It is certainly hard to keep the faith after the fantastic streak the Devils were on came crashing down as the team has now lost 3 of 4 games. Goal scoring is still the main issue. In the three losses, the Devils scored two goals. They played a strong game against Washington and only let up 11 shots but were shut out 3-0. Against Ottawa, a hot goalie stole the show and the Devils were only able to muster up one goal. Last night in Boston, a strong start and a one goal lead was not able to save the team as they failed to keep the momentum going in the second period and Boston woke up and won the game.
Now the big question: “Is the season over?”
Signs point to yes. I have been a believer all year but now the team has to go 9-0 to finish out the season to get to 90 points which is still not an automatic playoff spot. In the meantime, Carolina and Buffalo would have to go 5-4 or so.
The best news was hinted by Devils beat writers last night that Zach Parise could be practicing with the team this week. Even if he were to practice Wednesday and Thursday, he would probably not get into Friday’s game in Pittsburgh. I would look for him to play the final four of five games this season. Usually when the season comes to an end, as in no longer having a shot for the playoffs, coaches like to give the young kids a try to see what the bring. This year, that won’t be necessary. When the Devils were 10-29-2, they were mentally eliminated from the playoffs. Their captain Jamie Langenbrunner was traded and Jason Arnott was waiting in the wings to be the next guy shipped out. No one thought the Devils would be capable of putting a run together that would give people the simple idea that the playoffs would be possible.
We found out this year that Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson were ready for the NHL. Matt Taormina was a pleasant surprise on defense. Alex Urbom was not ready but will be soon. Nick Palmieri is most certainly Jamie Langenbrunner’s bigger and tougher replacement. Mark Fayne (who?!) is going to be solid back there. Overall, the future is bright. In the offseason, there will have to be some important decisions made on who stays, who goes, and who is signed.
Zach Parise and Vladimir Zharkov are RFA’s while Adam Mair is a UFA. On defense, Matt Corrente, Anssi Salmela, Mark Fraser, and Matt Taormina are RFA’s while Andy Greene is a UFA. Johan Hedberg is also a UFA. As for the youngsters, Tim Sestito, Alex Vasyunov, Oliver Magnan Grenier, Tyler Eckford, and Jeff Frazee are RFA’s while Mike McKenna, Rob Davison, Brad Mills, and Jay Leach are UFA’s.
Zach Parise must be re-signed ASAP. There’s really no two ways about it. He is the future of this team along with Kovalchuk, Josefson, Tedenby, and others. Vladimir Zharkov is also a must-sign. He is one of the best defensive forwards on the team and needs a good training camp and instruction under the current coaching staff to find his scoring touch and he will be a good and solid player for this team. Adam Mair is not needed for next season and probably won’t be re-signed. Tim Sestito, Magnan, and Eckford most likely don’t have a place on this team. Sestito has yet to bring any upside while Eckford simply has not developed. Mike McKenna will never be a fixture in New Jersey and Brad Mills, Jay Leach, and Rob Davison fall under the category of players that just aren’t needed. Matt Taormina proved to be a good player early in the season but has missed most of the campaign with an injury. If he bounces back strong, he will stay. Anssi Salmela has proved to be solid after the team was trying to get rid of him. He will be a solid bottom pairing defenseman and could be the extra guy. A
Alex Vasyunov is most likely running out of chances to make the club. With Parise, Kovalchuk, Palmieri, Clarkson, Zharkov, Tedenby, Rolston, and Zubrus on the wings, there is no spot for Vasyunov to win next season. The confusing free agents are Mark Fraser and Andy Greene. Andy Greene would be a great defenseman to keep if he doesn’t demand too much money. There is usually a demand on the free agent market for defensemen that were trained in the Devils’ system. I say if he wants under 2mm per season, he’ll stay. Mark Fraser is probably on his way out too. He fought the Devils for contract specifics over the course of last off-season and has yet to prove why he should be in the lineup. Johan Hedberg will most likely not be back. Some fans have expressed that they would like him to stay, but most of them probably don’t even realize that he’s older than Marty Brodeur. Brodeur has one or two good seasons left in him and it really is time to find his replacement.
What will the lineup look like next season? Here’s my prediction:
If the cap goes up 2-3 million like it is projected, the Devils would have 2-3 mil in cap space with this roster. This would certainly leave the team without the worry that someone has to go.
That’s something that will unfold in the summer. Friday, the Devils will be in Pittsburgh. We will see which Devils team shows up. It will either be a team that still believes they can do it or a team that is defeated and just wants the season to end. One thing is for sure as the Devils took us all on an emotional ride this year. Would things have been different if MacLean was fired two weeks earlier? Probably. We will never know.