A playoff contender last season, the New Jersey Devils now stand in last place in the entire NHL. What went wrong?
They currently stand at a 13-29-3, but are 3-0-1 within their last four games.
Many factors can lead a team to failure and with every team there are different key aspects that lead them to a losing season. This is by far the worst start to a season for the Devils, a team who has captured a division title nine times in the last two decades as well as three Stanley Cups and four conference championships.
New Jersey made some key offseason acquisitions this season. They brought back veteran forward Jason Arnott into the lineup. I feel this was more of a morale support and leadership pickup. Blue-liner Anton Volchenkov was signed, adding depth and a little bit of youth to the defensive side of the game.
The most famous of signings: Ilya Kovalchuk's 15-year, $100 million deal. An outstanding forward, to put it lightly, New Jersey thought that this was the forward they had been dreaming of for years now. This season of his hasn't proved to be anything astonishing though. Thirteen goals and 13 assists with a plus/minus of minus-27 isn't the kind of season that GM Lou Lamoriello had anticipated when offering "Kovy" this deal.
Here's why they are in last place in the NHL:
Which "aging" player should the Devils seek to release?
3. Lack of Offensive Chemistry
I don't think there has been one set line this entire season for the Devils. John MacLean jumbled around the lines throughout preseason and for the majority of his time as head coach.
The strategy of having two forwards playing point on the power play has it benefits—big sticks like Ilya Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston provide hard shots. This means more offensive players on the ice at the same time. With that being the case, lesser-skilled players like David Clarkson, Rod Pelley and Tim Sestito (third and fourth-line players) see ice time during the power plays. They have defenders like Andy Greene and Anton Volchenkov who can produce offensive plays that can be useful in the power play, but fail to do so.
You don't really see any two players on the Devils work like other great tandems around the NHL (Ovechkin/Backstrom, Crosby/Malkin and Sedin/Sedin, to name a few.) Even with MacLean and now Jacques Lemaire making constant line changes, there still hasn't been a spark offensively between any players.
2. The Age of Their Players
There's not much youth on their roster. As far as forwards go you have Mattias Tedenby (20), Jacob Josefson (19), Nick Palmieri (21) and Vladimir Zharkov (23.) And that's only when they aren't playing in Albany or when they aren't scratched. Josefson spent a lot of time down in Albany after preseason, and Tedenby was scratched for the past few weeks.
Tedenby and Zharkov both had a big day against the New York Islanders on Jan. 17. Zharkov recorded his first NHL goal while Tedenby got his fifth goal and sixth assist of the season.
At 6'3", Palmieri has proven to be a big, physical grinder for the Devils thus far.
You have youth, then you have age and the Devils have a lot of that.
Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, Brian Rolston, Adam Mair, Dainius Zubrus, Bryce Salvador, Henrik Tallinder, Colin White, Johan Hedburg and Martin Brodeur all are over the age of 31.
The oldest of the bunch: Johan Hedberg and Martin Brodeur, both goaltenders. You can't have that kind of age between the pipes—they aren't as agile and quick as they once were.
Elias has shown to still be great at 34. He leads the team in points with 32 (10 goals, 22 assists) and was the only Devil to make the All-Star Game.
As for the rest of them, through 45 games no other player of 31 has more than 20 points on the season. They're getting older and not being able to perform as well as they had in their younger years.
1. Zach Parise
Huge injury loss for the Devils. You're talking about the leading scorer for the Devils for the past three years, and now he's out of the picture. Who knows what the Devils could have amounted to in the first half of the season with Parise in the mix?
During preseason, Travis Zajac, Kovalchuk and Parise made up the "Z.I.P." line, one that combined for 21 points in the preseason.
In his only 12 games of the regular season, Parise put up three goals and three assists for a total of six points. That's more points than players like Adam Mair, Henrik Talinder and Anton Volchenkov have put up in 30+ games.
Back in November it was said that Parise was to miss a total of three months following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. So if all rehab goes as planned then Parise should be back hopefully before the trade deadline (Feb. 28.)
There's no saying when New Jersey will get back on track and start winning games. It could be a continuation of their 3-0-1 streak, it could be after the All-Star break, it could be with the return of Zach Parise or it could be the start of next season.
The Devils close out the month of January with home games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers, then away games against the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings. Not the easiest of schedules.
One can only hope that the Devils find some chemistry between players that can lead them to more victories. Maybe something crazy will happen come the trade deadline. For now, though, we can only sit back and watch the Devils do their best to get some points on their record, and some points on the board.