Throughout the NHL the effect of the lockout will probably vary amongst the 30 teams, assuming there is some sort of partial season. In New Jersey, it could very well be a blessing in disguise for the Devils — who are one of the oldest teams in the league (average age of roster). Especially coming off of what would have been a short summer thanks to their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Devils seem like one of the teams that could benefit from the extra time off.
The last time there was an NHL lockout an entire season was wiped out and coming into 2005-06 no one predicted that New Jersey would make much noise in a stacked Eastern Conference. Patrik Elias contracted hepatitis A while playing in Russia during the lockout and missed significant time when the league finally re-opened for business. His return helped spark the Devils to an 11-game winning streak to end the season; in their final win of the streak against Montreal they clinched their sixth division title in club history. During that game Brian Gionta set a new team record for goals with 48, besting Pat Verbeek’s 46.
In the playoffs that year the Devils steamrolled and swept the New York Rangers (making it to 15 wins in a row) before succumbing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Carolina Hurricanes, in round 2. Larry Robinson started the season as head coach but eventually stepped down and was replaced by GM Lou Lamoriello just before Christmas. It seems that they have finally found stability behind the bench with Peter DeBoer, but one never knows with this team.
Going back even further, when the season was limited to 48 games after the 1995 lockout, New Jersey muddled their way through the season before becoming a buzz-saw in the playoffs. The result was their first Stanley Cup championship after sweeping the heavily-favored Detroit Red Wings who had yet to become a perennial contender.
Whenever this next season does start, the Devils will basically have the same core, same cast of characters (minus Zach Parise) that saw them make it to the Finals as the no. 6 seed from the East. Martin Brodeur, who turned 40 in May, will have more time to rest his aging body, as will his 39-year-old backup Johan Hedberg. Elias hopefully won’t be eating any questionable food during any trips he makes overseas. Ilya Kovalchuk (the team’s likely next captain) has already healed from his back injury and will play in the KHL until the lockout ends.
Some of the team’s youngest talent will see regular minutes and shifts in the AHL as they wait for the CBA issue to be resolved. Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby will all get some valuable ice-time as they continue to develop into dependable, every-day NHLers. During the last lockout, it was Parise who worked on his craft in the AHL and when the NHL resumed operation, he was ready to roll coming off 58-points (18g-40a) in 74 games. The aforementioned four, all have NHL experience already but would surely benefit (esp. Larsson) from steady playing time as they continue to evolve into reliable pieces of the Devils puzzle.
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiablo321 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org