By: Doug Forhecz
Every fall has begun the same way for nearly two decades. Leaves fall off the trees, the New York Yankees finish another playoff run, and the New Jersey Devils reload for another run at the Stanley Cup. However, when the flowers started to bloom last spring, something strange happened. The Devils missed the playoffs. Despite a miraculous second half run that including a 20-6-2 streak that saw the team rise as high as 9th in the Eastern conference, the Devils had what could only be considered an unsuccessful season for the first time in 15 years.
Now, more than nine months later, the franchise that was once considered a mini dynasty faces a significant turning point. Left wing Zach Parise will become a free agent at the end of the season. When an elite player, in any sport, gets less than a full season away from free agency, they are more than likely going to test the waters. Currently, the Devils sit in seventh place in the conference. They are three points ahead of Toronto for the last playoff spot and six points behind Ottawa for any kind of home ice advantage.
With the trade deadline fast approaching the Devils will have to decide whether to trade Parise to a contender or risk losing him over the summer for nothing. Coming off last nights 4-1 lost to the second seeded Boston Bruins, the Devils now have a combined record of 1-5 against the top three teams in the conference. The lone win came in a shootout against the Southeast division leading Washington Capitals on Nov. 12th. The Devils lost to the conference leading New York Rangers on Dec. 20th by a score of 4-1.
This complete lack of success against the league’s elite, coupled with last seasons failure leads to the one word no fan wants to hear: Rebuild. The time has come to use Parise to replenish a farm system that has uncharacteristically struggled to produce notable draft picks since the 2005 season. Since 2005 notable first round failures include Niclas Bergfors, Matt Corrente, and Mattias Tedenby. Mike Hoeffel and Jon Merrill were selected first overall by the team when the did not have first round picks in 2007 and 2010 respectively. To date, neither have played an NHL game. Bergfors was recently waived by his fourth NHL team, the Nashville Predators. Tedenby has 9 goals and 19 assists in nearly two full seasons. Corrente, a defenseman by trade, cleared waivers before the season and has a career line of 0 goals and 6 assists in 34 games. Adam Larsson, selected fourth overall in 2011 is currently developing at the NHL level and the jury is still out on the injury plagued Jacob Josefeson, selected 20th overall in 2009.
Acquiring two first round picks would be a good place to start in any effort to rebuild the franchise. They will forfeit a first round pick in one of the next three entry drafts due to the Ilya Kovalchuk signing, as the league ruled there initial contract circumvented the salary cap. With Martin Brodeur in the twilight of his career, the team may have found his replacement in Scott Wedgewood, selected 84th overall in 2010. Wedgewood had an impressive showing in 2012 World Juniors tournament for Team Canada posting a 1-2 record with a 2.42 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. Currently playing for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League Wedgewood is 16-6-3 with 2.82 GAA and a .912 save percentage. The numbers suggest that a goaltender of the future may not be required in a package for Parise.
Instead the focus should be rebuilding the defense that was once led by Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Brian Rafalski. The defense that won three Stanley Cups in nine seasons. The Devils needs to make every effort to package two first round picks with and high level NHL defensive prospect such as Tyler Myers (Buffalo), Dougie Hamilton (Boston), Brandon Gormley (Phoenix), Jared Cowen (Ottawa), or Brendan Smith (Detroit). Myers might be a tough sell, since he is furthest along in his development.
However, if the Devils could use Parise as leverage to pry away one of these players and two first round draft picks it could be the beginning of an effort to reload the once storied franchise. Outsiders looking in always said the Devils were boring. The defense first, trapping style was never fun to watch. However, the results were always there. Winning was all that mattered, and it started more than 20 years ago when the team selected Martin Brodeur in the first round of the 1990 entry draft and Scott Niedermayer third overall the year after. History shows that championships in New Jersey are built from the net out. It may start by moving the teams most elite forward next month.
Information used in this article can be found at http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/draft/teams/dr00007066.html
This has been an introductory article for http://thehockeywriters.com/ Moving forward, I will be covering the New York Islanders. I expect to begin tomorrow with a recap of this evening’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.