While the hard road back to the Stanley Cup Final was a memorable one, it certainly didn't turn out the way the New Jersey Devils had envisioned.
Through the opening three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Devils were consistently able to outnumber their opponent to loose pucks and establish a relentless forecheck. First-year coach Peter DeBoer continually stressed the importance of winning puck battles and playing as a five-man unit, and the plan worked quite well until the team met the ravenous Los Angeles Kings in the championship round.
The Kings garnered their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history on Monday when then beat the Devils 6-1 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. While the Devils were a formidable opponent, it just seemed nothing would slow down the Kings, who became the first No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup.
So now it's back to the drawing board for Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello and DeBoer, who will have to meander through what is sure to be an intriguing offseason.
Here are five questions that will need to be answered in short order:
Zach Parise return to New Jersey in 2012-13?
This is undoubtedly the million-dollar question since there is no other forward on the free-agent market comparable to Parise. There could be as many as 10 teams ready and willing to open their checkbooks and make serious offers for the left wing, who has spent his seven-year NHL career in New Jersey. According to The New York Post, Parise might expect offers similar to the nine-year, $60 million contract Brad Richards signed this past summer with the Rangers. That deal included a $10 million signing bonus last July and an $8 million signing bonus due this July.
Parise, who has declined comment on free agency during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, did admit during the regular season that he is certainly open to re-signing with the Devils. While that's all well and good, how much will it take?
2. Does goalie Martin Brodeur have another year left?
DeBoer managed the 40-year-old goalie's playing time quite well during the regular season and, as a result, he provided stellar play between the pipes during the team's playoff push. Brodeur, who opted not to talk to the media on game days during the playoffs following the opening round against the Florida Panthers, looked better prepared physically and mentally during the postseason. He certainly has at least one more season left, if not more; but it'll be up to Brodeur and the organization's managerial team to decide if that will happen. The future Hall of Fame goalie, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, earned $5.2 million this season.
The Devils have three goalie prospects who might be given a chance next season in Scott Wedgewood of the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers and Keith Kinkaid and Jeff Frazee of the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Albany.
3. Is this the year the Devils forfeit their first-round draft pick?
As part of their punishment for attempting to circumvent the salary cap in the summer of 2010 in the initial signing of Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils were required to forfeit a first-round pick in one of the next four drafts. They kept their 2011 pick and selected defenseman Adam Larsson at No. 4, but Lamoriello told The Star-Ledger in May that the team would consider forfeiting this year's pick. The Devils will be selecting No. 29.
While it may seem like the logical thing to do, the organization does have holes to fill. In addition to being the oldest team in the NHL, the club's depth at forward may be a tad depleted. Blake Coleman of Miami University, Reid Boucher of the OHL's Sarnia Sting and David Wohlberg of the University of Michigan are the top three forwards on the depth chart.
The likely scenario is that New Jersey will opt to forfeit this year's pick since the 2013 Draft is lining up to be quite deep.
In addition to Parise and Brodeur, the Devils also have six other forwards, two defensemen and goalie Johan Hedberg scheduled to become unrestricted free agents July 1. It'll be interesting to see if the team looks to keep the fourth line intact. After all, the line of center Stephen Gionta and wings Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier has arguably been the club's most consistent and effective trio throughout the postseason. All three players become free agents next month. On defense, Bryce Salvador, who surprisingly led the team's defense in scoring during the postseason and generated good chemistry with mid-season acquisition Marek Zidlicky, is also a pending free agent.
5. Can the Devils pick up where they left off in 2012-13?
With Lamoriello and DeBoer in the fold, the setback to the Kings in this year's Stanley Cup Final will only motivate those individuals, as well as the organization, even more. DeBoer proved to be the right man for the job, as the players not only respected his decisions, but enjoyed playing for him.
"Our big weapon [this season] was the coaching staff," Brodeur said. "I think they prepared us, they made changes to our system better than a lot of the coaches that I had in the past. And I think we were well-prepared to do the things we needed to do to be successful."
When he was hired as head coach this past summer, DeBoer promised an up-tempo system that wouldn't compromise defense, and he was able to do just that. Players bought into his aggressive but disciplined approach, and the team made a complete turnaround after failing to qualify for the playoffs in 2011.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale