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Devils pack up 2010-11

Tuesday, 04.12.2011 / 3:37 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Devils pack up 2010-11
Tedenby led Devils rookies with 22 points.
The Devils officially closed out 2010-11 on Monday, gathering at the rink one last time for break-up day.

Though the season ended with the club out of the playoffs for the first time since 1996, the players talked up the year’s positives: the impact of Jacques Lemaire in the second half, and the emergence of the organization’s young talent.

For a team accustomed to competing in the postseason, it felt odd to be packing up this early in the spring. Sunday’s win over Boston improved their record to 38-39-5, marking New Jersey’s first sub-.500 finish since 1991. 

“It [stinks], for sure it does,” Dainius Zubrus said. “On the other hand, I think guys feel the same way, where everybody counted us out, we kind of made it interesting a bit. Even though it’s done for us, we can feel like there’s something to look forward to. But I’m sure the summer’s going to be very long, and annoying to see other teams playing.”

The experience is new for Colin White, who had been a part of 15 consecutive postseasons dating back to his junior days with Hull (QMJHL).

“I’ve had friends throughout the League go through this, just personally, we haven’t,” White said. “They’ve always said how bad it is when that happens and you don’t know until you do it. Like they said, it’s not fun. This is the most fun time of year. This is a new season for everybody, a fresh start for the playoffs, and for the fans, it’s the most exciting time of year. So you want to be in it.”

We had a good group of guys and we had some young guys really step up and show that they’re going to be around for a while. That’s something positive to look forward to. - Colin White
White missed the final eight games of the season with a lingering lower body injury, but heads into the offseason with a positive feel for what next year could hold. The Devils’ growing youth movement will loom large this fall.

“We had a good group of guys and we had some young guys really step up and show that they’re going to be around for a while,” White said. “That’s something positive to look forward to. I think all the young guys have learned a lot and went through a lot. That’s going to make them stronger for their futures.”

Travis Zajac was a linemate of Nick Palmieri, one of a team-record 10 players to make their NHL debuts.

“We’ve got a handful of guys that played really well, so that’s definitely exciting to see,” Zajac said. “They’ll bring a lot of energy to this team next year and that’s great. They’ll push us older guys.”

That has the veteran centerman optimistic for the future.

Parise will prepare for a healthy 2011-12. GETTY IMAGES
“They got a chance to show what they can do out there and they did a great job,” he said. “I think by the end of the year they were some of our better players.”

With 17 points (9 goals, 8 assists) Palmieri was the Devils’ second-leading scorer among rookies. Mattias Tedenby topped the list with 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists).

“I didn’t really set expectations for myself going into this year, but I think I’m pretty happy with the way I played,” Palmieri said. “When I called up and obviously I made a good case to stay up here, got a good chance and stayed up for the second half. That was my goal, I think, when I got called up, was just to play with the best and try and stay up here as long as I could.”

Palmieri, 21, made 43 appearances this season, and hopes that will give him a leg up when training camp rolls around again.

“I think I’ve played well enough this year to maybe give me a good chance going into next year, and that’s all I can really ask for,” he said.

Other players making their first NHL appearances included defenseman Mark Fayne, center Stephen Gionta, left wing Adam Henrique, center Jacob Josefson, defenseman Olivier Magnan, center Brad Mills, defenseman Matt Taormina, defenseman Alexander Urbom, and left wing Alexander Vasyunov.

There was no shortage of praise for Lemaire, who announced his retirement on Sunday. Lemaire took over when the team was 9-22-2 and led them to a 29-17-3 mark the rest of the way.

The organization embarks on another coaching search, but what Lemaire accomplished will likely have a lasting effect. The most successful coach in club history joined the 600-win club in February and finished with a career record of 615-460-187.

“We’ve seen what a difference it made,” said leading scorer Patrik Elias. “I think that for us players it was important to realize the way we’ve got to play to be successful. The combination of us figuring it out and the combination of a new coach, maybe look at the way we played and I think that should help. Obviously every coach has their own input, their gameplan and all that, but it’s a matter of feeling comfortable for the players to play.”

Zubrus, who missed the last two games of the season with an upper body injury, believes Lemaire is one of a kind.

“I would say so because I haven’t had a coach like that,” Zubrus said. “I’ve enjoyed playing for him. He did a great job last year. It was a tough situation that he came in right now, but everybody understands it.”

Next year’s Devils plan on welcoming back a healthy Zach Parise. Their leading goal scorer in four straight seasons, Parise was limited to only 13 games this year after needing arthroscopic surgery on his knee in November. He returned for the April 2 game against Montreal before the decision was made to shut him down for the rest of the season.

“It was kind of disappointing not to play like I had planned, to play in all of them,” Parise said. “It was kind of disappointing. But again, it was definitely the smart thing to do. I think even not having skated the last three, four days when we stayed off the ice, it made a world of difference in how my body feels and how my body reacted. It was a good idea. It’s not good news when you hear you’re not going to play again, but the way I feel right now, it was definitely the smart thing to do.”

Parise likely would have stayed in the lineup if the Devils had been positioned for the playoffs.

“It felt great. It felt good to play again,” he said. “Nothing got re-injured, nothing got hurt. I know that’s what everyone thinks and everyone wants to speculate about, but nothing happened. I feel good, so it was good to get back in a game.”

Martin Brodeur (23-26-3) finished under the .500 mark for the first time in his career, but that shouldn’t take away from his performance in the second half. He enjoyed a 15-2-1 run from Jan. 9 to March 15, when the Devils dug themselves out of last place in the East. His six shutouts were sixth best in the NHL.

Johan Hedberg was solid as Brodeur’s backup, going 15-12-2 with a 2.38 goals-against average and three shutouts.

The season featured several Devils milestones. With 62 points, Elias led the Devils in scoring for the seventh time in his career.

Ilya Kovalchuk (31) recorded his eighth consecutive season with at least 30 goals. He played in his 700th game on March 4, and deposited a goal and an assist to reach 700 career points that same night. He also tallied four overtime goals to tie the NHL single-season mark.

On March 17 against Ottawa, Zajac appeared in his 389th consecutive game dating back to Oct. 26, 2006, surpassing Ken Daneyko as the Devils' new ironman.

On April 1 versus Philadelphia, Brian Rolston had three assists, the second of which gave him 400 helpers for his career.

Rod Pelley appeared in his 200th career game on March 30 versus the Islanders. David Clarkson assisted on Urbom’s first career goal to record his 100th career point in Sunday’s finale.