5 Bold Predictions for New Jersey Devils 2013-14 Season
In this article, five bold predictions will be presented. While some may look at these predictions and see only wishful thinking, they are all entirely plausible.
What's more, if they are realized over the course of the upcoming season, then the final and boldest prediction will become much more than a pipe dream for fans of the team.
Let's get started.
Cory Schneider Will Play More Than Martin Brodeur
When the New Jersey Devils traded their first-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks for Cory Schneider, it was done under the pretense that Martin Brodeur would remain the starting goaltender in New Jersey in 2013-14.
Cory Schneider, however, is too talented to stay on the bench all year, and with 22 back-to-back game sets, he has already figured to play plenty this year.
Exactly how many games Schneider will actually start remains unclear.
At the start of training camp, head coach Pete DeBoer suggested to Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record that Schneider would be able to earn more time between the pipes.
When he was asked how he would figure out the two goaltenders' playing time, DeBoer stated that "those things sort themselves out."
That quote makes it seem like the Brodeur/Schneider dynamic will be more of a competition than a timeshare. At the very least, playing time will be decided based on performance.
If that is the case, Schneider may have an advantage.
It is unwise to put too much stock in preseason play, but to this point, Schneider has been better than Brodeur. That may not continue into the regular season, but there is little doubt regarding Schneider's high ceiling.
On top of that, the years have recently begun to treat Marty with cruelty.
While he has still been reliable when healthy, it has recently become a challenge for him to stay on the ice. He has missed at least 20 games in each of the past three seasons.
Granted, backup Johan Hedberg had been playing to relieve Brodeur even when he was healthy, Schneider figures to play a bigger role in 2013-14 than Moose.
Although Brodeur is currently slated as the opening night starter, if he is sidelined at any point—which recent history suggests he will be—the Devils may wind up with their new franchise goaltender ahead of schedule.
The Defense Will Double Its Goal Production
In the 2012-13 season, New Jersey's defensemen scored a combined total of 13 goals. Expanded to a full 82-game schedule, that number would be at around 22. In 2013-14, that number will increase to around 40.
At first glance, that may seem more delusional than bold, but a closer look will suggest that it will likely happen.
First of all, Marek Zidlicky is still with the Devils. He has been the most offensively prolific defenseman for New Jersey over the past few years. With Ilya Kovalchuk gone, Zid's scoring role at the point of the Devils' top power play will only expand.
Next, Adam Larsson appears ready to breakout at the NHL level. In two preseason games so far, he has a goal on three shots.
Larsson recently told Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger that he would like to improve his offensive game this year.
Finally, the Devils are looking to add one of their young prospects to their NHL roster. Two of the leading candidates at this point are Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas. So far, in preseason play, they have both shown their propensity for scoring.
Either one of them would be an immediate offensive upgrade over Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov.
It is looking like a safe bet that the defense will be much more involved in the offense in 2013-14.
Jaromir Jagr Will Play More Than 70 Games
There are some that might say that Jaromir Jagr playing more than 70 games would not qualify as anything special. After all, he has not missed extended time since the 2003-04 season.
Despite that fact, however, his age continues to raise red flags. Not helping anybody feel better about that is the fact that he only practiced for about 10 minutes before injuring himself.
He has yet to play in a preseason game with the Devils.
That is something, however, that does not worry Pete DeBoer.
He told Rich Chere that he expects Jagr to be ready for the season opener, regardless of whether he gets in any exhibition games or not.
Fans should not be too concerned with Jagr's lack of play in the preseason. He is a seasoned veteran and one of the best players in the history of the league. At the level that he is on, there is not too much rust to have to worry about.
More troubling, perhaps, would be Jagr's unfamiliarity with his new teammates, but Jagr has a long, recent history of fitting in with his new teams pretty quickly.
Overall, regarding Jagr's health, until he actually does go down with a serious injury during the regular season, there is no reason to suspect that he will.
After all, he is one of the oldest players in the NHL last year and has only missed four games.
New Jersey Will Finish in the Top Half of the League in Goals
Last season, the Devils finished 28th in the league with 110 goals scored. Many predict that, with Kovalchuk and David Clarkson gone, that stat will not increase much in 2013-14.
That prediction, however, is based on two assumptions that, under a closer examination, seem unwarranted.
First of all, it assumes that the Devils have not adequately replaced their departed forwards. However, that is not the case. The additions of Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe and Damien Brunner figure to be more then enough to make up for the losses.
Last year, Kovalchuk and Clarkson combined for 55 points. The Devils' newest four forwards combined for 99.
Obviously, Kovalchuk takes with him intangibles that the new guys will not be able to replicate, but goal scoring is not necessarily one of them.
The second assumption that the bleak predictions about the Devils offense makes is that the players who had down years in 2012-13 will not bounce back.
For example, last year, Travis Zajac and Ryane Clowe only scored seven and three goals respectively. Both of those totals are less than half their career averages for goals per season.
In the end, there is little reason to expect the Devils offense to be nearly as bad as it was last year. In fact, there is ample evidence that suggests that it will be much improved.
The Devils Will Be Playing for a Playoff Spot in April
If the four prior predictions come true, then it follows that this one will as well. This can be demonstrated by looking at what made the Devils so bad last year.
As mentioned earlier, the Devils finished near the bottom of the league in goals scored. The players that New Jersey depended on had down years, and the entire team suffered for it.
It is not logical to assume that these players, who have demonstrated in the past that they can get the job done, will play at that low level again this year. On the other hand, it makes more sense to assume that they will return to form.
The law of averages demands that.
Furthermore, their new players should be more than enough to adequately replace those that left.
Another factor that hurt the Devils last season was goaltending. Last season, New Jersey allowed a league low 23 shots on goal per game. Brodeur and Hedberg's save percentage, however, was .890, ranking them 28th in the league.
That equals horrendous play between the pipes.
This season, Hedberg has been replaced by Cory Schneider. That, according to Craig Custance at ESPN (premium content) gives New Jersey the best goaltending duo in the NHL.
With those two areas taken care of, the Devils should be on pace to regain playoff-worthy form.
I do admittedly hesitate to name the Devils a playoff team because of how tough the league—the Metro Division in particular—is, but there is no reason that the Devils should not be knocking on the door next spring.