3 Keys to the New Jersey Devils Being Playoff Contenders in Years to Come
They have made the playoffs 21 times over these 25 years, and have won three out of the five Stanley Cups that they have reached.
Will they continue to be successful though?
After losing Zach Parise in the offseason, hopes of making another Stanley Cup run is starting to fade for the Devils.
But, the Devils have always been a team that has rallied through adversity.
For example, they received a lot criticism when Scott Niedermayer left for Anaheim, and when Scott Stevens retired. Yet, the Devils still managed to make the playoffs six years in a row, even after losing two of the best defensemen in the league. Martin Brodeur’s ability to perform has been questioned for the past couple of years too, but the Devils still have played great hockey and Brodeur played a huge role in the Devils’ playoff run last May.
So, how can the Devils continue to be successful like they have been for the past two decades?
Re-sign Key Players
Yes, Parise was a key player that the Devils were not able to re-sign this offseason, but they need to start looking forward rather than backward.
Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus, David Clarkson, Cam Janssen, Marek Zidlicky and Peter Harrold will all be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, while Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique will both be restricted free agents.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello has a lot of work to do.
After these nine hit the market, the Devils will have 13 players listed on their roster with almost $38 million of cap space, as per CapGeek.com.
It’s crucial to the Devils success that they re-sign as many of these players as they can. Especially Zajac, Clarkson and Henrique. These three will all receive offers from other teams because they are all either in, or approaching their prime.
It will also be crucial to re-sign Elias, but signing him shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. He has been on the Devils for his whole career and won’t want to play anywhere else. The franchises leading scorer will probably see offers from other organizations, but will want to finish his career with the same team he’s been a member of for all of his 16 seasons in the NHL.
Find a Replacement for Martin Brodeur When He Retires
At 40 years old, Martin Brodeur has practically written the NHL record book, but his time is winding down.
It will be a sad day when Brodeur retires, but the Devils need to prepare for it before it happens. Replacing the same goalie of 19 years will not be an easy task, but the Devils have a few options.
Brodeur’s new two-year deal this offseason means the Devils have two years to plan who will take over his legacy.
They can look to trade, dip into free agency, or bring up a goalie internally.
Bringing up a goalie that has developed in the system seems like the most probable of solutions being that the Devils rarely make big signings or trades.
Right now the Devils have a couple prospects that have the potential to be NHL caliber goalies. With limited space though, only one or two may make the Devils roster.
Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood and Jeff Frazee are three options the Devils have internally to replace Brodeur.
Kinkaid and Frazee split time playing for the Devils’ AHL affiliate, the Albany Devils, and Wedgewood plays for the Trenton Titans in the ECHL.
Wedgewood seems like the best option for the Devils in the long run. The 20-year-old goaltender had two great seasons in the OHL posting 28 wins in each, and won a bronze medal with the Canadian Junior Olympic team last year, according to HockeysFuture.com.
Anything can happen though. All three of these goalies are still young, and any one of them can break out as the No. 1 option.
Turn Draft Picks into Impact Players
The Devils have a history of turning their draft picks into top tier players, which is why they have been so successful over the past two decades.
Brodeur, Niedermayer, Sergei Brylin, Jay Pandolfo, Elias, Petr Sykora, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Parise, and Zajac are all examples of players drafted by the Devils that have made a huge impact on the team.
It’s crucial that the Devils turn players like Stefan Matteau, Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, Jacob Josefson, Mattais Tedenby and Brandon Burlon into impact players.
The Devils aren’t a team to make a splash in free agency, partially because of finance, and partially because they don’t need to. Their talent has come from players within their system.
If they continue to find talent from the AHL and ECHL, signing big-name free agents and making big trades will be unimportant to their success.