While many are talking about a Kings repeat, what about the
Devils? Are they positioned to make another run at the Stanley Cup and succeed
where they failed this season? Considering they’re sitting at a whopping 30/1
on the betting lines, the odds makers sure don’t think that’s possible.
While plenty of credit has been given to the Los Angeles Kings for their
remarkable run through the 2012 playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup win (as it should), the New Jersey Devils season
was far from a failure. While many pundits expected the Pittsburgh Penguins,
Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins to rule the Eastern Conference, it was in
fact the sixth-seeded Devils and their ageless wonder, goaltender Martin
Brodeur, that surprised.
While the Kings can bring back their entire Stanley Cup
winning team intact, the Devils will have a tough time returning the same cast
they had in the 2011-12 season. They’ll have a whopping 11 unrestricted free
agents to be concerned about with captain Zach Parise and Brodeur at the top of
Brodeur will consider retirement in the offseason, but
there’s a very good chance he returns. If he’s back, it’s unlikely he plays
anywhere other than New Jersey. Unfortunately for Devils fans, the same can’t
be said about Parise.
This is a very thin free agent crop for forwards, and
Parise is at the top of the list. While he says he’d like to return, teams with
cap space will make him offers that he can’t refuse, and if New Jersey can’t
come close, then he’s a goner.
Beyond him, the Devils have to consider whether they want
Alex Ponikarovsky, Ryan Carter, Petr Sykora, Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta,
Bryce Salvador, Peter Harrold, and Johan Hedberg back. While the Devils head
into the offseason with roughly $42 million in cap space, there’s a lot of work
here to do, and it wouldn’t be surprising if there was some noticeable turnover
on this team.
The 2012-13 Season
Even without Parise back, the Devils will still have a
good core to work with, but it’s unlikely to be good enough. Ilya Kovalchuk and
Travis Zajac are excellent forwards, but it’s questionable whether the team will
have enough depth behind them. Can Patrik Elias and David Clarkson repeat the
success they put forth this season?
On defense, the Devils will be banking on plenty of
growth from rookie Adam Larsson, but this unit overachieved this year. Can they
repeat and does Brodeur have one more good season left in him?
The Devils did win the Eastern Conference, but they were
really just one goal away from losing in the first round. That’s how tight a
wire they walked. They definitely caught some breaks in the postseason and, while they’re likely to make it back, it’s unlikely that they catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row.
If Parise is gone, the Devils have no shot at winning the
East next season. Even if he’s back, there’s a good chance that many parts from
the team that won the East this year won’t be along with him next year.
It’s not that the Devils are a team in transition, it’s
just that they weren’t spectacular to begin with; they’re going to be anywhere
between slightly to significantly worse from a talent perspective next season,
and if they caught all the breaks this year, they’re not likely to do so again
They’re a quiet underachiever, so I wouldn’t bet against
them to miss the playoffs and I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished in the
100-point range next year, considering how many times they’ve done that in the
last 15 years, but they aren’t going to win the East.
Pittsburgh Penguins 7/1
Los Angeles Kings 11/1
Chicago Blackhawks 12/1
Detroit Red Wings 12/1
New York Rangers 12/1
St. Louis Blues 12/1
Vancouver Canucks 12/1
Boston Bruins 14/1
Philadelphia Flyers 14/1
Nashville Predators 18/1
San Jose Sharks 22/1
Anaheim Ducks 25/1
Buffalo Sabres 25/1
Tampa Bay Lightning
Washington Capitals 25/1
New Jersey Devils 30/1