After failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs a second straight season, New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer organized a meeting with his staff to pinpoint what went right and wrong in 2013-14.
In addition to their team, they discussed the success of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and the resurgence of the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers.
"You're always looking for things you could do differently in order to make sure you're back in that group of elite teams the following season," DeBoer said. "I think it's a healthy exercise in finding ways not only to improve your own team but give some perspective. This is a tough League to make the playoffs, so just because you miss the playoffs doesn't mean you're a poor team. We did a lot of good things last year; we just have to find an extra edge."
Here are five questions facing the Devils:
1. Is goaltender Cory Schneider ready to take the reins as No. 1 now that Martin Brodeur has decided to move on? -- The Devils are committed to 28-year-old Schneider through 2021-22 after signing him to a seven-year contract extension in July. Schneider has patiently waited for this opportunity since entering the NHL in 2008-09 and is more than capable of playing 65-plus games in a season.
Schneider was 16-15-12 in 45 games for the Devils in 2013-14 and his 1.97 goals-against average was third in the League. He split time in goal with Brodeur, who won the Stanley Cup three times, the Vezina Trophy four times, and set every significant NHL goaltending mark in 21 seasons with the organization.
"Marty's legacy is what it is," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "Cory's not here to replace Marty. Cory's here to establish his own identity, which he has done, and go forward with that."
2. How does DeBoer incorporate free-agent acquisitions Mike Cammalleri and Marty Havlat into his group of forwards? -- Entering training camp, it would appear DeBoer has settled on Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique as his top three centers. Cammalleri, who has experience at center, could open the season on left wing alongside Zajac and right wing Jaromir Jagr.
Havlat could be a perfect fit with fellow Czech Republic native Elias. The two played on the same line in Znojmo in the Czech Republic during the 2004-05 work stoppage, and represented their country at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and the 2011 IIHF World Championship.
3. Will Jagr pick up where he left off in 2013-14? -- Jagr played in all 82 regular-season games last season and had 24 goals and a team-high 67 points. DeBoer said he has no doubt Jagr will continue his assault on the NHL record book. He has 705 goals (seventh on the all-time NHL list), 1,050 assists (eighth all-time) and 1,755 points (sixth all-time) in a career that spans 20 seasons.
4. Can defensemen Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson realize their potential? -- Merrill turned it on toward the end of last season, but Gelinas and Larsson need to continue to find consistency at both ends of the ice. DeBoer is hopeful all three players can become fixtures in 2014-15, particularly after the losses of Anton Volchenkov and Mark Fayne in the offseason.
5. Will the Devils have better luck in the shootout in 2014-15? -- The Devils lost all 13 games that entered the shootout last season and scored four times on 45 attempts. There could be relief this season. Cammalleri went 2-for-6 in the shootout with the Flames last season. Sometime, the element of surprise works best; Jacob Josefson scored on his only attempt in 2013-14 and Reid Boucher scored once on two chances.
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