New Jersey Devils: Top 5 Moves Made so Far in the 2013 Offseason
2013 was a down year for the New Jersey Devils. After a scorching start, the Devils finished the lockout-shortened season with a 19-19-10 record. It was the first time the Devils had ever ended the season at the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
CEO, team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello is not one to stand for such indignities. Changes were almost assuredly coming, but the biggest story of the NHL's offseason was outside of New Jersey's control.
When star winger Ilya Kovalchuk decided to retire from the NHL to return to Russia, the Devils went from a team on the mend to a team in crisis. Last year, New Jersey struggled to score in the second half of the season, and their special teams were an issue they were never able to fully resolve.
Kovalchuk was a vital asset to the team's offense, power play and penalty kill. With his departure from the club, filling those areas of need became that much more vital.
Every player on the team will need to step up their games if the Devils are to make any kind of run this year. Lou Lamoriello and the Devils' front office have signed players they think can do that.
The offseason is not over yet, and there is still some work to be done, but let's take a look at some of the best moves the New Jersey Devils have made so far.
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Before we get to the actual list, I should mention a few players who didn't make the cut but can still have a positive impact on the team.
Even before the Kovalchuk bombshell, it was very important that the Devils re-signed forward Dainius Zubrus, and that is exactly what they did. The 35-year-old center agreed to a three-year deal worth about $3 million per season.
There was some speculation that Zubrus would be on his way out after an injury-plagued 2013. He only played in 22 games, netting two goals and seven assists. Lou Lamoriello looked back to a very successful 2012, including an impressive 10 points in the playoffs, however, and believed Zubrus still had some productive hockey left to play.
Dainius is familiar with head coach Pete DeBoer's system, and he should be primed for a bounce-back year.
A new Devil who should play an active role for the 2014 Devils is Michael Ryder. He signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the team and should provide some bang at a relatively low cost.
Ryder is two years removed from a 35-goal season, and he proved his consistency with a 35-point season in 46 games last year.
Ryder's shooting percentage has been on the rise over the past few years, and he has the ability to perform in the clutch. He doesn't contribute much on the power play, but he has the potential to produce as a top-6 forward as the season moves along.
5. Ryane Clowe
Devils fans are well aware that typically, if a player leaves one team from the Hudson River rivalry for the other, he usually trades in Devils red for Rangers blue. When Ryane Clowe agreed to a five-year, $24.25 million contract with New Jersey, he became one of the rare exceptions.
While Clowe may not be able to score like Clarkson, he can definitely land a crushing hit on the opponent. Clowe should also provide some much-needed support on the Devils' special teams units.
His signing has, however, been considered risky by some. There is some concern that Clowe does not have the speed to keep up with Coach DeBoer's high-intensity forecheck. He is also coming off of one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. He only scored three goals in 40 games.
On top of that, Clowe has a history of concussions. He missed time for the Rangers in the postseason with two separate head injuries, and as any hockey fan can tell you, a shot to the head isn't exactly rare in the NHL.
Not one to worry though, Clowe is looking forward to proving the doubters wrong.
4. Patrik Elias
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We now move to the most common-sense move of the Devils' offseason: Patrik Elias's new contract.
Elias's three-year, $16.5 million deal guarantees the best forward in the franchise's history will retire as a New Jersey Devil.
Elias is almost a lock to give the Devils 60 points, and one wouldn't be crazy to expect more. He put up 36 points in last year's shortened season and has only missed three games in the past three years.
Elias's style of play allows him to avoid a lot of contact while getting the puck to his scorers. More important than the numbers he puts up, however, may be the leadership he provides.
Patrik Elias leads by example on and off the ice. He is one of the most respected players in the NHL, and it won't be long until No. 26 is hanging from the rafters of The Rock.
If the Devils allowed Elias to walk away, it may have been more disastrous than any other potential loss this year.
Well, maybe with the exception of...
3. Marek Zidlicky
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By no means are the Devils short of defensemen, and by no means is Marek Zidlicky a premier defender. In a season in which it seemed every other player on the team had a down year, Zidlicky ended 2013 with a rating of minus-12.
There was some speculation that Zidlicky might not return to the Devils at the end of the season. So why did he sign a one-year deal with the team?
While Zidlicky's presence on the blue line may not have been very sorely missed, over the past year, he has become a centerpiece of New Jersey's power play.
His mean slap shot from the point and his ability to move the puck around have made him nearly indispensable on the man advantage. Since coming to New Jersey via trade from Minnesota during the 2012 season, 16 of Zidlicky's 21 points have come on the power play.
When Kovalchuk decided to retire, he left a gaping hole in the Devils' special teams units. If Lamoriello had allowed Zidlicky to leave as well, the power play may have been left beyond repair in 2014.
2. Jaromir Jagr
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When the 2013 season came to an end, nobody could have predicted that Jaromir Jagr would be playing for the Devils the next time they hit the ice. And yet, with the departure of New Jersey's best scorer, that is exactly what is going to happen.
The Devils have decided to attempt to fill the hole left by Kovalchuk by signing one of the NHL's most prolific scorers of all time. Although in the twilight of his career, over the past three seasons, Jagr has still averaged about .75 points per game.
Jagr will be manning the power play, and while he may not be able to replicate the ice time Kovalchuk put up, he brings a comparable skill set.
Since his last season with the Rangers in 2008, Jagr has tended to slow down as the year went on, so the Devils will have to be careful regarding how much they use him.
At the same time, however, it is hard to keep the old man off the ice. He hasn't missed more than 10 games in a season since 2002.
With a one-year, $2 million dollar contract, Jagr is by no means a long-term solution. The Devils will likely have to figure out where to get scoring from all over again next year. As a short-term emergency fix, however, Jaromir Jagr is not a bad route to take.
1. Cory Schneider
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Imagining the New Jersey Devils without Martin Brodeur is like imagining the Baltimore Orioles without Cal Ripken Jr. or the Los Angles Lakers without Kobe Bryant, and yet, as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
Since seeing extended playing time for Vancouver in 2011, Schneider boasts a 2.10 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He's been 52-21 in that period and has shown great promise.
Martin Brodeur is not yet ready to hang up the skates, and the Devils would never dream of pressuring the legendary goaltender to retire, but at the age of 27, Schneider will just be entering his prime when Brodeur decides to call it quits.
Since 1994, the Devils have built their team and their system around the idea of a strong goaltender in net. That strategy worked pretty well, as the team raised three Stanley Cups in that time. With Schneider waiting in the wings, they may not have to change very much when Brodeur is gone.
The trade for Schneider will yield benefits in the present as well as in the future. Brodeur intends on being the starting goalie for the Devils in 2014, and Lamoriello confirmed he will be.
With a fully capable Schneider available to start around 30 to 40 games this year, however, New Jersey will be able to keep Brodeur feeling fresh late into the season and into a possible, albeit unlikely, playoff run.