Devils lineup boasts depth up front, youth on defense
Forward Mike Cammalleri is one of the biggest acquisitions of the Devils' busy offseason.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
*Restricted free agentCorey Masisak