Few NHL players have become more synonymous with success than New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. This season should see the four-time Vezina Trophy winner reaching new heights in the record books.
Brodeur looks to move a step closer to the all-time wins record on Friday night when the Devils open their season against the Atlantic Division rival New York Islanders at the Prudential Center.
Brodeur has been the one constant for the Devils the past 15 seasons, leading the team to three Stanley Cup titles and playoff appearances 14 times in that span. He begins this season second on the career wins list with 538, 13 behind Patrick Roy. Brodeur could also pass Terry Sawchuk for the all-time shutouts record, needing eight to surpass Sawchuk's mark of 103.
Last season saw Brodeur win his fourth Vezina as the league's top goaltender after he went 44-27-6 with a 2.17 goals-against average and four shutouts.
"I'm just happy to get it going here," said Brodeur, who has started at least 70 games in each of the last 10 seasons. "We made some changes to the team and made the team better. I'm looking forward to start the season and see where we match up with the top teams in the league."
With Brodeur in net, there's no reason to think the Devils (46-29-7) won't be in the playoffs for the 12th straight season. Whether he has enough of a supporting cast to make a deep postseason run after they were eliminated in the first round last season by the New York Rangers remains to be seen.
In an effort to bolster an offense that totaled only 206 goals, New Jersey brought back a pair of familiar faces, signing free agent forwards Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik, teammates on the Devils' 1995 championship team.
The versatile Rolston had at least 30 goals in each of his three seasons in Minnesota and is expected to center the top line with Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta. Rolston should also give the Devils a reliable quarterback on the power play.
Holik, meanwhile, will provide grit, character and occasional offense from the third line.
"The great thing about it is that it's not that big of a change," Brodeur said. "Usually, when you sign free agents, there's a period of adjustment for everyone. But Brian and Bobby blended right in here and that's definitely a good thing. Plus, we have so many good young players who are going to make a difference."
Zach Parise is the Devils' only returning 30-goal scorer from last season, netting a career-high 32 in his third year as a pro. More will be expected from captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who battled injuries and was limited to 13 goals after scoring 23 in 2006-07.
Also hoping to rebound is forward Dainius Zubrus, who scored only 13 goals in his first season with the Devils after signing a big free agent contract.
While a playoff spot is expected for the Devils, the Islanders reaching the postseason under first-year coach Scott Gordon seems far less likely as they begin a rebuilding phase.
New York (35-38-9) tied for the fourth-fewest points in the league last season and was the only Eastern Conference team that failed to score 200 goals. The Islanders didn't even have a player reach 50 points as Mike Comrie was the team leader with 49.
"We kind of get (dumped) on every year no matter what, but it only matters what we believe in our dressing room," captain Bill Guerin said. "We believe we have a good team. We believe we have not just the opportunity to make the playoffs but to surprise some people when we get there."
Gordon, who has never coached in the NHL in any capacity, becomes the ninth New York coach in a decade.
Any success the Islanders have this season depends mainly on goalie Rick DiPietro, an All-Star last season that at 26 has already had surgery on both hips - one during this offseason - and a knee operation. DiPietro, who also has a history of concussions, was limited to one preseason appearance - a 6-0 loss at Florida on Monday.
"I'd like to play at least 70 games," DiPietro said. "I wouldn't even call them injuries. The hips were more maintenance. I was told by doctors to get them done, I'd be better off long term.
"I had a knee done, just cleaned up. That's what the summer is for."
DiPietro has won four of his last five starts against the Devils, allowing five goals in those victories.
New York made two offseason acquisitions of note, signing defenseman Mark Streit and 36-year-old center Doug Weight. Streit, who had 62 points last season with Montreal, should help an anemic power play while Weight hopes to improve on the 25 combined points he had in 2007-08 with St. Louis and Anaheim.
The Islanders were 6-1-1 against the Devils last season, 3-1-0 at New Jersey.