The New Jersey Devils
are a team that usually just dips a toe into the free-agent market. This summer, though, GM Lou Lamoriello dove in head-first, handing out contracts to forwards Brian Rolston
and Bobby Holik
, while re-signing defenseman Bryce Salvador
After averaging just 2.42 goals per game -- the fourth-lowest total in the League -- upgrading the offensive attack was a major necessity.
That the Devils stayed in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title all season with such a meager offense is a testament to the continued greatness of goaltender Martin Brodeur
. At age 36, Brodeur again will be franchise's most important player.
The team's defense, anchored by Brodeur, remains its backbone, but with more scorers imported, the hope is the Devils can take some of the pressure off their all-world netminder.
New superlatives need to be invented to describe Brodeur. He won his fourth Vezina Trophy in the last five years last season, going 44-27-6 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He extended his NHL record with his third straight and seventh season of 40-plus wins, as well as his record of 11 seasons with at least 35 victories (no other goalie has more than three straight).
By the time the 2008-09 season ends, Brodeur might add his name to the top of the League's record book in a few other categories, as well. With 14 wins, he'll surpass Patrick Roy's record of 551. When he plays game No. 62 -- he hasn't played fewer than 67 in more than a decade -- he'll pass Roy's mark of 1,029 games played. And with 96 shutouts, he's eight away from passing George Hainsworth for No. 1 in that category. Brodeur also is in line this season to become the all-time leader in minutes played and saves.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
2007-08 SEASON STATS
(4th eAst/6th NHL)
|Change from 2006-07
(3RD eAst/7th NHL)
(3rd eAst/6th NHL)
Kevin Weekes was signed last summer to take some of the burden off Brodeur, but he played just nine games. Still, Weekes is a competent veteran capable of playing if Brodeur for some reason tires or is injured.
A large part of the Devils' early defensive struggles was due to the eye injury suffered by Colin White during training camp. The team struggled to an 8-10-2 start without White, but won their first eight when he returned in late November.
Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya add an offensive element to the team's blue line. Martin had 32 points and was a plus-20, while Oduya more than doubled his numbers from 2006-07, finishing with 6 goals, 26 points and a plus-27 rating.
The team re-signed all-round presence Bryce Salvador, as well as Mike Mottau to add depth to the group. Andy Greene and rookies Matt Corrente and Anssi Salmela also will fight for roster spots.
Putting Rolston between Zach Parise and Brian Gionta could give New Jersey its most dynamic scoring line in a few years.
Rolston seems to be getting better with age. He had 30 goals each of the last three seasons with Minnesota, including last season when he turned 35. Rolston also should quarterback a power play that should improve from No. 25 in the League last season.
Parise led the team with 32 goals and 65 points, and if he plays a full season alongside Rolston, those numbers could rise dramatically. Parise also improved from a combined minus-4 in his first two seasons to a plus-13 in 2007-08, tops among the club's forwards.
Gionta scored 48 goals in 2005-06, but has just 47 combined in the last two seasons. The addition of Rolston, plus Parise's development, should alleviate some of the offensive burden Gionta has had to carry.
The return of Rolston and Holik also allows Patrik Elias to move back to left wing, where he should be more comfortable. Elias had just 20 goals and 55 points last season, his lowest totals since 1998-99 (discounting 2005-06, when he missed most of the season recovering from hepatitis).
Super-checkers John Madden and Jay Pandolfo had strong offensive seasons. Madden had 20 goals and a career-best 43 points, while Pandolfo had 24 points in just 54 games. If they can match those numbers again, the Devils' offense will have an extra dimension.
Jamie Langenbrunner, who assumed the captaincy when he returned from offseason groin surgery, will hope to rebound from a 13-goal season. Holik also is hoping for resurgence by returning to the place where he won a pair of Stanley Cups.
Three reasons for optimism
* Martin Brodeur still wears a Devils uniform. As long as "Marty the Magnificent" continues to pull on the sweater, the Devils will be one of the tougher teams to beat, especially in the spring. And with a number of all-time NHL records within reach, Brodeur should have ample motivation for having another Vezina-worthy season.
* Zach Parise could become the first 100-point scorer in New Jersey history. Patrik Elias holds the mark with 96 points in 2000-01, but the fast-developing Parise could better that. Playing on a line with Brian Rolston certainly should give him more scoring opportunities.
* In his first season behind an NHL bench, coach Brent Sutter showed a good grasp of how the game is played at its highest level. Going into his second campaign, he'll have a better grasp of his players, and the players will better understand what the coach expects of them.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.