea one minute, and ready to conquer the next (ahhhh, metaphors!).
Optimism rating (out of 5): 2.0