They're Back: How the New Jersey Devils Have Returned To Relevance

Mike GurnisContributor IDecember 7, 2009

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 28:  Zach Parise #9 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the New York Islanders at the Prudential Center on November 28, 2009 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As the Queen song goes, "...another one bites the dust, and another one gone and another one gone, another one bites the dust."

For the New Jersey Devils, this song is the perfect metaphor. After an offseason in which they lost key players in John Madden, Brian Gionta, Mike Rupp, and Scott Clemmensen to free agency—along with the retirement of Bobby Holik and Brendan Shanahant—he Devils were considered to be an afterthought in the Eastern Conference. 

Not only did the Devils lose key players, but their coach robbed them blind. Brent Sutter resigned as head coach after last season's nightmare Game Seven playoff loss to Carolina, citing "family reasons." Sure enough, he turned up in Calgary as the coach two weeks later.

Replacing Sutter was the man who brought the Devils to prominence in the early '90s with his neutral-zone trap system, Jacques Lemaire, who is back for his second go-round with the Devils after spending most of the decade with the Minnesota Wild.

Many experts ripped Devils GM Lou Lamorello for the move, saying that he had hired a coach "past his prime" and just needed to bring in a "big name."

With the low expectations, the Devils did not disappoint in their first two games, dropping a pair of games against division-rivals Philadelphia and the New York Rangers.  Many people had the Devils written off even after the first two games. 

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Afterwards, the Devils slowly started to turn things around, winning their next three games. Although it seemed that the Devils were turning back to their winning ways, players started to drop like flies with the injury bug—veteran Jay Pandolfo, newly-acquired Rob Niedermayer, Dainus Zubrus, David Clarkson, as well as key defensemen Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya.

All of these players were expected to miss significant time with injuries, and the Devils were not expected to compete well during the stretch of injuries.

Basically, the team would resemble their AHL affiliate, the Lowell Devils, more than the New Jersey Devils with all of the rookies that were being called up to the big team.

But somehow, someway, the "Lowell Devils" have made an impact are once again a top team in the Eastern Conference—if not the entire NHL

Young players such as future star Niclas Bergfors, Matt Halischuk, Ilkka Pikkarainen, Vladimir Zharkov, and Matt Corrente, who has shown he's not afraid to stick up for his new teammates, have all stepped in and performed admirably. 

With all of these injuries, and everything New Jersey has gone through during the offseason, it is almost hard to believe where the Devils are in the standings.

A 19-7-1 record has earned them second place in the Atlantic Division, only two points behind the defending Stanley Cup-champion Penguins who the Devils have beaten twice so far this season.

After being lambasted in the media for letting key players leave to free agency, and hiring Jacques Lemaire, Lamorello once again deserves all the credit in the world for the Devils sucess so far this season. 

The organization is one of the best in all of hockey at scouting, drafting, and developing young talent, allowing New Jersey to say "see ya" to players who demand big money, like Madden and Gionta.

Not only are the Devils winning now when they were expected to be rebuilding, but they are showcasing a nice bunch of core young players, who are showing fans that the Devils indeed have a bright future ahead. 

With the injured players starting to slowly return back into the lineup, the thought is scary to any opponent as to how good the Devils can be the rest of this season—and in years to come. 

Are the Devils Stanley Cup contenders? That remains to be seen. But remember last season, the Devils won 50 games and were knocked out in the first round by the Hurricanes

But with the all-time winningest goalie in hockey history Martin Brodeur, who could become hockey's first-ever 600 game-winner by the end of this season, anything is possible.

Check out this nasty Bergfors goal from Friday night.