5 Biggest Problems New Jersey Devils Must Solve This Offseason
After a disappointing 2012-2013 campaign, the New Jersey Devils have a lot to work on during the offseason.
Not only does the team need to worry about 12 potential free agents, it also needs to avoid missing the playoffs next season. If the Devils do miss the playoffs next year, it will be the first time the franchise has failed to make the postseason for two consecutive years since 1987.
In order for the Devils to once again make the playoffs, there are a few things that need to be addressed during this offseason.
Find a Puck-Moving Defenseman
Lou Lamoriello had the right idea when he acquired Marek Zidlicky at the 2012 trade deadline. The Devils were in need of a puck-moving defenseman, and Zidlicky seemed to be the answer.
Just over a year later, it is starting to look like Zidlicky was not the answer.
The 36-year-old only has 27 points in his 70 games as a Devil and has a plus/minus of minus-12.
Now that his contract has expired, the Devils can either re-sign him or look elsewhere for another puck-moving defenseman.
If the team elects to let Zidlicky walk, it has a few other options to find a new puck-moving defenseman.
Lamoriello can search within the Devils’ system. Players that now reside with the Albany Devils such as Jon Merrill or Alex Urbom may be ready to step up to an NHL role. Obviously, this is a risky move because these two have not proven themselves in the NHL yet.
Or the Devils may believe that young defensemen such as Adam Larsson or Peter Harrold can anchor the team on the power play.
Then, there is the option of finding someone external.
The Devils can trade for an experienced defenseman or possibly find one on the free-agent market. Mark Streit, the current captain of the New York Islanders, is set to become a free agent July 1. He would be a good addition for the Devils, as would Jordan Leopold or Sergei Gonchar. These three players may be older, but the Devils have enough young defensemen that see the ice well. The team needs at least one veteran puck-moving defenseman to help them develop.
Improve Special Teams
A possible reason why the Devils’ special teams play was abysmal this year was because of the new assistant coaching staff. Both Adam Oates and Larry Robinson did not return this season, which left major holes to be filled.
Not that Scott Stevens and Matt Shaw did a bad job, but with a shortened season due to the lockout, the Devils had no time to adjust to the new coaching staff.
Last year, the Devils broke the record for the best penalty kill percentage and scored the most shorthanded goals by any NHL team.
This season the team finished 16th overall in penalty kill percentage.
While the team still did score many goals while a man down this season, the Devils still need to keep the puck out of their own net.
Their power play also did not meet expectations. The Devils were ranked 14th in power play percentage last season, and this year the team dropped to 21st.
Peter DeBoer and the rest of the Devils’ coaching staff need to bring back the special teams play that brought the Devils to the Stanley Cup a year ago.
Find Another Natural Goal Scorer
Ilya Kovalchuk needs some help.
When he went down with an injury this season, the Devils found themselves on a 10-game losing streak, scoring only 16 goals in those games and being shut out three times.
In a shortened season, if a team loses 10 games in a row, chances are it won’t make the playoffs.
To avoid this again, the Devils need another natural goal scorer to help out Kovalchuk.
Here’s a stat that puts the Devils’ scoring into perspective: The Devils led the NHL in shot differential and did not make the playoffs, but every team that finished between second and 13th in shot differential all made the playoffs. What this means is that the Devils shoot the puck just as much, if not more than other teams in the NHL, but simply can’t finish on their chances.
Re-Sign Key Players
On July 1, eight players on the Devils are set to become unrestricted free agents, and four will become restricted free agents. Not to mention the various other players in Albany that need to be re-signed.
One thing is for sure: Lamoriello has a lot of work to do this summer.
During the period in which Lamoriello is offering contracts to players, he must not go overboard. While there are important players the Devils need to re-sign, this is a non-playoff team, which means Lamoriello needs to trim some of the fat.
Patrik Elias needs to be re-signed—that’s a no-brainer. He is the career points leader for the Devils, and it’s unimaginable to see him on any other team.
Adam Henrique is another player the Devils will strongly consider re-signing. He may have hit a bit of a sophomore slump this season, but the way he played during the Devils’ Cup run is an indication that he should stay.
Alexei Ponikarovsky, Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson all should be offered new contracts, too, but if the asking price is too high it may be best for them to go their separate ways.
When it comes to re-signing players, Lamoriello needs to know whom he should re-sign and whom he shouldn’t.
The lack of playing consistent, hard-nosed hockey is why the Devils did not make the playoffs this season.
Towards the beginning of the year, the Devils were atop the Eastern Conference and were one of the best teams in the NHL.
Eventually, the Devils started to slump.
Although it is easy to blame the losses on Martin Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk’s injuries, the Devils cannot rely on two players every game.
Dropping 10 games in a row is inexcusable, and in a lockout-shortened season it is almost impossible to bounce back from a streak like that. If the Devils want to contend next year, they need to be on top of their game throughout the whole season.
For more news, opinions and updates on the NHL and the Devils, follow Alex Bacon on Twitter @abacon55.