At the end of the 2010-2011 NHL Season, the New Jersey Devils were watching the playoffs from home for the first time since 1996. Star forward Zach Parise had been out for the majority of the season with an injury, and Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk had trouble assimilating in Newark.
The team just could not get it together—changes needed to be made.
With a fourth overall draft pick, changes in staff and some new blood, the Devils managed to make all the right decisions to insure themselves a successful run in the 2012 season.
In the following slides are five key changes employed by the Devils that ultimately took them from a failed season to the Stanley Cup finals…
Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the New Jersey Devils, announced in June 2011 that Peter DeBoer would be the new head coach of the Devils. Peter DeBoer’s induction as the head coach of the Devils was a mysterious one—he was not one of the potential candidates that were discussed in the media, and he seemed to have been chosen from nowhere.
In his first year as the Devils’ head coach, DeBoer brought the team to the Stanley Cup Finals after the Devils had missed the playoffs entirely the season before.
“He’s prepared, and he makes us prepared for who we’re playing against. I would say that was the biggest thing,” said Devils’ captain Zach Parise in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s not overkill, but it’s in how much you focus on the other team before playing them. You know what to expect.”
DeBoer made all of the right moves to rejuvenate the Devils back to their playoff-making form. He got New Jersey’s defense going, introduced a relentless forechecking strategy to the team’s offense and most importantly, united the team closer on and off the ice.
Before coaching the Devils, DeBoer had spent three seasons as the head coach of the Florida Panthers. The Panthers fired him during the 2010-2011 series after they failed to reach the playoffs under his leadership.
Ironically, DeBoer faced his former team with the Devils in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. The Devils won the series in seven games.
After defeating the Flyers in the semifinals, E.J. Hradek, an analyst on the NHL Network, said the Devils were bringing a “no-name defense” into the Stanley Cup Finals—a remark that Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador would use to boost the spirits of his fellow defensemen.
“We have a water bottle that we share among the ‘D’ and usually it has (Salvador’s number) ‘24’ on it because he started it,” said Devils’ defenseman Mark Fayne in the Star Ledger. “A couple games later it said, ‘No-name defensemen.’ ”
After missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 1996, the Devils utilized their first-round draft pick to recruit top European defensive prospect Adam Larsson. The defensive reinforcement was the team’s first major commitment to their new “defense-first” mantra.
Midway during the 2012 season, New Jersey acquired defenseman Marek Zidlicky from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for defenseman Kurtis Foster, forwards Nick Palmieri and Stephane Veilleux and draft picks.
Although the Devils’ “no-name” defense did not have any flashy players like Zdeno Chara or Erik Karlsson, New Jersey’s defense was solid. Defensemen like Zidlicky and Salvador made the Devils a harder team to play against with impermeable, behind-the-highlight-reel defensive play.
2012 Calder trophy nominee Adam Henrique was called up from the Albany Devils (AHL) to fill in for injured Devils forward Jacob Josefson.
Henrique ended up having a lasting and imperative impression on the Devils’ season and postseason success. As the center for the top-line with wingers Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, Henrique posted impressive numbers in his rookie season (16 G, 35 A, 74 GP) and helped mold an important chemistry between Parise and Kovalchuk.
The Devils would not have had such a successful playoff run if it were not for the rookie, who was clutch for New Jersey in very high-pressure games. Henrique had three game-winning goals including his series-winning goal in double-overtime against the Florida Panthers.
Henrique’s explosive rookie year with the Devils is only the beginning of the 22-year-old’s promising career with the New Jersey Devils.
With forwards like Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias on the team, the Devils have an enormous capacity for goal-scoring. However, the Devils’ unstoppable forecheck made sure everyone got on the board.
In the latter end of the 2012 playoffs, the Devils played against the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings—teams that arguably have the best goalies in the NHL and an impermeable defense to match.
The Devils high-pressured offense forced their opponents to make mistakes and give up the puck in their end, creating the chances the Devils needed to put the puck in the net.
The new forecheck made a goal-scorer out of all of the Devil forwards, including their fourth-line players Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta. All three fourth-liners put up seven points in the post-season and were pivotal in the semifinal against the New York Rangers.
Forward David Clarkson, who has had more of an enforcer role in previous seasons with the Devils, had his highest goal-scoring season for the Devils this year (30) and added an entirely new dynamic to his game. Much like teammate Zach Parise, Clarkson is incredibly durable behind the net, and his grinding was imperative in creating offense for New Jersey’s deeper lines.
The Devils forecheck was not enough to beat the Kings, but it made them the most formidable opponent against Los Angeles. The Devils won the most playoff games against the Stanley Cup Champions and lost the first two games in close overtime losses.
New Jersey’s forechecking made everyone on the team a dangerous goal scorer.
In one year as the captain for the New Jersey Devils, Olympic forward Zach Parise managed to unite the team, make a team player out of Ilya Kovalchuk and bring his team to the Stanley Cup finals. Parise is the backbone of the entire team—the glue holding all of the Devils' goal-scorers, grinders and defensemen together.
"I found out before practice. We had a meeting and I found out then," Parise said in an interview with the Star Ledger. "I was surprised because I didn't know it was coming. Nobody gave me the heads-up before the meeting so I was pretty surprised when Pete (DeBoer) said it."
Parise is arguably one of the hardest-working players in the NHL. He is a very talented playmaker, sniper and skater, but his work ethic is what sets him aside from other players and inspires his team to play hard.
Currently a free agent, it is precarious as to whether or not Parise is planning to stay with the Devils. What is certain is that New Jersey is going to do everything in their power to keep their captain in Newark.
“He's got to stay here. That's the bottom line," said Devils’ goaltender Martin Brodeur in an interview with the Star Ledger. "That's how we're going to know how good he is as a captain."