Last season ended in disappointment in New Jersey, again, as the Devils took an early exit from the second season. It marked the fourth time in as many seasons that the Devils were eliminated before the Conference Finals.
Some teams might feel that just making the playoffs should be enough—but that is not what Devils' fans, myself included, are used to.
I'll admit it, I am an incredibly spoiled sports fan. I've seen the Devils win three Stanley Cups, the Yankees take four World Series in five years, the Giants win Super Bowl XLII, and Chelsea FC claim two titles, along with Carling and FA Cup victories.
I've become accustomed to seeing my teams do well. So when I see a team with as much potential as the Devils have getting eliminated fairly easily by a division rival in the first round, I get frustrated.
Last year, the Devils couldn't score to save their lives. They scored only 206 goals, the worst of any playoff team. They had difficulty maintaining possession of the puck. Offensive production—or lack thereof—has been a growing problem in New Jersey.
Defense and goal-tending are not the issue. The reason that Martin Brodeur and the defense played so poorly down the stretch and into the playoffs was simply because they were dog-tired.
They have been riding the wake of Brodeur and the defense for too many years. Finally, Lou Lamoriello has decided to do something about it.
First off, Brian Rolston is a great signing. He brings a strong veteran presence to the locker room, and a sniper's shot to the power play. Projected season stats: 25 G, 30 A.
Bobby Holik is another veteran coming back to New Jersey for his second tour of duty in red. Don't expect him to bulge the twine too often, but he will fill the void left by Sergie Brylin's option being declined.
Holik is a big, physical presence who can play both ways, something a team can never have too many of. Projected season stats: 13 G, 17 A.
On another note, Brian Gionta's numbers have declined after his record-breaking performance in 2005-2006, but a fair amount of that can be contributed to a lack of Scott Gomez last year.
Granted, Gionta only scored 25 goals with Gomez as his linemate in '06-07. But with Rolston on the power play, his goal total with the man-advantage should increase from his 07-08 total of eight.
The defense has been solidified with the extension of Bryce Salvador. Also, the Devils drafted defense first (which absolutely baffled me), so their blue line looks to be in a good situation.
With the signings of Holik and Rolston, the offense should improve greatly as well. Not only will they add to the goal totals, they will improve everyone around them.
New Jersey Devils 2008-2009 Projection: 105 Pts, 47 W, 24 L, 11 OT; fourth in the Eastern Conference, second in the Atlantic Division.
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