Monday, June 18, 2007


2006-2007 Season in Review

Well, I put this off as long as I could. With the NHL Entry Draft coming up this weekend and the July 1 date looming in the near future, it's best to get this out of the way before all that then.

As a side note, I intend to have this post replace all the Devils of the Month posts; but those posts will be referenced here for easy access. Also, because I intend to stick all the Devils of the Month posts here, I won't go through the entire season with incredible detail. In any case, enough narrative, let's get into it about this season.

Now, I would like to say there are two metrics to describe this season. The first is the Stanley Cup. Lou Lamoriello, like every other team in the NHL, tries to put together a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup. Needless to say, the team did not win the Stanley Cup. By this metric alone, the Devils obviously did not succeed this season.

However, that's a very unrealistic metric as only one team can win the Stanley Cup and a vast majority of the teams wished they went as far as the Devils did this past season. The team finished with a record of 49 wins, 24 losses, and 9 overtime/shootout losses, a total of 107 points. The 49 wins is a franchise high, and the record secured the Devils' seventh Atlantic Division title.

Looking at the numbers, it's quite clear the Devils obtained so many wins through sound defense more than a potent offense. The Devils finished the season with an average of 2.51 goals scored per game (27th highest in the NHL), an average of 27.7 shots for per game (20th highest in the NHL), an average power play success rate of 17.7% (tied for 15th in the NHL - really), and a total of 216 goals scored. The total of 216 goals is only higher than Philadelphia, Columbus, Chicago, and Edmonton and is exactly the same amount as Phoenix.

Looking at individual efforts, the team's leading scorer was Patrik Elias who scored 21 goals and 48 assists for 69 points in 75 games. Elias was expected to put up big numbers and unfortunately he had trouble finding his offensive groove at times during the season. The same can be said for Brian Gionta who fell from 48 goals and 41 assists to 25 goals and 20 assists in 62 games; and Scott Gomez lost his shot as his totals dipped from 33 goals and 54 assists to 13 goals and 47 assists in 72 games. Needless to say, the EGG unit did not scramble, crack, beat, nor poach too many opposing goaltenders too many times.

That is not to say everything was dreary on offense. This season saw the rise of a legitimate second line. Prior to this season, a big question mark was penciled in at the second line center position. Of all players and prospects, 2004 first round selection Travis Zajac stepped up and stepped up big displaying seemingly instant chemistry with Zach Parise. The rookie contributed 17 goals and 25 assists while showing a lot of promise in 80 games with the Devils. Zach Parise blossomed in his second season with the Devils in every facet of the game, adding 30 points to his rookie total of 32. Parise finished as the team's top goal scorer with 31 goals (along with 31 assists). The line was complete as Jamie Langenbrunner got promoted into a more offensive role, responding with 23 goals and 37 assists. The line has been given many names: ZZ Pop, the PZL line, the Pretzel line, the Puzzle line, etc. No matter what you call them, they stepped up with production even on nights when no one else seemingly could do so for New Jersey.

However, the Devils had additional woes outside of offense. The Devils were already put right up to the salary cap ceiling due to the signings of Elias, Gionta, and others. It got to the point where the Devils traded a first round pick and the rights to Vladamir Malakhov to San Jose Sharks and players (Richard Matvichuk) had to be placed on long term injured reserve. These moves had to be made, or else the Devils would have remained above the salary cap - which would have surely led to severe punishments. This problem kept returning when the Devils were hit by the proverbial injury bug and on some nights had to play with a shortened bench because they did not have the cap space to call up a player from Lowell. Nor call up Andy Greene permanently, as the Devils had to trade David Hale at the trade deadline to make room for Greene.

That said, the Devils were obviously very successful during the regular season. Despite the lackluster offense, their defense was absolutely solid all year round save for the playoffs. Only 201 goals allowed with an average of 2.35 goals against per game (5th best in the NHL); an average of 28.4 shots allowed per game (tied-6th best in the NHL); and a penalty kill success rate of 85.2% (4th best in the NHL) The blueline was led once again by Brian Rafalski, leading all Devils defensemen from the point with 8 goals and 47 assists as well as in ice time with an average of 25:29. Similar to Parise, Paul Martin showed a lot of improvement this season as a two-way defenseman, taking on more responsibilities and minutes with an average of 25:14 on the ice. Despite taking 69 mostly stupid penalty minutes and some injures, Colin White still displayed his worth as a physical defensive defenseman. Just ask Sean Avery if you don't believe me. What helped the Devils give up a mere 201 goals was also the emergence of Johnny Oduya. Straight out of the Swedish Elite League, Oduya stepped into the NHL as if he's been playing there for years looking poised for the majority of time he's been with the Devils this season. Brad Lukowich improved his play from last season and even looked good from time to time. The sixth spot was a rotatable spot among various players, but ultimately it was won by Andy Greene who was signed right out of Miami University in the last off season. Greene is a two-way defenseman, who showed a lot of promise from the point in the 23 games he did get with New Jersey. I'm sure he'll show a lot more with a full NHL season. Richard Matvichuk eventually did get to play for the Devils, primarily in the playoffs as the only solid defender for the Devils in the post-season.

The playoffs were definitely not as sweet as the regular season. The top forwards of both Tampa Bay and Ottawa dominated the Devils' otherwise strong defense. While Jay Pandolfo was good enough to be a Selke finalist (best defensive forward) and John Madden still remained as one of the top checking centers in the league, they were not as effective in the post season. Matvichuk's physical play was a relief in the first round against Tampa Bay, but it was not enough against Ottawa. Incidentally, what got the Devils through Tampa Bay was the offense finding its "on" switch. They definitely flipped it on as Gomez, Gionta, and Elias were among playoff scoring leaders early. More importantly, it was crucial in defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in 6 games. Unfortunately, they and the rest of the team forgot that switch as the Ottawa Senators dismantled the Devils in 5 games.

Come to think of it, the regular season itself was no short of drama by the end. Rumors swirled about Matvichuk and the salary cap. The Penguins made a late push for the Atlantic Division title. Former head coach Claude Julien was fired with three games left in the season, with Lou Lamoriello stepping behind the bench for the second time in two seasons. The end of the Continental Airlines Arena was approaching and eventually came, as the Prudential Center was being built. Unfortunately, the Devils last game of the entire 2006-2007 season ended in a tough 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators in what was the Devils final game in East Ruthersford, New Jersey. No Stanley Cup, no new coach (yet), and questions swirling about whether unrestricted free agents Gomez and Rafalski will test the market.

Still, one reflects upon the September pre-season, the beginning in October, the days of November and December, the new year beginning in January, the shortened month of February, the playoff push of March, the end of one season and the beginning of the important season of April, and the abrupt end of the season in May. Namely because this is the season of the Devils. Of course, if a Devils fan needs to focus on any one thing and wants to find a reason this season should not be thrown into the trash heap of New Jersey Devils history, then there is only one. (Note: all the months in review are linked here)

The Highlander.

Nah, I'm talking about Martin Brodeur. And these are the reasons why Brodeur was really the main reason why the Devils have accomplished so much this recent season.

78 games played; a new NHL record in minutes played with 4,696 minutes; the third best goals against average of 2.18; the third best save percentage with 92.2%; the league leader in shutouts with 12; the league leader in saves with 2,011; 33 wins in one-goal games; his 6th 40+ win season; and the new NHL record for most wins in the regular season with 48 (record: 48-23-7). Brodeur was a Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, selected to start for the 2007 NHL All Star Game, the MVP of the New Jersey Devils for the ninth time, finished second all-time in wins (494), named to the All-NHL First Team, and won his third Vezina trophy for the league's best goaltender. Clearly, Brodeur was not just the most consistent Devil all season nor just the cornerstone to the team's success. Brodeur absolutely dominated the NHL this season, bringing a lot of success to the team. For what it's worth, it should be clear who my pick is for the best Devil of the season.

No, the Devils did not win the Stanley Cup; but Devils fans should be proud that the 2006-2007 season the Devils were yet again a contender thanks in large part to Brodeur. If we are to assign titles to a season, I'd have to go with the following:

The 2006-2007 Season: Brodeur's Domination

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