In the 2011-12 season, the Devils motored through the playoffs and defeated the Florida Panthers, Flyers and New York Rangers to reach the Stanley Cup Final. They were no match for the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings and lost in six games.
The Flyers went on their memorable run in 2010. They defeated the Devils, Boston Bruins (after trailing 3-0 in the series) and the Montreal Canadiens before they were outplayed by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final in a six-game series.
More often than not, both the Flyers and Devils are consistent playoff performers. But not last year. The 2013 season was disastrous for both.
The Flyers were a poor defensive team and were never really in a position to make the playoffs. They finished the year with 49 points and finished 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The Devils got off to a decent start, but they did not have the depth to overcome injuries, particularly when goalie Martin Brodeur was sidelined and Johan Hedberg had to take over between the pipes. The Devils finished with 48 points and tied the Buffalo Sabres for 11th place.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren is not about to accept last year's result in a passive fashion, and neither is his Devils counterpart Lou Lamoriello. Both men are highly competitive and don't accept losing.
Holmgren has the advantage of working for a deep-pockets owner like Ed Snider, and while Lamoriello is working under significant financial constraints, he's one of the best in the business at putting a competitive team on the ice.
Both men have made significant moves to get their teams back to the postseason next year.
Let's start with Holmgren, who recognized the error of his ways by buying out goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (19-17-3, 2.79 goals-against average, .900 save percentage). Neither Holmgren nor head coach Peter Laviolette could abide Bryzgalov's inconsistency any longer.
The Flyers found his replacement in free-agent Ray Emery, who had a brilliant 2013 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Emery had a 17-1-0 regular-season record for the eventual Stanley Cup champions, a 1.94 GAA and a .922 save percentage. As long as Emery stays healthy—he has had hip problems in the past—he represents a major upgrade in goal.
Emery, who will have to battle late-season acquisition Steve Mason for the starting job, knows he should get a chance to play more than he would have if he stayed in Chicago.
"I feel the writing was on the wall in Chicago, as far as myself goes," Emery told Sam Carchidi of Philly.com. ". . . Going forward, it's a chance to maybe play more games than I would have in Chicago."
The Flyers also bought out shifty center Danny Briere after he appeared to slow down during his 24-point season. The Flyers believe that former Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier will give them the offensive firepower that Briere did not. Lecavalier signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Flyers.
Earlier in the offseason, the Flyers made a move to strengthen their shaky defense by trading for Mark Streit of the New York Islanders. Streit was scheduled to be a free agent, but he signed a four-year, $21 million contract with the Flyers.
The Devils have been quite active during the offseason as well. They acquired Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks on draft day in a move than shocked many NHL observers. Schneider should give the Devils the best backup goalie in the NHL, and he will take over as the starter when Brodeur eventually retires.
The Devils were concerned about losing David Clarkson and Patrik Elias to free agency. Lamoriello could not hold on to Clarkson, who signed with Toronto, but he retained Elias when he signed a three-year $16.5 million deal.
That gave the Devils a little stability and it allowed Lamoriello to roll up his sleeves and go to work. The financially troubled team signed free-agent forwards Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Rostislav Olesz.
The Devils may have overpaid in giving Clowe a five-year, $24.25 million deal, but they did well for themselves in signing Ryder to a two-year, $7 million deal. Clowe is a hard-working winger who does his best work in the corners, while Ryder is a legitimate sniper who can pick the corner from 30 feet.
"He's a pure goal-scorer. We've seen enough of him with Montreal and Boston. We feel really good about that," Lamoriello told Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger.
Olesz gives the Devils some additional depth.
Both teams have tried to make up for their disappointing regular seasons with solid work in the offseason.
The Flyers may have gained the slightest of edges because they addressed a shaky goaltending situation and their soft defense in addition to adding a leader in Lecavalier.
While Schneider gives the Devils depth at goaltending, they already had a Hall of Famer at the position in Brodeur. Holding onto Elias and bringing in Ryder and Clowe are excellent moves, but the slight offseason nod goes to the Flyers.
Both teams should be in a position to compete for a playoff spot.
All contract terms and salary figures are courtesy of CapGeek.com.
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