NEWARK, N.J. – Getting to the playoffs used to be a given for the New Jersey Devils.
The three-time Stanley Cup champions made the post-season for 13 straight years between 1996-97 and 2009-10. The run ended in 2011 and New Jersey has missed the playoffs three of the last four seasons. The only year they made it, they got to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012.
The goal, obviously, is to get back. But that will be a challenge in the post-Martin Brodeur era. The NHL’s all-time leading goaltender in wins and shutouts was not re-signed after last season and the job now belongs to Cory Schneider. The 28-year-old had an impressive 1.97 goals against average last season in posting a 16-15-12 record, earning a seven-year, $42 million contract.
New Jersey (35-29-18) finished 10th in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs by five points.
“It’s no secret that we have to score more goals,” Devils defenceman and captain Bryce Salvador said. “It’s been a focal point all throughout the off-season. The offence was talked about so much that it became detrimental to the team.
“I think if we stay healthier than we have the past two years, we should be fine. We have four solid lines and good young defencemen,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to change who we are. We score two or three goals, we win. That’s Devils hockey.”
The Devils finished 27th in the league last season, scoring 197 goals, a 2.4 average. Defensively, they were a Top 10 team, giving up 208 goals, the ninth fewest.
In the off-season, the Devils signed free-agent forwards Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat to bolster an offence led by Jaromir Jagr (24 goals) and Adam Henrique (25 goals). Former Devil Scott Gomez has played well on a tryout contract and the team is hoping Ryane Clowe can make a comeback after a concussion last season.
“I’m very excited,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “We had a big summer and brought in some exciting components. Some of the people we brought in are going to help us in a big way. When a season doesn’t end up where you want it to, you have to make changes to make it back. I think we did that.”
Some things to look for as the Devils try to get back to the playoffs:
POST MARTY: Schneider played a career-high 46 games last season and now, as the undisputed No. 1 goaltender, might be expected to push that number to 65 or more. It’s a lot more work and it will be interesting to see how he stands up to it. Scott Clemmensen and Keith Kincaid are fighting to win the backup job.
JAGS: Jagr had a remarkable first season with the Devils, leading the team in assists (43) and points (67) while playing all 82 games at the age of 41. He has become the face of the organization with Brodeur gone and the question is can he do it again at 42.
“I don’t feel 42,” said Jagr, a workout fanatic. “I feel like maybe I’m 82, but I can play until I’m 50, maybe 55. I love to play and I love being here.”
HENRIQUE ON RISE: The 24-year-old turned it on at the end of last season, scoring nine goals in March, including seven in the first five games. If he can continue to score and Cammalleri plays like last season when he scored 26 goals for Calgary, New Jersey might have a good shot at the playoffs.
SHOOTOUTS: The Devils missed the playoffs by five points last season and what may have cost them the most were the shootouts. They were 0-13 in the one-on-one attempts to decide games, converting 4 of 45 chances, or roughly 9 per cent. The league average was more than 31 per cent. Cammallari has converted 11 of 41 shootout chances in his career, so he should help.
WHERE’S MARTY: With the season less than a week away, Brodeur remains unsigned.