After coming up two wins shy of a fourth Stanley Cup back in June, the New Jersey Devils are preparing for another run deep into the postseason.
If the season does start on time, the obvious question surrounding the defending Eastern Conference champions will be who can replace the now former captain Zach Parise. It is no question that the intangibles that Parise brought to the locker room every day are irreplaceable, but his abilities on the ice might not be.
The Devils have been in this situation several times, with star players like Brian Gionta and 1999-2000 Rookie of the Year Scott Gomez, leaving for bigger money. GM Lou Lamoriello has been in this position many times before and prides his team on having interchangeable parts. It’s very likely that he was not as surprised as the rest of us to see Parise leave and already has someone else ready to step into that role and carry the Devils.
Adam Henrique, a Calder Trophy finalist from last season, seems like the prohibitive favourite to fill in for Parise. If he can adapt and become a winger, expect to see him on the top line with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk. More likely, he’ll center the second line with David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus, while long-time Devil Patrik Elias will be on the first line. The recent signing of former Ottawa Senator Bobby Butler will help strengthen the Devils on the third line and provide some much needed depth.
The second biggest question in New Jersey is whether or not the oldest goaltending tandem in NHL history can survive another long season after a very short summer. Nicknamed the “geriatric squad” during the playoffs, Martin Brodeur, 40, and Johan Hedberg, 39, will likely be splitting the job again this season, with Brodeur likely starting 65 percent of the time.
The Devils, to no one’s surprise, made defence a priority over the offseason, bringing back the entire crew from last year. The acquisition of Marek Zidlicky right before the trade deadline paid off in spades last season, and the Devils will be hoping that he continues to contribute next season.
While keeping the puck out of the net should not be a problem, putting it in at the other end will decide the fate of the Devils this season.
New Jersey’s team approach thrived in 2012. The Devils had five players with at least 20 goals last season, including three 30-plus goal scorers. If Henrique continues to flourish and blossom the way that he did in the playoffs, he should join the 20-plus club and will push to get over the 30-goal mark.
The Devils will most likely send their entire draft class to Albany, affectionately referred to as Lou U by Devils players and fans, for their first season in the pros. It’s only in extremely rare cases that anyone in the Devils organization plays a full year in the NHL the same season in which they’re drafted. Stefan Matteau, the Devils' first-round pick, is the only member of the 2012 draft class that has a shot to make a few appearances in New Jersey this season.