With the worst over, the New Jersey Devils now have to look forward to next season.
It has been a rough couple months, losing the Stanley Cup to the Los Angeles Kings, losing both assistant coaches Larry Robinson and Adam Oates and, worst of all, losing Zach Parise, the captain, leader and arguably best player of the Devils.
Parise decided to take his talents up to St. Paul, his hometown.
But that's over with. The Devils named new assistant coaches today (including Hall of Fame Devil defender Scott Stevens) and are beginning preparations for next season.
Of course, the most pressing matter to deal with is replacing the gaping hole in the Devils offense. The problem with losing a player like Parise is that he had so many different aspects to his game. The Devils are not going to find a player with the same skill set.
What they can do, though—if I may borrow the plot of Moneyball for a second—is rebuild him. How is that done? Well, what did Parise offer?
Zach Parise was such a good two-way player that his offensive ability was sometimes overlooked, but he was capable of being a top-10 forward in the league when he was playing his best.
Meanwhile, Alex Semin is sitting in an awkward position as the best of the rest. At this point, he'll be pursued like a top free agent, and that's because of his offensive capability.
Realistically, Semin could score 50 goals. He's never lacked for talent and flair—it's just consistency he's never managed. Here are his numbers up against Parise's lifetime:
|GP||Goals||Assists||Points||Plus/Minus||PP Goals||SH Goals||Game-Winning Goals||Shots|
Am I the only one surprised at how close they are? Even so, in 30 fewer games and with 300 fewer shots, Semin has three more goals and five fewer assists. He's got a better plus/minus and more power-play goals, and a respectable number of shorties and game-winners.
An important thing to consider is that a lot of Semin's success has come with the help of Alex Ovechkin, a more talented player than Parise has ever had the chance to play with. He surely has more points and a better plus/minus because of it, but he'd be coming somewhere with a Russian superstar, so maybe he could slip in easily.
The point is, if the Devils are able to land Semin—which isn't necessarily likely; they're one of a few teams who have their names tossed around on rumor sites, nothing more—he should be able to match Parise's offensive output.
Semin also comes with some warnings concerning his personality and attitude, but if he's able to score like he has in his better seasons, he should more than make up for an offensive dip from Parise's absence.
Look at that snappy guy
Adam Henrique emerged as a top rookie for the Devils last year, despite little-to-no notice of him prior to this season. He turned himself into a top-liner and was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy.
For a rookie, he was actually a remarkably well-rounded player.
Just like Parise.
I'm not saying Henrique is anywhere near as good as Parise. He will probably never reach Parise's offensive level and may land far short of him elsewhere as well. However, he played superbly in 2011-12, and that has to be noted.
Henrique played a game much like Parise's: a good puck-handler and setup man, capable of occasional flashes of brilliance on offense and great at pounding away, creating chances. On defense, Henrique learned well from Parise and turned into a dependable two-way player to the extent that he killed penalties for much of the year.
While still a long way from being a complete player, Henrique showed a lot of promise in a lot of different areas.
If, over the next few seasons, he's able to improve at a rate one would expect from a Calder finalist, he will soon be an extremely capable player for the Devils and one of their regular go-to guys.
It's been a delight watching Ilya Kovalchuk develop into a dynamic player since becoming a Devil, and now his real test begins.
Kovy is now the de facto go-to for the Devils. Sure, he'll be expected to score 40-plus goals and maybe 100 points, but he'll also be the one who has to bring the puck into the zone against tough defense, who has to take things into his own hands late in games and who will eventually have to answer to fans and media alike when the team succeeds or fails.
That's a lot of pressure, but I think Kovy's up to it.
It's almost funny looking back and seeing how he was groomed for this day: he was acquired as an offensive-minded scoring threat. He floundered because offense dies in New Jersey. He began learning to play Devils hockey, then Parise missed the majority of a season, leaving Kovy to work extra hard to keep progressing while taking the team on his shoulders, and then finally playing one more season with Parise, fine-tuning his play and learning to play great hockey with other very talented players.
Nothing that Kovy has to face this year should be different from something he's faced in the past, and in many of the intangibles, Kovalchuk can step right in for Parise.
I love Patrik Elias like most Devils fans love Patrik Elias: unconditionally and fiercely. Elias has long been one of the Devils' fan favorites, and it's easy to see why. He does a little bit of everything for them.
Elias used to be a superb offensive player and his name shows up enough in playoff runs to make that point. He's certainly slowed, but still managed 78 points last year.
But more than that, he can kill penalties or be the difference-maker on a power play. He's about as clutch as hockey players come and he still has the ferocity and speed to play against rookies.
Parise is a great player, but Elias at his best may have been just as good. Elias isn't at his best anymore, but he can still do a lot of what Parise did, and he's proven time and again that he can do it consistently.
As long as he stays healthy, Elias will be there playing great every night, and while Parise may well be one of them, there aren't too many people in the league you can say that about.