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Devils hope offseason changes boost goal differential

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello had two primary objectives after his team failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season in 2013-14.

The first was a long-term commitment to goalie Cory Schneider to let him know that he will be the starter for the foreseeable future. The second was to upgrade an offense that ranked near the bottom of the League in goals and shots per game.

Lamoriello accomplished both in July. Schneider signed a long-term extension that's reportedly worth $42 million over seven years. He also added free-agent forwards Mike Cammalleri and Marty Havlat to help bolster the top six and provide coach Peter DeBoer with a lot more offensive flexibility.

"I think we need to score more goals, or give up less," Lamoriello said. "It's the goal differential that counts with me, not how many goals that are scored. We've had that here since I've been here and won without a scorer in the top 30."

Jaromir Jagr led the Devils in scoring last season with 67 points; he was 27th in the League.

The question now is whether DeBoer can get his group on the same page. It shouldn't be too difficult considering much of the roster from last season remains intact.

"It's lip service until you actually do it, but I believe we've gone through a couple of transition years here," DeBoer said. "After the loss of some key guys it hasn't been easy. But I think [Lamoriello] has done a great job of trying to fill the voids. Now, on the coaching level, we've got to find a way to put the mix together."

FORWARDS

DeBoer pointed to injuries and some underwhelming performances that led to numerous line adjustments throughout last season, making it tough for players to find their niche because they were being asked to perform different roles. He hopes the added depth will help alleviate that situation.

"Because of a bunch of different factors, our depth players, a lot of them ended up playing up a line or two," DeBoer said. "Our fourth line ended up as our third line a lot of nights. I think we're much deeper offensively where we're sitting right now than we were a year ago."

Jagr, who also led the Devils in assists (43), plus/minus (plus-16) and game-winning goals (six), was re-signed to a one-year contract in April. Travis Zajac, who served as Jagr's center, had 18 goals and 48 points, his best numbers since 2009-10. He's thrilled to have his linemate back for another season.

"It’s good because I thought we had some chemistry together," Zajac said. "I thought we played well and now I know how he plays, when he wants the puck and when he doesn't. Now we'll be better at supporting each other and making even more happen out there."

Cammalleri, who had 26 goals for the Calgary Flames last season, could be a nice complement to Zajac and Jagr. That line was together during the opening day of training camp on Friday.

"[Cammalleri] has played all over the place," DeBoer said. "Last year when he came in to play against us, he played center, too. So this is a guy that I think you can put in a lot of places. That will all sort itself out."

Havlat was signed to a one-year contract and could turn out to be the most significant addition of the offseason -- if the 33-year-old can return to being the player he was before a string of injuries. Havlat has scored at least 20 goals in six of his 13 seasons in the League.

"The additions add some offensive depth, and having Cammalleri, a natural goal scorer, is something we were missing last year," Zajac said. "He's a guy who can release the puck and score in different types of situations. Havlat is a veteran guy who's been successful throughout his career, and having a few other Czechs on the team will really get him going."

Havlat would appear to be a perfect fit on the second line alongside fellow Czech Republic native Patrik Elias. The two played on the same line with Czech team Znojmo during the 2004-05 work stoppage, and were teammates at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and the 2011 IIHF World Championship.

The forward group as a whole appears to be as dynamic as ever. Adam Henrique likely will center the third line after leading the team in goals (25) and shorthanded goals (three) while earning key minutes on the power play and penalty kill. Michael Ryder should be more comfortable in his second season with the team. Power forward Ryane Clowe was a solid force in the lineup when healthy. In addition, veteran Scott Gomez will be at training camp on a tryout basis; Gomez, 34, started his NHL career in New Jersey and is sixth on the team's all-time scoring list with 450 points in 548 games.

In addition to Gomez, Lamoriello invited left wing Ruslan Fedotenko and right wing Jordin Tootoo to training camp on a tryout basis. There are a few prospects who could earn jobs out of camp, including Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau.

"Reid is a shooter and has great vision; he gets away shots in the scoring areas," Zajac said. "He’ll get there eventually. I don't know whether it will be this year or not but, when he does he'll be a threat and a guy we'll be counting on."

DEFENSEMEN

The Devils lost unrestricted free agent Mark Fayne (Edmonton Oilers) and used a buyout on Anton Volchenkov (Nashville Predators), but Lamoriello re-signed veteran Andy Greene to a five-year contract worth a reported $25 million in July.

"He's always playing against the top players, playing the most minutes and playing in every type of situation," Zajac said of Greene. "Andy really solidifies our [defense]; he just calms everything down when he has he puck and he'll bring it every night. He deserved that new contract."

Greene led the Devils in blocked shots (129), average ice time (24:34) and average shifts per game (29.1) and won the team's Unsung Hero award.

"Andy has evolved into an all-situation player and that's a tremendous compliment because there are very few in the League that you can say are all-situation players," Lamoriello said.

Captain Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky also return and will help bring along a relatively young corps that should include Eric Gelinas, Adam Larsson and Jon Merrill.

"They've played in the minors. They've earned their stripes and they've earned an opportunity to get a chance to play [in the NHL]," DeBoer said. "That was a decision at the end of the year when Lou and I sat down that we were both comfortable with."

Lamoriello invited three unsigned tryouts to training camp, including NHL veterans Mike Komisarek and Tomas Kaberle, and KHL veteran Renat Mamashev. Those additions to camp will no doubt push the youngsters to work even harder to earn their roles.

GOALIES

Schneider was behind Roberto Luongo with the Vancouver Canucks in his first five NHL seasons. Last season, his first in New Jersey, he split time with Martin Brodeur, who was not re-signed.

This will be the first time Schneider will enter training camp knowing he'll open the season as the No. 1 goalie. The departure of Brodeur also led to the signing of veteran Scott Clemmensen, who will compete with rookie Keith Kinkaid for backup duty.

DeBoer expects Schneider to succeed playing 60-plus games. He was 16-15-12 in a career-high 45 games in 2013-14, and his 1.97 goals-against average ranked third in the NHL.

It will be the first time in more than two decades that Brodeur won't be around. But Zajac said he expects a smooth changeover.

"It will be a transition just not having [Brodeur] around the team or in the locker room," Zajac said. "But when you look at goaltending, we’re going from a great goalie [Brodeur] to another great goalie so I think that will be seamless. Schneider is going to carry the load. He'll keep us in games and he deserves to be our No. 1."

Kinkaid, who arguably was the best player for the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League last season, had the third-lowest GAA (2.29) in the AHL.

Lamoriello has said he would like to see Kinkaid seize the backup role, but Clemmensen was re-signed to a two-way contract as insurance. Clemmensen has a 2.77 GAA and seven shutouts in 188 games with New Jersey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers.

Additions: Mike Cammalleri, F (free agent, Flames); Marty Havlat, F (free agent, Sharks); Scott Clemmensen, G (free agent, Panthers)

Subtractions: Anton Volchenkov, D (buyout, Predators); Mark Fayne, D (free agent, Oilers)

Promotion candidates: Keith Kinkaid, G; Reid Boucher, F; Stefan Matteau, F; Damon Severson, D

Possible lineup
Mike Cammalleri
- Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr
Dainius Zubrus
- Patrik Elias - Marty Havlat
Ryane Clowe
- Adam Henrique - Michael Ryder
Tuomo Ruutu
- Stephen Gionta - Damien Brunner

Andy Greene - Marek Zidlicky
Bryce Salvador
- Eric Gelinas
Jon Merrill
- Adam Larsson

Cory Schneider
Keith Kinkaid


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