Since the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, the Kings have played 44 Stanley Cup Playoff games and won a second championship in three seasons.
That is 44 more games than the Devils, who missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1985-86 and 1986-87. Ten of the 24 players who appeared in at least one playoff game during New Jersey's 2012 run remain with the team.
2014-15 FANTASY PREVIEW: DEVILS
Undervalued: Cory Schneider --
The goalie with the best goals-against average (2.01) League-wide over the past three seasons combined (minimum 100 games) is finally a full-time starter. Owners can expect the Devils to provide Schneider with more goal support and benefit from the addition of Mike Cammalleri
up front. New Jersey allowed the fewest shots on goal per game and had the best penalty kill last season, so Schneider should be considered a top-10 fantasy goalie entering 2014-15.
Overvalued: Adam Henrique --
Henrique shattered his previous career-high in goals with 25 in 77 games last season, but the center's high shooting percentage (18.2, tied for fifth in NHL) isn't likely to carry over to this season. Henrique still has name value in deep leagues after that strong playoff showing in 2012 (13 points, three game-winning goals in 24 games), but his limited category coverage should keep him off your radar until later rounds.
Sleeper: Eric Gelinas --
The departure of Anton Volchenkov
and Mark Fayne
mean the Devils will rely heavily on Gelinas to improve his game defensively. That's good news for fantasy owners who took advantage of his offensive production when he was not being healthy scratched or playing in the AHL last season. Only Torey Krug
had more power-play points (19) than Gelinas (17) last season among NHL rookie defensemen, so it won't be long before the 23-year-old surpasses Marek Zidlicky
as the Devils' most dangerous power-play threat from the blue line.
-- Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
The two stars of that 2012 group, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, left in successive summers, and it appears the franchise's most iconic player, goaltender Martin Brodeur, has played his last game with the Devils. If losing Parise and Kovalchuk didn't signal the start of a new era, moving on without Brodeur certainly does.
New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello made one of the best signings of the 2013 offseason when Jaromir Jagr joined the Devils. He became their best player and fortified his status as one of the all-time great forwards. Lamoriello tried to add some options up front this offseason and turned the net over to Cory Schneider on a full-time basis.
The Metropolitan Division looks wide open behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, so a return to the postseason is certainly plausible and maybe even likely if the veterans up front can remain productive and healthy and Schneider confirms a place among the elite goaltenders in the League by finally having the chance to assume a large workload.
Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Devils:
Mike Cammalleri - Travis Zajac - Jaromir Jagr
Patrik Elias - Adam Henrique - Michael Ryder
Marty Havlat - Dainius Zubrus - Damien Brunner
Ryane Clowe - Stephen Gionta - Tuomo Ruutu
Jacob Josefson - Steve Bernier
The additions of Cammalleri and Havlat gives coach Peter DeBoer more options, and also makes trying to figure out where everyone will fit more difficult. Zajac and Jagr together on the first line and Henrique slotting into the middle of the second seem like the surest bets here.
Beyond that, there are a lot of interchangeable parts. Elias and Cammalleri figure to be the top two guys on the left side. The Devils may want to give Havlat a chance to prove he's not a fourth-line player like he was sometimes deployed with the San Jose Sharks, but he and Clowe could flip spots. The same is true with Ryder and Brunner on the right, or Brunner and Ruutu for that matter. And while Gionta has centered the fourth line for a while now, he had a terrible season in the faceoff circle in 2013-14, so Ruutu could slide over to the middle.
Andy Greene - Adam Larsson
Jon Merrill - Marek Zidlicky
Eric Gelinas* - Bryce Salvador
The Devils are in an interesting transition period with their defense corps. Mark Fayne is gone, and how much of his possession success was a product of playing with Greene remains to be seen. New Jersey has spent a lot of money up front (more than $45 million on those 14 forwards) and Schneider's new contract is not cheap (seven years, $42 million), so this is where the cost-conscious maneuvers are.
New Jersey has three young defensemen in Larsson, Merrill and Gelinas who could all be very good NHL players in short order. There are a couple of other kids in the pipeline who also look very exciting. Where everyone fits in the lineup to start the season is the big question.
Placing each of the young players with a veteran makes a lot of sense. Merrill and Zidlicky played together a lot last season, so that seems like a good place to start. But is Larsson or Gelinas ready for tough minutes with Greene? If not, will DeBoer trust two of the kids together so Zidlicky or Salvador can pair up with Greene?
Another potential issue is depth. The Devils have six defensemen under contract (Gelinas would make seven) who have more than zero games of NHL experience. Among the six defensemen signed to NHL contracts that look likely to begin the year in the American Hockey League, two of them have played more than one season as a professional.
If there are multiple injuries in the defense corps, the reinforcements are either going to be young or come from outside the organization. Don't be surprised if the Devils add a defenseman or two on tryout contracts or two-way deals before or during training camp.
Schneider has never played more than 45 NHL games in a season. If he doesn't in 2014-15, the Devils are probably looking at three straight springs without any playoff games.
Kinkaid and another young goalie, Scott Wedgewood, will battle with veteran Scott Clemmensen for the backup spot during training camp. Wedgewood is turning 22 years old this month and can be sent to the AHL without going through waivers. If he tossed two shutouts in preseason games, that might not be enough to keep him from continuing his development with regular playing time in Albany.
Clemmensen has played 36 games in the NHL over the past two seasons, and the results haven't been good. Kinkaid might get his chance, with Clemmensen acting as a mentor for Wedgewood in the AHL.
ALSO IN THE MIX: F Reid Boucher, F Stefan Matteau, D Damon Severson, D Seth Helgeson, G Scott Clemmensen
*Restricted free agent
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