Strengths and Weaknesses of New Jersey Devils' Top Stars
With the New Jersey Devils set to open training camp in a manner of days, it is officially time to start looking forward to the upcoming season.
New Jersey is just about through with what unexpectedly became a tumultuous offseason, to say the least.
The loss of lead scorers Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson may have created an impression that the Devils are suddenly lacking in star power. I am here to ensure New Jersey's faithful that that is not the case.
Despite losing a number of their best players, the Devils were able to add some significant talent to their roster. On top of that, they re-signed established players, including Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique.
Indeed, the Devils still have a handful of star players, new and old.
These stars, though, are of course human, just like any other player. They each have their flaws to go along with their talent.
Let's take a look at some of the most glaring weaknesses of the New Jersey Devils' top stars.
Greatest Strength: Scoring
This may go without saying, but Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey's newest player, is pretty good at putting points on the board. Jagr is one of the NHL's most prolific scorers of all time. Although this year will mark his 20th in the NHL, he does not seem to be slowing down yet.
You might expect a player of Jagr's caliber and age to start the year blazing only to trail off as the season takes its toll. In Jaromir's case, however, the opposite seems to be true.
Last year, Jagr was remarkably consistent all season. In January (six games), he was credited with five points, but four came in the first game of the season.
After that, however, he put up nine points in February, 12 in March and nine again in April. Just to put an exclamation point on the whole thing, he was credited with another 10 points in the postseason.
Last year, Jagr showed the league that he still had some goals left in him, despite his age.
Greatest Weakness: Age
I realize that this may seem like a contradiction to the first half of the slide, but it is not. The fact of the matter is that just because he did it last year, there's no guarantee that Jagr will be able to do it again in 2014.
It is important to remember that last year was only slightly more than a half-season. Jagr played in 45 games in 2013.
In 2014, he will be expected to play in at least 75.
If we look back to Jagr's last full season, we can see what may appear to be a troubling pattern. In Jagr's first 45 games in 2012, he put up 37 points. He was credited with 35 points in as many games in 2013.
Devils fans will remember, though, that he was a nonentity in the next round against them.
Jaromir Jagr's age will force head coach Pete DeBoer and his staff into a constant balancing act of playing Jagr sparingly enough so that he'll be fresh when spring comes, but enough so that the Devils are still playing meaningful hockey when that time comes.
Greatest Strength: Consistency
For more than a decade, Martin Brodeur has been the most consistent goalie in the NHL. When he is healthy, he is still nearly unbeatable.
With a career 669 wins, 2.23 GAA and .913 SV%, Brodeur will go down as not only the greatest goaltender to play for the New Jersey but perhaps in the history of the NHL.
What has been most impressive about Brodeur's career is his remarkable consistency.
Over the past few years, he has seen less ice time due to injuries or his age. But one constant cannot be ignored. When Brodeur plays, the Devils usually win. The Devils missed the playoffs twice in the past five years. It is no coincidence that in both of those years, Brodeur missed more than 20 games due to injury.
Which leads us to Marty's greatest, and most recent, weakness.
Greatest Weakness: Health
There is no denying the fact that Martin Brodeur is in the twilight of his career.
As some players age, there is a noticeable decline in their play. With Brodeur, that has not been the case. Instead, he has begun having trouble staying healthy over the length of a full season.
"It's getting harder and harder," he recently told Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. "The wear and tear on my body is popping up left and right as I'm getting older."
From 1997-98 to 2007-08, Brodeur never played in fewer than 70 games. Over the past five years, he has only reached that total once.
Because of Brodeur's consistent greatness over the course of his career, the Devils have built their team around him. For that reason, when he goes down with an injury, it becomes very difficult for the team to overcome.
Team president and GM Lou Lamoriello has set Brodeur up with solid backup goaltenders over the past few years to take some of the load off Brodeur and keep him fresh.
In 2012, it worked with Johan Hedberg. Last year, however, it did not. Hedberg finished 2013 with a 6-10 record and an .883 SV%.
In Cory Schneider, Lamoriello thinks he has found a more than adequate replacement for Hedberg and maybe eventually for Brodeur himself.
In the meantime, however, the goal is to keep Brodeur healthy and playing his best.
"Marty is still a number one goaltender," Lamoriello told Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger. "It's just a question of how much he can play to keep at the top of his game."
Greatest Strength: Physicality
Ryane Clowe was signed by Lou Lamoriello to replace David Clarkson.
Last year was a down year for Clowe. His offensive numbers should improve this year, but he will not likely match Clarkson's statistical input.
Instead, Clowe was signed to replace Clarkson's physical game.
Clowe has the physical prowess to fill the role of enforcer and to lay a game-changing check when he needs to. He is not one to step down from a fight, and he served 93 penalty minutes last year, 10th in the league among forwards.
Clowe has had a red flag associated with his name since suffering a recent string of concussions. It is possible that his tough style of play could land him back in the trainer's room in 2014.
Ryane, to his credit, tried to dispel the notion that the Devils should be concerned with his injury-plagued past. "I feel great," he told Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger. "I feel like I have a lot of good hockey in front of me. There is no concern from me."
Greatest Weakness: Speed
Ryane Clowe may not be concerned about his health, but he probably should be concerned about his skating as he prepares to learn Pete DeBoer's system.
DeBoer preaches, above everything else, gritty defense and an aggressive forecheck.
Clowe should be able to provide DeBoer with the type of defense that he wants, but the forecheck may be a different story.
In order for the Devils' forecheck to succeed, players need to get to the puck in the offensive zone and get there quickly. Clowe, who is a notoriously slow skater, may have trouble with that. DeBoer knows this, and he will probably have Clowe on a line with faster and more reliable skaters.
The issue, however, is that Clowe is projected to be a top-six forward for New Jersey.
If he is not capable of playing the Devils system the way that it is meant to be played, it could mean points left on the ice.
In a season in which goals will be at a premium for New Jersey, Clowe's lack of speed may become a severe detriment to the team as the year goes on.
Greatest Strength: The Little Things
Travis Zajac is one of New Jersey's largest question marks heading into 2014. It is certainly safe to call him one of the team's stars. His lucrative eight-year contract makes him a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come.
Last year, his first under his new deal, Zajac struggled to produce points for New Jersey.
While he seemed offensively inept through most of the year, he did everything else well. Zajac's greatest strength is his ability to always take care of the little details.
As I wrote about in more detail in another article, Travis is one of the best faceoff men in the NHL.
He did not miss a game from 2007 through 2011. Since 2009, when healthy, he has averaged about 20 minutes of ice time per game.
The little things, however, are not what the Devils extended Zajac for.
Greatest Weakness: Lacks Killer Instinct
Travis Zajac can score. He has demonstrated that with two 20-goal, 60-point seasons.
It seems, however, that Zajac has an issue with being the man. In 2010-11 when Zach Parise lost all but 13 games to injury, Zajac had one of the worst statistical years of his career.
When Parise came back in 2012, Zajac went down and missed 67 games.
Fast forward again to 2013, and Zach Parise is gone for good. Zajac, despite playing in nearly every game of the season, only scored seven goals and 20 points overall.
Lou Lamoriello can say that Zajac is a team leader all that he wants; the evidence seems to indicate that Zajac plays more like a complementary player. He needs to take on a secondary role to be successful. Zajac seems to lack the killer instinct that is necessary to become a true star in this league.
There is no doubt that technically speaking, Travis is as sound as they come.
Faceoffs, however, do not win games. Goals do.
With Kovalchuk now gone as well, Zajac will be pressured more than ever to become the leader of this time.
Whether he embraces that role or folds remains to be seen. His track record, unfortunately, points to the latter.