In sports, “rebuilding” is one of the most loaded words in the lexicon. It implies so much: recent failures, a dark immediate future and hope down the road. Oftentimes a team in rebuilding mode is located in a small market. The status implies their wallets are not deep enough to make an immediate fix with free-agent signings. Generally, the fans are asked to be patient as their team stinks it up for a few years and cultivates young talent into an eventual core.
The New Jersey Devils have missed the playoffs two of the past three seasons. The last time this happened, New Jersey was playing in the Patrick Division. Wayne Gretzky had 142 points for the Oilers. It was 1989 and the song “Eternal Flame” by a group named The Bangles was on top of the music charts.
You catch my drift. It was a long time ago. In front of Martin Brodeur, the Devils have been a model of consistency. General manager Lou Lamoriello gets a lot of the credit for ruling the organization with a fair, strong fist.
But the last championship was a decade ago. Only Brodeur and Patrik Elias remain from those dynasty years. Last year was impressive, but now it seems like they simply got hot at the right time. It was like a chef throwing a bunch of ingredients in the cauldron and somehow making a great bowl of soup. Luck and randomness play a role in these things, that’s just how sports work.
So is it time to start over with a new blueprint? Break it down only to build it back up? Not yet. The reason falls at the 1:56 mark of this video. Martin Brodeur is under contract and will play next season. Unless he was being coy in that interview, the 2013-2014 campaign will remarkably be his 20th full season as a starter. This is a good thing. There are no other alternatives within the organization.
It would be an injustice to this living legend for the organization to let some of their free agents walk away and go to war next year with an AHL-ish roster. Who knows if the Devils would be the Quebec Nordiques by now without Martin Brodeur?
Can New Jersey bounce back and make the playoffs next year?
Rebuild? They should do the opposite. They should fortify. Ownership has assured that the organization’s finances are back in order. Now it is time to prove it. Players under contract for next season combine to take up roughly $39 million of the $64 million salary cap (numbers courtesy of capgeek.com).
If the Devils choose to amnesty a player that number will go down even further (cough, Anton Volchenkov, cough). So keep Elias. Keep Clarkson. Keep Marek Zidlicky. Then go out and sign a few free agents. It’s not the strongest class, but B/R’s own Peter Mills mentions a few candidates here. And maybe guys like Eric Gelinas, who made his NHL debut tonight against the Penguins, and Reid Boucher, who tore it up in the OHL, can contribute as well.
Obviously the season did not end well. New Jersey's offensive weaponry is thin and weak. It is something that has to be addressed. But If Ilya Kovalchuk does not get hurt, we may not even be having a discussion about this team rebuilding.
They might be the seventh seed right now. It is not a coincidence they lost straight 10 games without him. And it is not a coincidence that they are 3-1 since his return. New Jersey floundered when Martin Brodeur missed a month as well. In terms of injuries, these two going down were worst-case scenarios.
Lou Lamoriello does not need to rewrite the book quite yet. With some tinkering here and there, in addition to some free agents who can score, the Devils can make the playoffs next year. They owe a genuine attempt at that to Martin Brodeur, a guy who could have left like so many other Devils. Instead, he stayed and helped build a fanbase, a dynasty and even an arena.
Give it one more go. Hope for health, and open the wallet.