It’s the best time of year if you’re a hockey fan. The playoffs are going in full force, and towel waving has begun. However if you’re a New Jersey Devils fan then you know the playoffs has been something long forgotten since their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. Thankfully for them, the time to look things over and make changes is underway, which they hope will lead to a berth to next years post-season. It’s a time where we can all take a collective breath, and take a look at what went wrong this regular season.
This is the first of a five-part season review series highlighting the Devils forwards, defense, goaltending, coaching, and the future. So without further adieu, lets start with the forwards.
If you could point to one reason the New Jersey Devils didn’t make the playoffs this season it would be put squarely on the shoulders of the forwards.
New Jersey finished 28th in goals-per-game this season, which placed them higher than only Arizona and Buffalo. They also didn’t have a 30-goal scorer for the third season in a row since they had three back in 11-12. All three of those players; Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, and David Clarkson are obviously no longer with the team, while Parise is doing things like this with the Minnesota Wild.
The problem though lies deeper than that. While the losses of those three players were terrible for the franchise, they haven’t been able to regain that scoring punch since. The only reliable free-agent acquisition that has made any kind of impact has been Mike Cammalleri, who led the Devils with 27 goals this season. Otherwise the additions of Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder, Damien Brunner, and Martin Havlat simply haven’t been good enough.
In two concussion-plagued seasons for New Jersey, Ryane Clowe has only accumulated 30 points, and quite frankly should consider calling it a career. Ryder’s season has been a disaster as he only played in 47 games this season, and he was scratched in almost every game in the second half of the season.
Damien Brunner had his contract terminated after only playing in 17 games this season, and only scored 32 points over his time with New Jersey. Martin Havlat was signed with great promise because of his relationship with Patrik Elias, but his presence on the ice left something to be desired, and he only had 14 points in what will be his only season as a Devil.
The Core Isn’t Good Enough
I understand those are tough words, but when your top scorer in Adam Henrique only has 43 points, than you know your offense isn’t good enough. Henrique’s 43 points were also while he was playing with a left-wrist injury through most of the second half of the season, which he has already gotten surgery for and shouldn’t hamper him come training camp.
Devils confirm Adam Henrique had surgery on his wrist, is in a cast and is expected to begin rehab in 4-6 weeks.
— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) April 20, 2015
I can give Henrique a pass on that, however, the performance the rest of the forwards put out there is unacceptable. Patrik Elias only had 34 points in a season where we saw him look skyward one too many times. Travis Zajac has been a disaster since signing his 7-year deal, as the teams “top center” only posted 25 points in 74 games.
Going down the list; Tuomo Ruutu only had 13 points in 77 games after being acquired from Carolina at last years trade deadline. Dainius Zubrus had one of the worst seasons of his career by only producing 10 points over 74 games. Add on the terrible performances of the free-agent additions, and it was literally a recipe for disaster.
Too Much Bad Overshadowed the Good
In a season, which featured the Devils having their lowest point total of 78 since 1988-1989, there wasn’t much good. However, there were a couple good stories that surrounded the season to at least bring some promise for next season.
Number one being the play of Steve Bernier. At the start of the season he was delegated to the minors after not getting a spot at the end of training camp. The demotion didn’t shake his confidence, as once he got recalled, pucks started going in for him, and he finished with 16 goals, 32 points, while being one of the few plus-forwards on the team.
We have already discussed the 27-goal season by Mike Cammalleri, so lets shift over to his late-season running mate Jordan Tootoo. Tootoo is a guy who has gone through so much in his career, and he came to the Devils with nothing to lose after the Detriot Red Wings didn’t resign him. Tootoo finished with 10 goals and 15 points, while being the Devils nomine for the Bill Masterson Trophy. It was a great season for Tootoo, and hopefully the Devils bring him back for next season.
The forward core of this team has a long way to go before it can be considered a contender like it was back in 11-12. It might even take GM Lou Lamoriello making a trade at the draft to acquire a big-name player, but at least management has come to terms that drafting defensemen can no longer be the standard.