Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.
A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.
New Jersey is our 20th-ranked team.
2013-14 finish: 35-29-18, 88 points, 20th overall; missed playoffs
Leading scorer: Jaromir Jagr (67 points)
General manager: Lou Lamoriello
Head coach: Peter DeBoer
Captain: Bryce Salvador
Opening night starter: Cory Schneider
Key acquisitions: Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat
Key departures: Martin Brodeur, Andrei Loktionov
Off-season grade: B-. The Devils added some much-needed offensive help by picking up Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat this summer. The Devils’ top scorers last year were aging veterans Jaromir Jagr (67 points) and Patrik Elias, with 53. New Jersey was 27th overall in goals scored last season. Cammalleri and Havlat should improve that. Cammalleri is still putting up good numbers at 32. Havlat has been plagued by injuries for the past couple seasons, but the Devils hope he finds his touch again.
Greatest strength: The Devils allowed an average of 25.5 shots against per game last season — lowest in the league. They had the sixth-lowest goals against average. Sticking to the classic Devils approach to the game, this is a team built from the net out, with goalie Cory Schneider now leading the way. Defence is not a problem. Offence, on the other hand…
Greatest weakness: New Jersey needs to become a bigger threat on offence. While the addition of Cammalleri definitely helps (and Havlat might), those two won’t be enough to make this team a legitimate contender. The Devils haven’t been able to replace what they lost when Ilya Kovalchuk “retired” from his 15-year, $100-million contract with the Devils and went to the KHL last season. New Jersey lost Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild in free agency a season earlier. When the best scorer on your team is 42 years old, you’re in trouble — even if that player happens to be Jagr. Speaking of Jags…
Biggest storyline to watch: The most interesting man in the hockey world. Jagr will be 43 when the season ends — and there’s a good chance he’ll still be the team’s leading scorer. That Jagr is still playing is remarkable enough. That he’s playing so well is just incredible. Regardless of how the Devils fare, seeing Jagr continue his marathon of a career is more than enough reason to watch. The other storyline will likely resolve itself soon — the future of legendary goalie Martin Brodeur, who has defended the Devils’ net for two decades. The pipes belong to Cory Schneider now, but Brodeur is looking to play in the NHL for one more season. If it happens, seeing Brodeur in a different team’s colours for the first time will be one of the bigger storylines in the NHL.
2014-15 prediction: A middling team in a middling conference last season, the Devils threatened to squeak into the playoffs but fell short. Despite small upgrades, expect New Jersey to finish in the same spot this season — barring a significant upgrade up front.