This offseason has really sucked for the Devils.
It's hard to put it in better terms; they've lost their captain/best player Zach Parise to his hometown team, assistant coach Adam Oates to the Washington Capitals—a team he spent many seasons with during his playing career—and now Larry Robinson has left the organization (again) to assist with the Sharks in order to be closer to family.
This is not a new phenomenon for the Devils. In 2007, Brian Rafalski left the Devils to play for the team he grew up rooting for, the Detroit Red Wings. After the lockout, Scott Niedermayer left the team to play with his brother in Anaheim.
As a fan, it's hard for me to look too harshly at any of them. They may be making decisions I hate, but they're doing them for the best possible reasons (not like ol' Scotty Gomez). But when these things keep happening, it really starts to hurt the franchise.
The possibility of Parise leaving was always there, and while it's really too bad that he decided to leave, it was an outcome the team had undoubtedly prepared for to some extent.
Adam Oates' departure, while certainly upsetting, was the first event to hit this offseason, so it didn't seem like too huge a crisis.
But now, Larry Robinson is gone as well. The team has lost it's primary player and now have to try to convince players to sign for a team that has two coaching vacancies.
The exodus is certainly not indicative of the team's performance—they made it to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals this past season—but may be an indicator of the franchise's possible decline.
That sounds overly pessimistic, but what I mean is this: The Devils are an aging team, that's no secret. A big part of the team dynamic was the intermingling of seasoned veterans and newbies; it's how Adam Henrique ended up on the first line this year. But now, the most important offensive figure is gone, and the team's ability to groom a replacement has been greatly reduced.
The team certainly has many strong players. Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus to a degree, Henrique, Petr Sykora (fingers crossed)... but Jacob Josefson? Mattias Tedenby? Too much of the roster is made up of skaters capable of playing well, but with absolutely no consistency.
To deal with that, it would be nice to have a veteran offensive presence behind the bench, the kind of guy that has 1,000 career assists. Oops.
On defense, arguably the most important player to the Devils' future, Adam Larsson, looked like a kid with a whole lot of talent but who needed a great deal of refinement as well. It would've been really awesome to have him developed by a Hall-of-Fame defenseman. Did you know that Larry Robinson is the all-time leader in plus/minus. His plus-730 is light years away from the next-highest plus-597 of Bobby Orr. Plus/minus is far from the best statistic, but a gap like that can't be ignored.
Sure, the Devils still have their D returning for the most part with Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder and Marek Zidlicky. Mark Fayne is headed for arbitration, but he'll more-than-likely return.
And of course, the Devils opted to re-sign both goalies from last season, Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, with a combined age of like, a million (79) for two years each.
All that adds up to a somewhat strong franchise. Parise's departure hurts, but I'd still be pretty shocked if the Devils missed the playoffs this coming season. The problem is, where does it go from here?
Some Devils fans have looked at Marty's impending retirement as the end of an era. I'm glad they were able to extend his career briefly, but obviously he'll still be retired in the not-so-distant future.
Patrik Elias is 36 and still has a lot of playing left, but he's also most certainly in his decline at this point. Even the team's GM Lou Lamoriello may be nearing his end with the team. Lou was the architect of the entire franchise and a huge reason why the Devils won each of their Cups, but now he's 69. For all I know, he'll manage the team happily and healthily for another 30 years, but it wouldn't be surprising if, at some point (maybe when Marty decides to hang up his skates), Lamoriello is satisfied with what he's accomplished and decides he's ready to be done with the Devils.
A lot of this frightens me, as a fan. What happens after next season, when Clarkson, Zubrus, Elias and Zajac all hit free agency? Surely some will be retained, but likely not all. At that point, Elias will be the only evidence that the team ever won a Cup, and a couple years after that, Kovalchuk might be the sole relic of a better time.
Pete DeBoer has done a magnificent job coaching the team so far, and I have a lot of faith in him moving forward. Before he lost his supporting cast, I had been tempted to write about how nice it must be for the Devils to actually have some coaching stability for once.
But DeBoer is also pretty inexperienced. Last season was just his fourth coaching in the NHL. He doesn't have Robinson's or Oates' playing career, nor Robinson's rings.
I have no idea what Lou is scheming—I don't think anyone ever does, truthfully—but I hope he's trying to fill the massive voids left in the team's confidence.
The Devils should be okay this season, maybe the one after that, but at a certain point this team will lose all its connection to the glory days, and then they're just a decent team in a terrible market competing against much wealthier and more attractive teams. It's not a certainty, but it seems to be the course they're headed in.
And that's where we are today. This team seems to be in a bit of a free fall right now, and it has absolutely nothing to do with playing hockey. Management needs to do something—a great free agent signing, bringing in an appealing coach, I'm not sure—to stabilize this club, or they will be in serious trouble once the season comes around.