The New Jersey Devils finished last season with a record of 35-29-18 (88 points), which landed them six points out of a playoff spot. Despite some clear areas of weakness, the Devils are not too far off from being playoff team and a potential Stanley Cup contender. From now until the start of the season I will be previewing all of the key elements of the 2014-15 Devils season. I’ll begin the coverage by taking a look at the most frustrating part of the team last year: the offense.
It’s no secret why the Devils ultimately found themselves watching the playoffs from home for the third time in four seasons last year; they could not put the puck in the back of the net. New Jersey ranked 27th in the NHL in both goals per game (2.40/g) and shots on goal per game (26.8/g), and only had two players score over 50 points last season. The Devils were snake bitten early in the year with injuries to two of their key free agent signings Damien Brunner and Ryane Clowe, which caused for a lot of line shuffling and chemistry issues early on. But even when both players returned to the lineup, there were many games where the forwards looked overmatched and unable to generate many scoring chances at all. Fortunately for the Devils Jaromir Jagr turned out to be worth every penny of his contract, helping to carry the team almost single handedly at times offensively. The 42 year old winger finished with 24 goals and 43 assists to lead the team in scoring by a wide margin. Jagr played so well that the Devils signed him to a 1 year $3.5 million deal to return as one of the main leaders of the forward group in 2014-15.
In an attempt to boost goal scoring the Devils went out this offseason and signed free agents Mike Cammalleri (5 years/$25 million) and Martin Havlat (1 year/$1.5 million). I am a very big fan of both of these signings for the Devils. Cammalleri was one of the top players available at last year’s trade deadline. There were a number of rumors that the Devils were reaching out to Calgary to try and get him for the stretch run, but nothing ever came of it. Fast forward a few months later and New Jersey was able to sign Cammalleri, who was one of the top free agents available and a proven 30 goal scorer in this league, to a reasonably priced contract that will run until he is 37 years old. His 26 goals (in just 63 games played last season) will slide in nicely on the top line with Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr. Both of those guys were in desperate need of someone on their line who could put the puck in the back of the net last year. Cammalleri definitely possesses the natural goal scoring ability to do that, as evidenced by the video below.
(Take note of those shootout goals he scored, too.)
Martin Havlat is going to be a total wildcard for the Devils this season. This signing can either turn out to pay big dividends, or it’ll end up as the Devils taking a look to see if a veteran has anything left in the tank. There’s no question about Havlat’s talent level. The main concern is his ability to stay on the ice. He missed 34 games last year due to injury, and has been oft-injured throughout his career. The hope is that he can gel instantly with his good friend Patrik Elias, as the two have played together internationally for the Czech Republic many times. Luckily, his contract only costs $1.5 million so if he doesn’t pan out it won’t really hurt the Devils.
Aside from the main issue of finding a way to score more goals, the Devils also have a problem at forward in terms of the number of players on the roster. As it stands right now they have 13 forwards for only 12 spots, and that’s without even counting their most NHL ready prospects Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau (who I plan to go into more detail about in a later post). It’s always good to have depth at certain positions to guard against injuries, but there are too many players on the roster who need to play in the top three lines in order to be successful. I anticipate General Manager Lou Lamoriello trading away at least one veteran forward before the end of training camp in order to gain some more roster flexibility going forward.
Ultimately, if the New Jersey Devils are going to qualify for the playoffs in 2014-15 they will need to get improvements across the board from all of their forwards. Adam Henrique needs to continue to develop and take the next step forward after his promising bounce back season. Travis Zajac must keep improving as a playmaker in the offensive zone, to compliment his stellar play as a defensive centerman. Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias have to continue to defy Father Time and produce at a high level. Having both Clowe and Brunner for full seasons will certainly help, and if Cammalleri and Havlat adapt to New Jersey’s system quickly this team should be considerably better offensively in 2014-15.
The talent and ability are there for the Devils on offense. The main issue is will all of these things be able to come to fruition? If not, it will be another long, frustrating season in which they miss the playoffs once again.