New Jersey Devils: 5 Reasons to Worry About the 2012-2013 Season
The offseason has been quiet, but New Jersey lost a key component of its offense when both Zach Parise and Alexi Ponikarovsky left for free agency. The Devils have failed to sign someone to replace them, and with the remaining free agent list running dry, it doesn't seem that more moves are coming.
While the Devils have always made it work in the past, here are five reasons why New Jersey may struggle in 2012-2013.
With Parise and Ponikarovsky gone and Petr Sykora yet to be signed, New Jersey could potentially lose 59 goals going into next season.
The Devils missed out on signing former Capitals goal-scorer Alexander Semin, and the New York Rangers won the Rick Nash sweepstakes last month. According to NHL.com, the best remaining free agent is Shane Doan, but he already has a list of suitable teams that does not include New Jersey.
Besides Ilya Kovalchuk, the current roster only has two players who have scored 30 goals in a season, and David Clarkson only joined that list last season. The other player is Patrick Elias, but he has only averaged 23 goals over the past six years.
Right now, the best option could be to trade for Anaheim Ducks star Bobby Ryan, but rumors surrounding the former MVP have gone quiet. New Jersey has the defensive depth and offensive prospects to make a move, but as of now nothing seems to be in the works.
2. Offensive Depth
With Travis Zajac going down with an Achilles injury before last season, Jacob Josefson dealing with two separate injuries and Zach Parise recovering from knee surgery, the Devils relied on young prospects and extra offensive depth to get them through the season.
Now, with three offensive threats gone and prospects like Adam Henrique now full-time starters, there are many questions about who will answer the call if someone goes down with injury.
Only five Devils played in all 82 games last season, two of whom are no longer on the team (Parise and Sykora). Dainius Zubrus was the only other forward to play in every game, and the other two players were defensemen Bryce Salvador and Mark Fayne.
David Clarkson and Patrik Elias both played at least 80 games, and Ilya Kovalchuk appeared in 77, but then the list begins to fall off. After Adam Henrique, who played in 74 games, no other starter appeared in more than 65 games.
Mid-season acquisitions and call-ups like Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta became heroes in the postseason, but none has ever played a full 82-game season. Bernier appeared in 81 games with the Vancouver Canucks during the 2008-2009 season. Carter had a career high in games last season with 65, and Gionta has just one regular-season game under his belt.
Injuries happen all the time, and with the lack of game experience going into next season, it will be interesting to see how New Jersey adjusts if someone goes down.
3. Adam Henrique
Adam Henrique made a name for himself last season, carrying the Devils on his back through the regular season and netting two huge series-clinching goals against the Panthers and Rangers in the playoffs.
The rookie finished the regular season with 16 goals, 35 assists, and a +8 rating. He was nominated for the Calder Trophy and finished fourth on the team in points.
In order for Henrique to prove himself further, he will have to do it with a completely different offense. Henrique benefited from playing on the same line as Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. But with Parise gone and Travis Zajac back to full strength, Henrique will likely see time on a completely different line.
On the top line, Henrique managed to find more open space and score more goals. But with Zajac in the lineup, he only scored three goals in 15 games. However, he did manage six assists and a +6 rating, and playing with David Clarkson helped him in the assist column.
Many people are relying on Henrique to step up, but he may find defenses watching him closely now that New Jersey has lost two premium goal scorers. If the Calder candidate can score, the Devils should be fine. If he doesn't, that's another big reason to worry.
I recently wrote that the experienced goaltending of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg would help the Devils in terms of leadership. But there is always a downside to a pair of 40-year-old goalies.
Although Brodeur helped guide the Devils through the playoffs and Hedberg was one of the best backups in the NHL last year, there's always a chance that these two could falter with age. Yes, Brodeur has set almost every record known to man, but his career statistics have been on the decline over the last three years.
Brodeur has also become tender with age, playing more than 60 games just once over the past four seasons. He has suffered multiple injuries that have forced him to miss time, and Hedberg has seen an extended amount of action for a backup.
Hedberg would take the helm if Brodeur was forced to miss time, but he has not appeared in 60 games since 2001-2002. In fact, Hedberg's last 40-game season was in 2009-2010 when he was still with Atlanta.
There is also a question about who will be the future goaltender. Although the Devils have four bright young goalies in rookie camp, Keith Kinkaid is the only player to actually appear in the NHL, and none of them seem ready to step up to the professional level yet.
Fans will have to hope that Brodeur stays healthy and the pair of veteran goaltenders can perform at the same level they did last year. If something goes wrong, New Jersey will have a serious problem.
5. David Clarkson
Much of New Jersey's offensive improvement last season was due to the emergence of David Clarkson, who set a career high in goals, assists and points in 2011-2012.
Clarkson benefited from the great talent that surrounded him on the ice, and he praised former assistant coach Adam Oates for helping improve his game as a goal-scorer. However, Oates is now coaching in Washington and the Devils will be forced to move around their lines for next season, which puts all the pressure on Clarkson to perform.
The Devils have already lost more than 60 goals from last season, and the last thing they need is for Clarkson to return to being a 15-20 goal-scorer. Before last season, Clarkson only averaged 14 goals a year over his career. If the Devils get that total next year, they are going to be in trouble.
The veteran winger has been known for his penalty minutes and toughness, but the Devils have Cam Janssen and Krys Barch to do the fighting. Clarkson needs to once again focus on being a net-finder if the Devils want to succeed.