Sunday, September 30, 2007
End of Preseason
As far as my thoughts are concerned, I can't really say for sure whether or not the Devils are really that prepared for the regular season. Brent Sutter has mixed up the lines quite a bit and with the recent injuries, the line up look a lot different than expected. That said, it has yielded success in the preseason games and I assume that means it's going well - I have been only able to see one game; hence, my hesistation. We'll find out whether it's working, if the moves (e.g. Madden at left wing, Zubrus setting up screens instead of Gionta) have promise and need more time, or whether they were bad ideas to begin with.
I have to agree with the decision for Corrente to go back to junior. Yes, he's done very well in the preseason; but I don't think another year in junior would be the worst thing in the world for him. Ideally, I think he'd be best at Lowell where if the Devils need a defenseman to call up for injury or replacement purposes, he can be available. However, as Patricia at 2MA mentioned, Corrente is ineligible. He'll continue to develop more with playing time as opposed to sitting in the press box as a scratched player.
I am wondering who on the 22-man roster will step out when Patrik Elias and John Oduya return from their injuries. I am hoping that they'll be ready for Thursday's season opener against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Given that Elias is a left wing, I have to assume it'll be one of the fourth liners from last night's game. If Sutter wants to continue using Madden at left wing, that leaves Mike Rupp as a possible scratch, given he played left wing on the fourth line last night and there's no way Jay Pandolfo or Zach Parise will be scratched. If Sutter switches Madden to the right wing, then Elias will replace some other player. For defense, I would expect Mottau to be the scratched defenseman should Oduya be ready to play. He's the least experienced and a first regular season game with the Devils against a team like the Lightning is not exactly desirable.
Lastly, congratulations to Mottau, David Clarkson, Nicklas Bergfors, and Rod Pelley for making the New Jersey roster. Even if it is for a few games, it is definitely an accomplishment to come out of training camp and preseason to make the first squad. Well done, guys.
The Devils begin their season on Thursday at 7:30 PM, visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game will be the first of a nine game road trip prior to the opening of the Prudential Center in Newark.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, 2008 Season, Devils Issues
Friday, September 28, 2007
The Season Begins!
While the New Jersey Devils begin their 2007-2008 season at Tampa Bay on October 4, the NHL season officially starts tomorrow. If you're not aware, the Anaheim Ducks will play the Los Angeles Kings in a "home and home" at the O2 Arena in London, England this weekend. James Mirtle has an in-depth post with much ado about the NHL starting their season in London.
The fact that they sold out both games with little marketing or promotion should silence some of the critics of the decision to start the season in England. I think it's always a good idea to spread the word of your sport. Let's be honest, the NHL has the best hockey in the world. The best teams, the best players, and the best styles of play. Why keep such a great thing to yourself? Efforts to expand the profile of the sport and the league is encouraging should those efforts yield interest. With two sold out games on very little marketing, the interest is there even if the bmibaby Elite Ice Hockey League
isn't ridiculously popular in the British Isles. Greg Wyshynski has a more critical take about the British season opener in a mini-series on the NHL Fanhouse called Puckingham Palace
. The first link is part one, which is an overview of a number of issues surrounding the game and part two is an interesting interview with a British Devils fan, Ben Hewitt. Good call in supporting the right team, Ben.
If you need some reasons to appreciate the upcoming NHL season, Shawn P. Roarke at NHL.com has compiled a list of 82 reasons.
He doesn't just mention Brent Sutter, but also Martin Brodeur remaining to be the best goalie in the league, the hard working ethic of Sergei Brylin (!!!), the Devils-Rangers rivalry, and the opening of the Prudential Center. Lots of respect for Devils here. Do you need more than 82 reasons or need more detailed reasons? If so, Pookie and Schnookie at Interchangeable Parts
are getting close to finishing their series of posts: the 118 reasons why they love hockey.
Season previews? NHL.com has one for every team in the league here.
Need a non-league opinion? If you're willing to be patient and scroll through posts through the last few weeks, the NHL Fanhouse
has you covered with far more detailed and more critical season previews. I didn't notice a common season preview tag, so if there is one, use that. If not, well, let's just say you won't be disappointed should you make the effort to seek these previews out.
One player who won't be enjoying hockey anytime soon will be Flyers goon Steve Downie. Oh, sure, he apologized for his cheap shot to Dean McAmmond's head
(link to Golbez at the Fanhouse who has an in depth analysis of Downie's lovely hockey career so far) but apologies don't erase what happened. The NHL disciplinary committee grew a spine for this situation and handed Downie a well deserved 20 game suspension. I agree with Mirtle's reaction
and Eric Duhatschek's reaction
to the suspension. It is the right decision. but it should be the start of a crackdown over something that needs to be eliminated from the game. The league should have handed down more - in both quantity and severity - suspensions for cheap shots and intents to injure in the past, hopefully this will be the sign of things to come. Fortunately, they can start doing that now. However, given the seemingly nonsensical nature of the NHL when it comes to suspensions, I won't believe it happening until I see it happening. For what it's worth, I don't care for critics who claim it'll end "old time hockey," I want that kind of hockey to remain
in the past. For fewer concussions and less dirty play, I definitely wouldn't mind some stricter calls on dangerous plays.
That all said, there's not much else to say before the NHL season. In less than a day as of this writing, it will already have begun.
Labels: 2008 Season, Hockey - General, Hockey Issues
The Roster for Now
Tom Gulitti's Fire & Ice remains to have Gulitti's finger on the pulse on the Devils activities. The team has announced who has been kept on their roster as the final preseason game looms in the distance. As you have guessed, Gulitti's got the roster and some analysis.
Goalies: Martin Brodeur, Kevin Weekes
Defense: Vitaly Vishnevski, Colin White (inj.), Andy Greene, Paul Martin, Richard Matvichuk, Karel Rachunek, Johnny Oduya, Mike Mottau, Matt Corrente.
Forwards: Zach Parise, John Madden, Brian Gionta, Jamie Langenbrunner (inj.), Dainius Zubrus, Mike Rupp, Sergei Brylin, Travis Zajac, Jay Pandolfo, Arron Asham, Cam Janssen (inj.), Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Rod Pelley, Nicklas Bergfors.
There are definitely some surprises here. Mike Mottau and Matthew Corrente are still on the roster and with Colin White looking to miss some time to start the season; one of those two will definitely make the starting lineup. My guess is that Corrente will get the spot because this isn't the first time he's impressed in camp. He did the same last year and the Devils aren't opposed to having a prospect start playing early in the NHL if they feel he's ready (e.g. Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Scott Gomez). At forward, I would expect two of Clarkson, Pelley, and Bergfors on the starting lineup next week. All three have all done very well in training camp this year. With Jamie Langenbrunner and Cam Janssen out for considerable lengths of time, don't be surprised if Clarkson and Bergfors gets extensive time.
The interesting one will be Pelley. Gulitti has reported today that Brent Sutter has changed the lines considerably in practice today - and Pelley was centering the third line, not John Madden.
Bold. However, I don't think putting a top checking center in the league is a great idea. I'm of the opinion that players should generally play in their best positions. On the other hand, Sutter's at these practices and preseason games, so he would know better what does work and what doesn't work than I would ever hope to know. If it does work well, then great - I'll get used to not seeing Jay Pandolfo and Madden anchor the third line. That said, I need to see him more there (well, need to see him at all) before thinking of it as a good move - especially with handling other team's best right winger. We all know Jay Pandolfo can own, say, Jaromir Jagr - but can John Madden do the same?
October 4 is only 6 days away.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I Would Have Liked to Have Seen That, Guys
The New Jersey Devils played in another preseason game last night against the New York Islanders. How did they do? They won 6-1.
I'm glad the incredibly brief AP summary of the game noted who scored for the Devils; otherwise I would have been more in the dark about it than I originally was. Martin Brodeur played two periods, Brian Gionta got a hat trick, John Madden got a brace (2 goals), and Travis Zajac got one.
You know, I'm a big Devils fan, I generally know what's going on. But so far could have hurt someone in the organization to figure out a way for some of the fans who do care about preseason to follow the games? I'm not asking for full TV coverage featuring Doc and Chico; even a radio or internet only feed would suffice. With the season coming up, the lineup is taking more shape, and I want to see who's really making some of that proverbial noise on the ice so far. Instead, I rely on after-the-fact accounts of what happened, who did well, who did poorly, and etcetera and so forth.
While I'm on this subject, has anyone noticed the Devils being proactive in terms of promotion for this coming season? Any ads on TV that aren't during Devils games? Any print ads in the newspapers or in other media? Any billboards somewhere? While the Devils organization has been excellent in so many aspects of running the team and the on-ice product, I constantly feel like they're lacking in selling the team. It doesn't have to be star-based; the Devils have been a very successful team with 3 Stanley Cups in the last 12-13 years and many other accolades (e.g. division championships). That's certainly worth pointing out to non-hockey fans and hockey fans of other teams. It couldn't hurt to promote the team beyond tiny print ads and ads during their own games. I would think most the people who are watching Devils games on TV are already Devils fans. Is this a crisis? Well, no. And I do understand that advertising in this market is considerably expensive. All I'm saying there isn't anything wrong with spreading the word and I wish the Devils organization would do more of that.
Anyway, back to what's interesting:
"The checking line, to me, is way overrated," Sutter said. "Your best defense is still always having the puck, puck possession time. Yeah, there are certain guys that are better at working with the puck than others, but we want to be a puck possession team where we have the puck more. Defensive hockey doesn't mean just staying on your heels and playing well in your own zone. Defensive hockey is about working hard. It's about turning pucks over. It's about neutral-zone puck turnovers."
Did you get that? Turning pucks over. A majority of teams in this league have the following set up: their first and second lines are for scoring, their third line is a defensive/checking line, and their fourth line is for physical presence, utility players, and youth. Do I expect Sutter to change this classification? No, not really What I do expect - and what has been going on in preseason - is Sutter getting the Devils to battle for the puck. That's not just forcing turnovers, but also a committed effort to forechecking. Such an effort wasn't there last season (or the season before that, now that I think about it), but it's there so far this preseason.
I think this is a grand idea because the Devils have done this before. I don't know what Gulitti meant when he talked about this idea being a shock. The Devils played like this in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Devils were feared by opposing offenses in the past because they were so good at being patient, waiting for the offense to make a mistake, and force the turnover while transitioning from defense to offense. And even when the offense wasn't attacking, the Devils were going after the puck-handler either to make him make a bad decision or to make him cough it up. Guys like Randy McKay, Jason Arnott, Bobby Holik, and even a young John Madden did all this (yes, I know Madden isn't physical, you don't have to be). Given the recent additions of larger, more physical players; even if forechecking doesn't yield a turnover, the Devils will at least wear down the opposition in the process. Not to mention that some of the veterans - John Madden and Jay Pandolfo in particular - are familiar with this style given prior seasons. Maybe we'll see a boost in their production because they won't be as passive as they were in the last few seasons. Not a large boost - Jay Pandolfo still sometimes seemingly has the goal scoring skill of, say, Ken Daneyko, after all. However, by being aggressive going for the puck, the Devils will get more opportunities on offense which can't hurt the already-low goal production the Devils have had last season.
Will it turn them into offensive dynamos? No, but I think it will help the team because Sutter has the players and so far they're buying into his system. At least, I believe they are - if I could see these games, I'd know for sure and be in a better position to agree or disagree. I would really like to see how it's working before Tampa Bay next week, guys.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues, Devils Postgame
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Bill Wirtz Dead at 77
My condolences to the Chicago organization, to his friends, and to his family for their loss.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Devils Get Preseason Revenge on Flyers
Revenge, yes; but will be meaningless in about a week or so.
Incidentally, I've heard that Rod Pelley did quite well in this game and has been making a real case for a roster spot. Apologies to Jari Viuhkola if this is true. Not that I think the Devils will give up on him, but it has to be disapointing coming from the Finnish Elite League and not being the guy making a push for that fourth line spot. It could be far too early to make this claim, given that Viuhkola has only played 10 minutes of preseason action so far.
The game was not without incident: Gulitti has learned that Jay Pandolfo's hip tightened in the game and had to leave.
I'm glad the second half of that first sentence reads, "but he said it is nothing to be concerned about," because the Devils really don't need any more regular players injured. Especially defensive forwards who have been crucial to the Devils' style of play over the last seven years. Hopefully, Pandolfo will be fine after some rest.
In other news, Mr. Frisby at Frozen Fiend has two things of note. First is a very useful widget that counts down the start of the Devils' season this year. It really is only nine days away. Second is a season preview for the Devils from a fantasy hockey perspective. Given that the NHL season is upon us - beginning this weekend in London when the Anaheim Ducks will play the Los Angeles Kings - now would be a good time to get your fantasy hockey team going. I'm not a fantasy expert, but these guys clearly are.
On a Prudential Center front, a recent gallery of pictures of the new mural (and the ice lounge) has been put up on the Devils' official site. You need to see this. It is definitive proof that the Devils are the focal point of this arena with Martin Brodeur right in the middle and Devils legends Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko on the sides of the mural. Beautiful.
Also from the official site, it has been announced that Fox Sports NY will air 70 of the Devils' 82 games this season. Nine will be on MSG, and the remaining three will be on Versus. NBC is currently only showing one Devils game this year - the season ending game against the Rangers; but that will also be aired on FSNY.
Lastly, Greg Wyshynski of the NHL Fanhouse has been previewing NHL teams and here's his Devils preview. As far as season previews go, it's got insight, it's got some controversy (Brodeur needs to step up? After what he did last season, he's the only guy in the league who everyone else wants to step it down a notch!), and it actually has a fair prediction for the team. Second in the division and fifth in the East isn't bad; but I'm sure Wyshynski would agree that the Devils will fight with might for the right to win their third straight division title. Thanks to Battle of NY for pointing it out a couple of days ago.
OK, really the last bit, I want to highlight this post from Eric McErlain from the NHL Fanhouse about concussions. Given how many it has hurt during some player's careers (e.g. Eric Lindros), knocking some players out of a career (e.g. Brett Lindros), and continuing to hurt well after their careers (e.g. Jeff Beukeboom, Geoff Cournall), it is clearly a serious issue. I'm glad Eric pointed out the strong investigative work of the O.C. Register, as this is an issue worth the attention of all hockey fans in this post and in this previous post. As far as what fans like me can do about this, I'm not really sure. As I understand it, I wonder whether concussions would be severly reduced if the helmets are able to be more resistant to the forces from a body check (measuring those forces can be done by putting sensors in helmets and, well, having the players play normally with said helmets), if the refs need severely penalize intentional head-hunting hits to reduce their occurrence, and if players actually wear their helmets properly (the chinstrap is not for decoration). Excuse my lack of imagination, but I'm not sure what I can really do outside of being aware of this issue and raising awareness of this issue.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues, Devils Postgame, Hockey Issues
Friday, September 21, 2007
Devils Lose 3-4 to the Rangers
The Devils lost Kevin Weekes and lost to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden 3-4 this night in a preseason game. This time, NHL.com does have an official score sheet
and official super stats
of the game.
From what I saw, there's not a whole lot to worry about in this game because it's preseason. We're not going to see Matthew Corrente and Nick Palmeri on defense in regular duty. Grant Marshall will not play with Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta. Lines and pairings will change. However, the biggest flaw for the Devils seemed to be two-horse race between sloppy defending and a lack of discipline. Weekes - who got hurt in the first period when Sean Avery chucked Johnny Oduya into him with a shove - and Jordan Parise were hung out to dry at times which, of course, led to Ranger goals. By the third period, the Devils found their bearings on defense to some degree. Discipline was all over the place as the Devils and Rangers threw plenty of hits, with extra shoves, elbows, etc. during and after the play. Even so, the teams combined for 13 penalties - with the Devils committing 6 infractions and giving the Rangers two two-man advantages (and 2 power play goals).
Again, it's preseason, so harping on these particular problems shouldn't be a cause for concern until it starts occurring in games that count. Nonetheless, I'm sure Sutter will address these problems in practice. Not to mention the power play - which went 1 for 7. Sutter will definitely address that part of special teams.
But enough criticism, what was good about the Devils? They didn't give up after being down by 2 goals early, they didn't give up after being down by 2 again later in the second period, and they kept pushing for the win. Coming back to end the game 4-3 was heartening. Seeing the offense come from the top lines was also good: Elias-Zubrus-Gionta looked all right, and Parise-Zajac-Clarkson looked good as well. While I liked Clarkson in this game, I thought Gionta was the best Devil on the ice in the game. The stats help back me up as he has a goal and an assist. Clearly, the Devils played their best hockey in the third period. If they done better defensively earlier in the game; perhaps the Devils would have won this one.
All the same, it's preseason - now is the time to get the kinks straightened out, fill in the cracks, and get everything in order.
ONE OTHER THING: I just realized that the Devils did one thing tonight they didn't do a lot of last season - forechecking. There were 2, 3, and in a couple cases 4 Devils fighting for the puck in the Rangers' zone. Good to know Sutter is a believer that an effective forecheck effort benefits the team as a whole.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Postgame
Preseason Win, White is OK, the Rangers on TV Tonight
First, a correction: last night's preseason game against the Boston Bruins took place in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Second, the Devils won that game 3-0. No boxscore available; but a summary of the game via NHL.com (who got it from the AP) can be read here.
Congratulations to Rod Pelley, Karel Rachunek, and Barry Tallackson for scoring goals, and congratulations to Kevin Weekes and Frank Doyle for splitting time in the shutout effort. I have no idea why this game doesn't have a box score or an official score sheet at NHL.com. It's the only game from yesterday that only has a summary recap. I would have loved to hear how certain players performed; you can't go much beyond a score and a brief summary of who scored. I guess the Devils did well?
Fourth, a Devils preseason game will be on television tonight. MSG is airing the Devils-Rangers preseason game at 7 PM tonight. So if you want to see them in action, you can. Considering the Devils' attempts at marketing, it would have been nice if they could get coverage for all the preseason games. A way for us to follow the team rather than rely on reports after the game or from others who were at the game. I'll delve deeper on this topic sometime in the near future.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Langenbrunner Out for Up to Two Months
As far as who will play at right wing with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, assuming the two will be part of the same line, the options are as follows:
1. Utility forward Sergei Brylin fills in for most of the time. He's filled in larger roles before (e.g. centering the first line after Scott Gomez' groin injury last season), but he doesn't have the offensive talent to make the line work as a full scoring line. I don't think this would be a good option.
2. Sign a free agent to fill that role. This is an even worse idea with far too many risks (Peter Forsberg will cost a lot of money for a part of the season, will Teemu Selanne return and to a team that isn't in Anaheim) and too few good options for a scoring line. No.
3. Go with someone new. This looks like the most likely option as the Devils do have some prospects at right wing available. David Clarkson plays like Randy McKay and impressed in a few games last season, his time may be now. The best offensive prospect in the Devils' system is also an option, Nicklas Bergfors. This could be an opportunity for him to show why the Devils made him their first round pick in 2005. Barry Tallackson could also have a concievable shot as a power forward. It could be somebody else who has escaped my mind at this juncture. Basically, the favorites as I understand it are Clarkson and Bergfors. I would imagine whoever performs better in training camp will get the spot at least to start the season.
The Devils have just started their second preseason game, at Boston against the Bruins. Best of luck to the Devils and to Brent Sutter for making all of it come together.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Injuries Continue to Strike NJ
Tom Gulitti remains on fire in his training camp/preseason coverage, but he's unfortunately been the bearer of bad news.
First, Jamie Langenbrunner and Cam Janssen will have to have surgery for their respective injuries. While there is no word on how long each of them will be out; I would imagine they will miss part of the beginning of the season (surgery, time to recover/rehab, get back into shape, etc.). Hopefully their respective procedures will be successful and the two will get healthy soon.
With Langenbrunner and Janssen presumably out for the start of the season and now perhaps White, Sutter will have his work cut out for him to figure out who will fill those roles in the meantime. The Devils will look a lot different than expected to start the season, that's for sure. Hopefully, nobody else will get hurt prior to the actual season starting to make an already complicated situation even more complicated.
Speaking of filling in roles, Gulitti has an interesting blurb about the Devils power play today:
Sutter thinks the Devils have the defensemen to play the point in one-man advantage power plays. Last season, we saw Langenbrunner and Patrik Elias get some action at the points to some...let's call it mixed success. Sutter likes what he's seen out of Rachunek, and I would imagine Martin is a safe bet for one of the other point slots. To be honest, I wasn't sold on Johnny Oduya at the point last season because he didn't get a lot of time there, he was usually there only when necessary, and while he has a hard slap shot, it wasn't very accurate. Maybe Oduya has worked on his shooting and puck possession to be able to handle that role? I don't know. I'm also not sold on Andy Greene playing the point on power plays; I know he is considered to be a two-way defenseman who has some offensive talent, but I'm concerned about his inexperience. On the other hand, he'll only get that experience when he's actually getting time there. I can see those four playing the four spots (2 per power play unit) on the point, but I can't say I'm enthused by it. Then again, I won't be that excited about a Devils power play unit until such a unit plays consistently well - something we didn't see last season.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Tom Gulitti is On Fire
He is, and if you really want the most up-to-date preseason coverage, he's blogging like a storm at Fire & Ice.
The Devils lost last night's preseason game to the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in Trenton. Tom Gulitti has coverage on this here
and the initial aftermath here. Pookie and Schnookie at Interchangeable Parts also saw the game and weren't so pleased
. Not that a loss to the Flyers can directly cause anything remotely known as being pleased. That said, it's a preseason game, and the first one, so I wouldn't put a whole lot of stock into how well the team has played. Lines, styles, plays, and so much more will change between now and the start of the season in October. I mean, check out the opening lineup, per Gulitti's blog
(see, told you he was on fire). Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Paul Martin, and Dainius Zubrus didn't even go to the game; and the lines are experimental at best. Nice to see Petr Vrana and Rod Pelley get time at center, though. The Devils practicing with Clarkson on the second line and a more skilled fourth line (Rupp-Brylin-Bergfors) is interesting.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues, Devils Postgame
Monday, September 17, 2007
This Post, On the Other Hand, Is About Langenbrunner's Groin
OK, I could have phrased the title with a little less...forthrightness.
That said, this presents another pressing problem for Brent Sutter to deal with: who to fill in at right wing on the second line. Clearly, I'd want Langenbrunner in that spot. What he brings to the Devils both on offense and defense as well as the established chemistry with Travis Zajac and Zach Parise and his work ethic are all valuable to the team. However, should he be injured by the time the season starts, I would imagine that this is an opportunity for David Clarkson, Nicklas Bergfors, and the soon-to-be-outside-looking-in Barry Tallackson to make their respective cases for a spot on the team.
While that is going on in training camp, the Devils are currently playing their first preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers. (Note: I don't have anything on that. Sorry. I don't think it's on TV and there's no online coverage outside of the fact it's 2-0 Flyers after the first period and it's a preseason game, the results don't mean much anyway unless you actually watched the game and saw who did and did not do well. In short, don't expect any preseason game
coverage at ILWT.) In the meantime, hopefully Langenbrunner's groin strain/groin pull/abdominal tear will heal up quickly and properly if only so he doesn't have to suffer the pain of such an injury. I imagine Pookie and Schnookie and Interchangeable Parts would agree with such sentiments.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Elias is the Captain (for now)
I've been a bit sick with a nasty head cold the past few days, but if you've been following the Devils' training camp, you know that a proverbial bomb was dropped.
No, it has nothing to do with Jamie Langenbrunner's groin - though that was an unfortunate revelation. Both Rich Chere
and Tom Gulitti
have - in their respective newspapers, of course - that the captaincy of the New Jersey Devils are up for grabs. And they both also reported Langenbrunner's groin injury at the end of their respective articles. Hopefully, Langenbrunner will clearly recover from this injury - groin injuries, as we saw with Scott Gomez last season, can be tenacious.
Regarding the captaincy of the team, the big and obvious question is who will be the new captain? Brian Rafalski isn't here anymore, so it won't be him. Darren at 2 Man Advantage seems to think the options
will include assistants John Madden and Colin White, but ultimately picks Brian Gionta since goaltenders cannot be captains. I agree with his assertion that Zach Parise and Travis Zajac may be captains of the future and further agree that neither are ready for the role yet. I disagree however that Gionta should get it - if Elias' previous season is reason to not make him the captain, then Gionta's drastic dip in production would be reason enough to deny him. But that shouldn't be the reason, in my opinion
The interesting thing about being a captain is that the role requires leadership. A false assumption is that the captain has to be the clutch player, the guy who gets a point per game and always when the team needs it, the go-to guy. That isn't necessarily true. As great as Scott Stevens was, you would be mad to suggest that he needs to be a game-winning goal-scorer on a regular basis. Considering the Devils' history, guys who came through in big games run the gamut of Patrik Elias to Jason Arnott to Valeri Zelepukin to Jeff Friesen to Mike Rupp and so on. I wouldn't immediately jump up and name everyone one of them as captain-material on that alone.
Part of the problem is that from our perspective - the fan's perspective - the captain is supposed to be the leader and well, the leader therefore has to step up on a regular basis. That's part of it, but being a leader also includes motivating the players - not just in games or in intermissions, but also in practices and warm-up skates. The leader has to properly represent the team as well, especially when discussing a call with a referee (which, unless I'm mistaken, is a reason goaltenders aren't allowed to be captains, it'd take too long for them to get up to center ice and discuss matters with the ref). The captain probably also has to deal with internal issues such as chemistry, general team morale, and other matters I wouldn't see on the ice. The leader doesn't necessarily have to be the best player on the team; I don't think you can tell me Tim Taylor is the best player on the Tampa Bay Lightning. The most important matter is whether the player is fit to lead - can they inspire their team to do better? Can he resolve issues properly while not disrupting the team's results? Hockey is a team sport and everyone must contribute; but a strong leader makes the team that much better - just like Scott Stevens did for New Jersey.
And of all the players on this team, from what I know and seen, the one best fit to lead is Patrik Elias.
Don't tell me how he didn't look interested in game X against team Y or how he was a minus player for most of last season. Yes, his season in terms of production was poor and not only do I feel he can contribute more offensively, I think he has to contribute more for the Devils to have the best chance for success in this upcoming season. Nevertheless, he remains the best player in my opinion to be the captain of this team. Why?
The second half of the 2005-2006 season.
You know, the season where Elias returned from his recovery from Hepatitis A and the team played like a winning machine for the rest of that year? The season looked lost prior to his return: Lou Lamoriello had to step in as coach when Larry Robinson stepped down, the team looked to be fighting for the eighth seed in the East, and the Rangers - the Rangers
- were leading the division. The return of Elias in January not only provided the Devils a boost for a few games, oh no. The Devils turned it up and turned it on even in April when they won all their games - regular season and playoffs - and swept the Rangers. Elias wasn't just absolutely fantastic - and he was - but he helped lift a team that look liked it was treading water at times and pushed them to new heights to take the division, sweep the Rangers, and go farther than anyone expected.
Nobody else on the Devils can make that claim. Nobody outside of Brodeur can claim of such an impact on the team. Nobody.
The return of Elias and how he conducted himself lifted an otherwise above-average team to do some great things. If that isn't being a captain, what else is? I believe that was the reason he got the 'C' to begin with; it wasn't a bargaining chip to keep Elias in Devils' red, but Elias had truly earned it. While he didn't have one of his better seasons, the Devils did win the division again and still made it to the second round of the playoffs. I don't think that's enough to strip Elias of the "C" completely.
I know and understand Sutter wants to state that this is his team now and he'll make the decisions. If you ask me, unless someone else steps up in a major way, Elias is the captain of the Devils.
UNRELATED BIT: I keep forgetting to link this, but Hal Stern's blog Snowman on Fire discusses the Devils and hockey in general at times. He has a report about the rookies and their ten-hour skate (!!) at training camp from Friday.
It's quite interesting, I suggest you check it out. Good to know that if you want to make it onto the N.J. Devils, you need to earn it.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Who's Who at Training Camp
As a quick analysis, here's a quick list of who I think definitely going to make the team:
Goaltender: Martin Brodeur, Kevin Weekes
Defensemen: Paul Martin, Colin White, Richard Matvichuk, Vitaly Vishnevski, Karel Rachunek
Left Wings: Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Jay Pandolfo, Sergei Brylin
Centers: Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, John Madden
Right Wings: Brian Gionta, Jamie Langenbrunner, Aaron Asham
1) For defense, Andy Greene and Johnny Oduya will likely make it, I just don't know where, so there's at least one fight there.
2) Keep in mind Brylin plays pretty much wherever, so there's a left wing spot open.
3) Jari Viuhkola will have every opportunity to make a name for himself in his first NHL training camp, but nothing is guaranteed other than he'll play in North America.
4) Given Asham can play on the other wing, you'll immediately see why I think David Clarkson has a great opportunity.
Of other things to note, best of luck to all the new guys to the NHL. I'd like to wish extra good luck to Viuhkola with his first taste of the NHL, and also to Tony Romano. I know Romano wasn't very keen on defensive systems
, which is one reason why he's now in the OHL. Now that he's in his first pro training camp (Perhaps this is another, now that I think about it. Incidentally, major juniors can go to camp, players still in college can't for NCAA eligibility reasons), I imagine the Devils organization will, shall we say help give him a brand new understanding and appreciation of playing on the other side of the puck.
The first pre-season game is this coming Monday against Philadelphia, best of luck to the team in general in training camp.
Labels: 2008 Preseason
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Get Pumped: Training Camp is Tomorrow
Today, I don't want to discuss any particular issue. I just want you to get pumped for preseason. Don't ask me why. It's a whole new team! A whole new arena (opening in late October)! A brand new coach! A brand new season is upon us! Hockey starts in less than a month! These are plenty of reasons to get pumped! Here are some other things to check out and possibly get pumped in the process:
A guy by the name of Left Kinger has been making team preview videos for each NHL team via HFBoards. He has recently completed a short video about the New Jersey Devils which you can view via YouTube.
The theme for this coming season is "The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same." As Devils fans, we want this to come true, as it would mean another division championship in the face of all critics and doubters who seem to think the Devils are going to be passed by Pittsburgh or that other team cross the Hudson River. The video is a collection of clips from last season, more
than enough to get you pumped.
Speaking of Hockey's Future
, they got two articles worth your interest. The first is the first half of their ranking of the top 50 prospects for this season.
Devils prospect Nicklas Bergfors made the list at #34. While the staff of Hockey's Future understands Bergfors had a rough go of it last season, they still believe he is a future top 6 forward for New Jersey and they expect him to bounce back in his third year in the AHL. The second involves HF Devils writer Jared Ramsden. He has an article previewing the upcoming Devils training camp
where he examines who is likely to make the team, who will have the chance to make a name for themselves, and who may be on the outside looking in. Good stuff and more to get pumped for.
In unfortunate news, 2 Man Advantage caught word that Jim Dowd will try out for next season - with the Philadelphia Flyers.
At this point in his career, I can't begrudge him for agreeing to a tryout; but I can't say that I'm happy about the prospect of the New Jersey-born Dowd being on a rival team of the New Jersey Devils.
But let's get back to being pumped and while this doesn't have anything to do with training camp, it has everything to do with the Devils new home. The boards have just gone up at the Prudential Center; you can the view the pictures here
or through the Devils' main website.
You want to get pumped for training camp in general, but don't have a clue about the other teams? That's OK, NHL.com has you covered with daily NHL team previews.
So far, six teams have been done and it won't be until September 20 that the Devils' preview will go live. Until then, just assume that the Devils will continue to be a premier team in the league - it's been a safe assumption for the most of the last 10 years anyhow.
Lastly, some new faces will be at the Devils training camp such as Tony Romano, Jari Viuhkola, Jason Smith (the goaltender, not the defenseman from the mid-1990s), and Zach Tarkir. Maybe they'll make an impact, maybe they won't, but they'll hopefully bring something new to the table. In that hope, one could conceivably get pumped for it.
Training camp begins tomorrow at the South Mountain Arena (a.k.a. the Codey Arena in South Mountain) in West Orange, NJ. Anyone who goes there or has some thoughts about camp, please let me know. Anything to get pumped and to get ready for the upcoming season.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues, Hockey - General
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Today is September 11
Specifically, today is the sixth anniversary of the most horrific attack ever occurred in the United States of America by outside forces upon the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and Flight 93 which was crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
For myself and many others, this day six years ago was one of the worst days of the lives we have lived so far. The fact that there was so much destruction, that so many died all kinds of feelings: sadness, sorrow, infuriation, confusion, and absolute shock. I emphasize the absolute shock, I was more stunned than anything. Stunned that the people I never knew, never met, and would never want to meet me would want me or someone like me or someone not like me except that they lived in the same country as I do would be so evil, so driven to kill me, someone like me, or someone not like me for the charge of just being in America. Stunned with the cold reality that such an attack succeeded at causing so much pain to so many people. Stunned that there are some who wish to repeat those attacks or commit larger ones for some evil cause. Stunned that someone actually decided that this was a good thing to do; that so many others worked to make it happen; that so many carried the plans out; and that none of them seemingly stood up and said "no." Stunned by all this and much more.
To this day, reflecting on what occurred, I am still a bit shocked. While I can't say I feel exactly the same way I did then, I remain a bit shocked. To be frank, I hope never to feel that way again; but this newer shock is not just from what happened but also from what is still happening. That there remains people who will plan to want many others dead for no reason at all, which unfortunately may never change. That people who live here - people who know damn well what happened six years ago - deny the events, ignore what went on, come up with absolutely retarded "reasons" and "explanations" as to what happened on September 11, 2001 running the gamut to the ignorant to the unscientific to purely bigoted motivations to the absolutely retarded under the guise of "truth" and "asking questions." That there remains those who want me dead seemingly for the "crime" or "sin" of being in America and wanting to see it continue forwards (among other possible "crimes" or "sins"), and unfortunately that may never change. I wish I could put it better, but all I can describe the my most nagging feeling concerning that day as shock, among other feelings.
Suffice it to say, today is September 11. We can not live in the past, nor should we; but we most definitely should respect the dead, honor those who have helped out on that horrific day, and never forget what happened. To this end, I offer my thoughts, prayers, and sympathies to all those who have suffered and have been affected in any way by the attacks and tragedies from that horrible, terrible, miserable day.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Preseason Issue #4: The #4 Spot
Given that Martin is a two-way defenseman and that the Devils traditionally pair a two-way defenseman with a defensive defenseman, I think Colin White will move up (remain?) at the #2 role. Meaning he'll be on the first pairing with Martin. Again, since we've seen the two paired together many times last season. White's average ice time has increased to 22 minutes last season, proof that he has been given increased defensive responsibilities as he's been with the team.
The second pairing is where the issue arises. With the return of a healthy Richard Matvichuk, the Devils defense gains his veteran presence and experience to go with his hard-nosed style of play. I expect him to be on the team's second pairing because he still has the proverbial "something left in the tank" as we saw in last year's playoffs. Matvichuk has been a defensive defenseman throughout his career.
The question is: who will be paired with Matvichuk on the second pairing?
Let's consider the candidates. The Devils re-signed Johnny Oduya, who was impressive coming over from Sweden last season. Last season saw the emergence of Andy Greene, who shows potential as a two-way defenseman. Oduya and Greene will definitely make the team. The Devils also signed two defensemen: Karel Rachunek
and Vitaly Vishnevski.
Rachunek has shown some offensive abilities in the past; whereas Vishnevski is a more defensive, physical player. Also consider that Mark Fraser did look good in a few games up with the Devils last season from Lowell and prospect Matthew Corrente impressed last year in training camp and may look to do the same again. Basically, for three spots, the Devils have four defensemen who can easily step in to play.
Given the fact the Devils went out to sign Rachunek and Vishnevski, they are not going to send them down to Lowell; and I can't see Oduya or Greene being sent down short of poor performances. I expect the team to carry an extra defenseman on their roster in general given that they have seven NHL-capable defensemen. Basically, Fraser and Corrente are behind a number of players. Fraser and Corrente will need to play fantastically this preseason to make the team and even then they may start out in Lowell or in Saginaw, respectively. Therefore, I expect Fraser and Corrente to push the other players to perform well; I don't expect them to make the New Jersey first team before the season begins. Nevertheless, the big question to ask is whether any of the four defensemen available can step up their game to show that they can play in the #4 spot.
Someone in camp will need to do so, otherwise this will be a difficult situation. Oduya has actually played on the top two pairings at times last season, however he's also had some issues with consistency. For his first season in the NHL, Oduya did play well but I doubt whether he can handle a top 4 role for a whole season. Greene's style of play would suggest that he would play with Matvichuk, given that he is a two-way defenseman. However, Greene is still, well, green in professional hockey and throwing him onto the ice for 20-22 minutes a night may be too much for him (and too costly to the team) right away. Rachunek did average 19:23 of ice time last season with the Rangers, which was the fourth highest among defensemen. While he's got experience, Rachunek has been prone to defensive mistakes at times and his effectiveness can be questionable on some nights. In the eight regular season games the Devils played the Rangers, I can't recall Rachunek being a major factor in stopping the Devils forwards. Putting him up at the #4 spot may cause more harm than good. Vishnevski was on the third pairing in Nashville last season and he's a physical defenseman. He'll hit, he'll block shots, but he won't give you a whole lot (if any) offense. Putting him with Matvichuk on the second pairing would not be balanced, physical defenseman with defensive defensemen means little offensive support from the blue line or on break out plays. I think Vishnevski is better suited for the third pairing, based on the average amount of ice time he is used to seeing (he played 17:13 on average last season with Nashville).
None of the four players immediately is seen as a good option on the second pairing. If experience is the deciding factor, expect to see Oduya or Rachunek with Matvichuk. If it's a balance of styles, expect Greene to get some starts at that role to see how he'll do. If it were up to me, I'd rotate between Oduya and Greene depending on the opponent. Even then that's not a good idea since defense is all about chemistry and communication - something that is hard to do if the lineup keeps changing.
While Martin will take up the minutes Brian Rafalski used to play; it's unclear as to who will take Brad Lukowich's 20 minute-a-night average amount of ice time. Like the fourth line, how each of these players will do in training camp will go a long way in answering this question. Only this time, if no one establishes themselves, Sutter will likely have to keep rotating the position until someone does step in and takes the role as their own. Given how defense has always been an area of importance and a trademark of the Devils, Sutter can't just put anyone there. Oduya, Greene, Rachunek, and Vishnevski will have to battle for this role and Sutter will have to consider his options closely. If you're looking for something to focus your attention in training camp, this role will be the one. Who ever earns it will help decide who will be on the third pairing and who will be the seventh defenseman and/or a scratched player.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Preseason Issue #3: The Fourth Line
First and foremost, my apologies for not having this up sooner. I did say in the previous post I would get to it on Friday and obviously, I did not. Nevertheless, you didn't come here to read apologies but to read some commentary about the New Jersey Devils. This is the third in a short series of what I believe are the main issues that the Devils face in the upcoming pre-season. The first issue, in my opinion, is the offense
and the second issue deals with the eventual roles of Sergei Brylin and David Clarkson.
Now, the second issue exists based on the assumption that David Clarkson would make the team out of training camp. If he doesn't, that issue isn't an issue any more and it makes this one a little easier. The issue I'd like to delve into is the fourth line.
In this offseason, the Devils re-signed Mike Rupp and Cam Janssen. They also went out and signed Jari Viukhola from and Aaron Asham. In addition, Lowell forwards Rod Pelley and the aforementioned Clarkson looked good when called-up last season; I'm confident they'll get a good look at camp to make the team. While it's a long shot, there's also Grant Marshall, who could make the team with a very strong camp (though I think it's unlikely); and maybe the Devils will re-sign Jim Dowd and/or Erik Rasmussen (though I think either being signed at this point is also very unlikely). Last, and certainly not least, there is no way Sergei Brylin will not have a regular spot on this team.
For the purposes of this issue, let's focus on those who are already signed with the team, assume that Viukhola is not the next Andreas Salomonsson, and assume that Marshall will not make the team (sorry Grant). Even then, that leaves the Devils with 7 forwards who can all play on the fourth line.
Again, as I stated in discussing Brylin and Clarkson's potential roles on the team
, I believe there are 4 open spots at forward - one of them is the right wing slot on the third line and the rest are the fourth line. Essentially, three people will not have a regular spot right on the team. And one of those three will not be Sergei Brylin. Considering the number of defensemen that are on the roster - 7 with Paul Martin, Colin White, Richard Matvichuk, Andy Greene, Johnny Oduya, Karel Rachunek, and Vitaly Vishnevski - it is not a given that all three left over forwards will be on the active roster. If you're looking for some heavy competition in training camp, expect it to be among the forwards for this line. Given what I understand of each player, let's go down the list one by one to see what each brings to the table.Sergei Brylin
- Utility forward, he can play any position at forward - though I think he's best at center. He had his most productive season since the 2001-2002 season in this most recent season with 18 goals and 24 assists.
That said, he's more of a checker than a scorer and he's loaded with heart, guts, moxie, fighting spirit, et al. He makes this team short of a serious injury. Could be on the third line at right wing again, freeing up all three spots on the fourth line. You could also see him centering or playing either wing on the fourth line.Aaron Asham
- After Brylin, Asham is the most likely forward to make the team after being a regular fourth line banger for the New York Islanders. While he's not big, he did have 131 hits for the team last year (fourth behind Sean Hill, Trent Hunter, and Brendan Witt) and he's a guy who can/will drop the gloves when necessary (and sometimes when it's not necessary). He's not completely devoid of offensive skill with 11 goals and 12 assists last season
; but it's nothing to write home about. He gave the Devils hell when they played the Islanders, so it's nice I don't have to see him against New Jersey 8 times a year. Nevertheless, due to his experience, I'd be shocked if he wasn't a starter. While he's a natural right wing, don't be surprised if he's at left wing (an open spot on the team).Jari Viuhkola
- The big wild card. The Devils had success with free agents from Europe (e.g. Brian Rafalski, Johnny Oduya) but also failures (e.g. Andreas Salomonsson). Nevertheless, Viuhkola is a wild card in that I don't know too much about him. He's seemingly done well enough in Finland with Karpat with 12 goals and 27 assists in 46 games last season.
He even made the Finnish national team for the IIHF World Championships earlier this year. Given that the Devils signed him so early in the offseason, the scouts have clearly liked what they have seen out of Viuhkola. If Viuhkola shows he can be a two-way center with some decent skills at faceoffs, while adjusting to the North American game, you'll see him center the fourth line. If he struggles, expect him to get some seasoning in Lowell. How he adjusts to the NHL game is the biggest key and is the main reason why I think he's a wild card. Some players truly do struggle when entering a new league that has a different style of play (not to mention different rink sizes, different skill levels, etc.). How Viuhkola will deal with that will help force Brent Sutter's hand in determining whether he makes the team and in what role. Don't write his name at the fourth line center position in pen for now.Mike Rupp
- The 2003 Stanley Cup Legend gives you size, physical play, and more size and physical play. Yes, he was big in that Game 7 against Anaheim that won New Jersey their third Stanley Cup. That said, you're not getting a whole lot of offensive production from Rupp. He has only broken the 10 point plateau once in a season.
Expecting Rupp to blossom and put up 20-30 points is foolhardy, in my opinion. But if you need a big man to throw his weight around, Rupp can do it with ease. Rupp can play right wing and center, so he has some versatility in terms of position; but he's at his best at right wing. Unlike Cam Janssen, Rupp brings a little more to the table than just hits so you might see him start at right wing. Cam Janssen
- The Hammer definitely brings energy, hits, and penalty minutes to the table. He brought 82 hits and 118 minutes in 48 games. While the right wing pain-bringer did get his first goal last season; the fact that he only played in 48 games shows that his role is limited. When playing a physical team (or a rival), Cam will be there. Otherwise, Cam will be scratched. Unless he shows that he can do more than just hit and punch, I don't expect that role to change. Expect to see him on some nights but not every night, again.David Clarkson
- The Randy McKay-like player has a great chance to make the team if he has a good camp, in my opinion. He looked very good in 7 regular season games (3 goals, 1 assist, 23 hits) and was even given time in the playoffs. Definitely an encouraging sign. As I discussed the other day
, if Clarkson does have a good camp, the question will be whether he's on the right wing on the fourth line or the third line. It depends on how good he does and where Sutter feels he can get the most out of Clarkson's talents. If Clarkson does not impress in camp, it may be another season as a call-up player from Lowell - which would not be the worst thing in the world. That said, I'd love to see Clarkson stay up for a whole season.Rod Pelley
- As another call-up from Lowell, this center actually played more regular season games than Clarkson. Pelley was primarily playing in a defensive center role because that's what he is: a defensive center. Is he the second coming of John Madden? Of course not. However, he was competent in the 9 games he did play. Pelley could be in a similar situation as Clarkson where if he has a good enough training camp, Pelley could make the team. His situation is harder because A) Sergei Brylin may end up centering the fourth line anyway which will shut him out and B) Jari Viuhkola is also a center who may end up centering the fourth line. Because Pelley has one (or maybe two) players ahead of him at this position, I think he may end up in Lowell again for another season. Again, it's not the worst thing in the world, I think he may need it more than Clarkson - who I think is ready for more time in the NHL.
Basically, I would expect Sutter to change the fourth line constantly throughout the season for different situations. It's not just that the Devils have a number of possible fourth-line players, but they provide a variety of play. If Sutter wants a more skilled fourth line he could have Brylin-Viuhkola-Clarkson on the ice. The fourth line could also be quite physical with the combination of Asham-Rupp-Janssen. It doesn't have to be in any one extreme, Sutter could have a balance with Asham-Vihukola-Clarkson or go with developing youth (with a balance of skill and physical play) with a line of Janssen-Pelley-Clarkson. There are many combinations and I would expect Sutter to try a number of them throughout the season.
Nevertheless, it definitely is not clear at this point who will play on the fourth line. This training camp and preseason will go a long way to decide this issue.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Preseason Issue #2: Clarkson & Brylin
One is a young right winger who plays physically but has some intriguing offensive talent. The other is pretty much the definition of utility forward, having played at all three forward positions on each of the four lines at one point or another in his long career with the Devils.
The issue is: what do you do with them?
From what I understand, the top six forwards are set: Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Zach Parise, Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner. They are likely going to make up the top two lines for the team. Considering they've been mainstays on the third line as excellent checking forwards, Jay Pandolfo will once again play left wing for the third line; which will be centered once again by John Madden. That's eight forwards with four open regular spots.
Now let's be frank: there is no way Sergei Brylin will not be a regular on this team short of injury. Sarge has been a heart and soul player who has been at least competent wherever he's slotted on the roster. Also being frank, Brylin is not an offensive force. He can spell a couple of games on the top two lines, but he doesn't have the talent to be a regular point producer. 40 points for a third liner is acceptable; but not for a regular spot on the top two lines - and Brylin has only broke the 20 goal and 50 point plateaus once in his career.
I don't think expecting him to increase his production drastically at 33 is reasonable; but given his effectiveness (and his heart) on both sides of the puck, he'll be on this team likely on the third or fourth line. Short of actively hurting his team on the ice, he'll be a Devil. That leaves nine roster spots.
David Clarkson is an interesting figure. After a productive and penalty-filled season in Albany in 2005-2006
, Clarkson got his first shot at the NHL last season as he called up for 7 games in March earlier this year. He certainly impressed, with 3 goals, an assist, and 23 hits. I even remarked that he played like a young Randy McKay in my March review.
Clarkson did so well in his call up duties, he even was on the playoff roster, getting in three games (unfortunately, it was in the Ottawa series). Clarkson isn't the biggest guy on the ice, but he's definitely not afraid to throw his body around; the fact that he has some skill with the puck definitely adds an extra dimension to his game. If he has a good camp, it wouldn't surprise me that Clarkson becomes a regular player this season.
That's why this is an issue. Let us assume Clarkson makes the team. One possible decision head coach Brent Sutter might make is to put Brylin at right wing on the third line and Clarkson behind him on the fourth line. Brylin has played at that spot last season many times, and he's good enough defensively for the line to be a solid checking line. However, I question whether that would be using Clarkson to the best of his abilities. Yes, he's gritty, he can energize the team with physical play, but putting him at right wing on the fourth line would diminish his offensive capabilities because of the lack of ice time the fourth line normally gets and the general role of the fourth line that the Devils have had in recent seasons - a physical, gritty, energy line. Unless Sutter changes what the philosophy behind the fourth line, Clarkson may become a better physical forward, but not necessarily a better forward.
We could see the reverse: Brylin could be put on the fourth line (anywhere on that line, but more on that tomorrow) and Clarkson could line up on the third line. Brylin would add some skill to the fourth line and history has shown he can play with just about anybody anywhere. On the other hand, he wouldn't fit well should it be primarily a physical line. Clarkson on the third line could be a return of checking lines that featured Pandolfo, Madden, and a physical forward. In the past that was Turner Stevenson and Grant Marshall - gritty guys who added a physical edge to the checking line. I'd like to think Clarkson may have more skill than those guys; but that's not necessarily a good comparison given Clarkson's inexperience and the fact Marshall and Stevenson were in NJ either in or past the prime of their careers. Nevertheless, should Clarkson develop into the next Randy McKay, it would be similar to that. The big question is whether Clarkson can play the role of a good checking forward. If he can, great. If he can't, putting him at the third line would hurt the line overall and prove to be a bad idea to play him there.
A more extreme (and interesting) idea is to mix up the right wingers even further and get Jamie Langenbrunner to a different line. Langenbrunner has played very, very well with Pandolfo and Madden in the past. Together, they were the J-Line wherein opposing forwards would have a rough time when those three were on the ice. Brylin could be slotted on the fourth line to add skill to that line (and provide additional help where necessary), Langenbrunner can re-unite with Madden and Pandolfo to form an even better checking line, and Clarkson can play up on the second line with Parise and Zajac. The extra ice time will help Clarkson's development and he would be encouraged to be more than just a banger, to be a scoring forward. His brief time in NJ last season did show some offensive prowess, looking good when he was on the top two lines in some games. Plus, Clarkson would had a physical dimension to that line - and there's nothing wrong with a little more bump and grind along the boards. On the other hand, it's a very risky move to A) break up an already successful scoring line, B) place a rookie on a top two scoring line where Parise would be the veteran of the three, and C) put a lot of pressure on Clarkson early to produce. That all said, if Clarkson could handle it, the results would be great.
But all of this is dependent on whether Clarkson does well enough in camp. For all I know, he'll get injured and won't make the team. Or he'll do well, but Sutter chooses to send him back to Lowell for further seasoning. Or something completely different. To be honest, as much as I like Clarkson's abilities, the very first option may be the one I go with if only to see how Clarkson develops with regular NHL time. It would be the safest, even if it may initially limit Clarkson's offense. Line-ups are never set in stone as players can go from line to line from game to game, or even in the middle of one. Nevertheless, the issue will not be whether the Devils are good enough at right wing, but whether Sutter can fit them in properly in order to use them to the best of their ability. Without Clarkson in the picture, I think it would be a simpler decision. Given how well he's done in his short time with the parent club, I really would not be surprised if he impresses the Devils enough in camp to earn a spot in some capacity.
An even more intriguing issue will be how Sutter determines who will be on the fourth line. But more on that tomorrow.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Preseason Issue #1: Offense
Thought I was going to say, coaching or defense, did you? Well, those are factors, but the biggest one is offense.
A commenter by the name of thedope in the previous Devils preseason post noted that Roberto Luongo has to carry that anemic Vancouver Canucks squad.
Let me tell you about anemic. Rather, let's go to the numbers and see if it bears out.
The New Jersey Devils scored a grand total of 216 goals last season, an average of 2.51 goals per game. All the teams that had a fewer goals scored total did not make the playoffs (St. Louis, Philadelphia, Columbus, Chicago, and Edmonton); the Devils' scoring average ranked 27th in the league. While it wasn't by much, the Canucks put up more production than the Devils last season. The Canucks (29.3 per game) also had a higher average number of shots per game than the Devils (28.7 per game). The Devils' power play overall was more efficient than Vancouver's (17.7% against 17.2%). However, anyone who's witnessed the Devils' power plays this past season. knows that sometimes the man advantage is an advantage, an ineffectual event in the game, or a disadvantage for the Devils. It's clear that Vancouver has performed better than the Devils on offense last year, even if it wasn't by much. It's also clear that the Devils have had problems on offense all last season. This alone makes it the most important issue to address.
What's more are the individual numbers. The team leader in points was Patrik Elias, who was inconsistent in 2006-2007, finishing with 21 goals and 48 assists. A result of being the captain or a throwback to a similarly inconsistent 2002-2003 season? Something else, perhaps? The team leader in goals was not Brian Gionta - who dipped from 48 in 2005-2006 to 25 in 2006-2007 - but Zach Parise who broke out with 31 goals and 31 assists. A drop in goals was expected for Gionta, but 23 is cause for some concern. While it's the biggest drop in goals, based on performance and play during the game, I believe Scott Gomez was definitely the biggest dissapointment. After showing the hockey world that he can not only make plays and go end-to-end on breakout plays, but also shoot the puck rather well; Gomez' production fell from 33 goals and 54 assists to 13 goals and 47 assists. Will he get his shot back? Will he just remain as a playmaker? Will he rebound? I couldn't tell you.
The first line - Elias-Gomez-Gionta - was inconsistent all season and largely stayed together because the second line was so much more productive (a back-handed compliment for this team) with 71 goals total from Parise, Travis Zajac (17 G, 25 A), and Jamie Langenbrunner (23 G, 37 A). If nothing changes, this unit will have to continue to produce if not improve it - and while I can see Parise and Langenbrunner doing it, the sophmore jinx may bite Zajac hard after a solid rookie season. While it's nice to see Jay Pandolfo with 13 goals - incredibly, surprisingly nice - it's not so nice to see that he's scored more than John Madden last season. That's the forwards. On defense, it's even bleaker with all defensemen combining for 18 goals. And the guy who scored 8 of those just signed with Detroit.
So it stands that the Devils need to improve on offense. Yes, the Devils won the Atlantic Division and went to the second round of the playoffs last season - a good season for about 22 teams in the NHL - but they did it in spite of the offense. Namely, Martin Brodeur had to be the dominant force in net that he is with 33 of his 48 wins being by a margin of one goal. While Brodeur definitely can do it, he should not have to do it nearly every night for a second straight season.
The first thing that I would suggest to the new head coach of the Devils, Brent Sutter, is to get this team to shoot more. In my opinion this is the biggest factor, as I have seen the Devils go through power plays and extended puck possession without taking a shot. In many games, I feel the Devils as a whole were passing too much looking for the mythical perfect shot while passing up decent scoring chances - something that plagued the Elias-Gomez-Gionta unit, I think, more than anyone. Take more shots from the point, from the faceoff circles, in the slot, and in other places in between. Some of those less than ideal shooting opportunities may lead to goals. Yes, they were not as poor in shooting as they were in scoring - but the team clearly needs to take more chances putting the puck on net. The goals are not going to come from just more accurate shots - but a lot more shots in general from all players. The blueline may put up more than 18 goals just by taking more shots at the point - or even have more assists from more re-directions and tips leading to goals. Given the Devils' historical emphasis on forcing turnovers on defense, the team could be better in having those chances lead to better scoring chances which will likely lead to more goals. How much the team will be encouraged to shoot will be a factor in addressing this issue.
The second factor for the offensive issue will be Dainius Zubrus. The big right wing will likely play center again, likely between Patrik Elias (no, I'm not a proponent of having Elias play center like he did in 2002) and Brian Gionta. Again, the most productive line last season was Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner. Short of a drastic change in chemistry or any injuries that line should not be broken up. This puts the effectiveness of Zubrus on the spot. If he meshes well with Elias and Gionta, it will give the line a literally bigger target who can clog the slot with Gionta and allow Elias to use his playmaking skills to full effect. The result would yield two legitimate scoring lines, hopefully leading to increased offensive production. If he doesn't, well, I don't want to worry about that yet - but I think it's safe to say it would not be pretty. Even so, Zubrus' size is one of his advantages and I think Sutter should utilize that size with great effect for screens and play along the boards in addition to his current skills with the puck - providing he doesn't become Lithuania's answer to Viktor Kozlov, it should work.
The third factor is something Sutter may not have any control over - not that he can have much over chemistry between Zubrus, Elias, and Gionta - and that is Elias and Gionta themselves. They both have had disappointing seasons in terms of production, especially so since they were so awesome together (with Gomez) in the 2005-2006 season. If the Devils are going to increase their scoring, those two will need to step up their games and their production along with it. Elias is the team's most talented forward and Gionta is one of their best goal scorers. While we know Elias can bounce back from sub par seasons, Gionta is more of a question mark. Hopefully, 2005-2006 will not be an aberration in Gionta's career. How can they step it up, I do not know. Maybe it's a change in how they practice, how they prepare, how they work with each other, how their mindset is set, or something else. But something will need to change for the benefit of the Devils as a whole.
These three factors are the most major in what would affect the offense and what would need to be addressed for the Devils to score more goals. There are others. How Sutter will set up the power play units and their general style will definitely be key. Paul Martin becoming the de factor number one defenseman begs the question whether he can handle all the defensive responsibilities while providing offense from the point. His career stats aren't inducing a lot of confidence
, so it will remain to be seen to see how offensively effective he will be as the top two-way defenseman on the team (no, it's not Andy Greene). All the same, the major point is that the Devils need to improve their offensive production - score more goals. Not just to continue being perennial Stanley Cup contenders or give opposing teams more to worry about when the Devils come up on their schedule (though those are two very compelling reasons from my point of view). They should improve their offense if only to not have to rely on Martin Brodeur being absolutely amazing every night for a second straight season.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues
R.I.P. Max McNab
My condolences to his friends and family for this loss.
Monday, September 03, 2007
What the Devils Don't Need to Worry About
The New Jersey Devils will report to training camp starting on September 13, per TSN's listing of the start dates of all 30 teams' training camps.
This year's training camp and pre-season will certainly be one of the more interesting ones in recent years. A new coach in Brent Sutter; a new center in Dainius Zubrus; multiple new defensemen in Vitaly Vishnevski, Karel Rachunek, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, and Ian Moran; and - for the first time in years - a capable backup goaltender in Kevin Weekes. So far, it really isn't clear how any of these changes will shape up as they haven't done anything hockey-related during the offseason (as far as I know, if I'm wrong, my apologies) except for Sutter coaching in the Canada-Russia Super Series. Given that Canada is leading the series 4-0
, I think it's safe to say that Sutter is a solid coach at the junior level.
Even then, just by the number of players signed, players signing to other teams, and a new coach, it's fair to say that the Devils have a number of issues that they will need to resolve in training camp and pre-season before the regular season. For the next few days, I will point out what I think those issues are and what I think could be done about it. Again, I'm just a fan so I only know so much about what is going on with the team. For all I know, some of the issues I may bring up may not be big deals or they may be resolved sooner than later. Nevertheless, it's good to examine it so and there is not much going on with the Devils. Other than the arena being built - which looks like it is making serious progress
with 54 days left until the opening date.
Anyway, after all this rambling, I think it is a good idea to establish what the Devils do not have any issues. Stating what the team already has in place and does not necessarily need to change is always a good idea to get a sense of perspective of where the team stands. In my opinion, there are five key areas that will cause little to no concern to the Devils. I apologize for the list-mania this may induce.
1. Goaltending. In case you don't know or choose to be daft, Martin Brodeur is the starter for the New Jerseu Devils and he is the best goaltender in the NHL. Roberto Luongo can't touch Brodeur. Brodeur is coming off a season befitting of some kind of goaltender Superman (Ken Dryden in the late 1980s? Dominik Hasek in the late 1990s? Terry Sawchuk in Detroit in the 1950s?). Past history has indicated that if the numbers will drop, it won't be by much. If you think the Devils have any question marks between the pipes, I think it would be safe to say that you've seen the Devils in the last 13 seasons. What's more, for the first time since Chris Terreri (and maybe John Vanbiesbrouck), the Devils have a backup goaltender who is talented enough to be a starter. I expect Kevin Weekes to get more than 5 starts this coming season; and the only question I would have is how many games will Brodeur start? We all know he can play 70 or more, but with Weekes in the fold, I would guess Brodeur only has to play 65 or so.
2. Defensive depth. While Brian Rafalski signed with Detroit and Brad Lukowich signed with Tampa Bay, the Devils added a number of defensemen in the offseason while re-signing Paul Martin. Returning from last season is Martin, Colin White, Richard Matvichuk (hopefully for a full season), Johnny Oduya, and Andy Greene. Karel Rachunek and Vitaly Vishnevski both played a significant number of games for their teams last season - 66 games for the Rangers and 67 in total for Atlanta and Nashville. That's seven defensemen who can definitely play at the NHL level. Beyond those two, Mark Fraser looked good in call-up duty from Lowell last season, Matt Corrente will be in the mix at camp fighting for an early spot on the team, and the Devils signed Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre and Ian Moran for additional depth. That's 11 players fighting for six spots. As it is, I think the five returning will retain their roster spots; but should injuries strike the blueline, the Devils will have the personnel. Maybe not the talent, but definitely the numbers to fill in spots. Also, that is because of the third area.
3. Cap space.
The Devils were literally right up against the salary cap ceiling last season and that proved costly at times during the season. Richard Matvichuk was on the injured reserve list all season long, the Devils traded their first round pick to get a useless Vladamir Malakhov off their books, David Hale had to be traded to create the room for Andy Greene to be on the team, and when injuries severely struck the Devils during last season, they played games with a less than full roster. This season, the salary cap ceiling has been raised; and Rafalski and Gomez came off the books by signing big contracts with other teams. According to NHLSCAP, the Devils have approximately $9.8 million in salary cap space.
The Devils will not need to worry about making a trade for a substantial player at the trade deadline breaking the Devils' budget nor will they have to avoid calling up players from Lowell to fill roster spots. This is a very good thing, considering what the Devils had to do last season.
4. Left wing. Patrik Elias had a down year in 2006-2007, but still led the Devils in scoring last season with 21 goals and 48 assists as the team's left winger on their first scoring line. Zach Parise had a breakout year and led the Devils in goals with 31 (34th in the NHL); Parise also tallied 31 assists as part of the ZZ-Top/PZL Line/ZZ-Pop line with Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner. They will remain on the top two lines on the left side of the rink, for sure. On the defensive side of things, Jay Pandolfo remains an underrated checking forward (and a Goal Scoring Machine) who accomplishes his assignments without taking many penalties (8 minutes in 82 games). He will remain as the left winger on the team's third line. The only question mark is who will play the position on the fourth line, but that is an area I will address later this week (and one that I have revealed, so there goes the suspense for that one).
5. Size and Grit.
No, I didn't forget how to count. However, they are (generally) related so they are in the same point. Take a look at the current roster for the New Jersey Devils.
Notice the heights and weights of the new players the Devils signed. Zubrus is 6'4" and 224 lbs.; Aaron Asham is 5'10" but a sizable 209 lbs.; Rachunek is 6'2" and 215 lbs.; and Vishnevski is 6'2" and 215 lbs. Consider that the 6'0" and 210-pound Cam Janssen will return and the 6'3" and 215-pound Matvichuk will hopefully remain healthy will stick with the team. The Devils definitely got bigger so size should not be true issue. Not that size is everything, considering the 5'7" Brian Gionta is ten times the player of the 6'5" Viktor Kozlov ever was in NJ. Asham, Vishnevski, and Rachunek will definitely not be pushed around - nor will they let others do the same to their teammates. White, Janssen, and Matvichuk will not have to be the only ones regularly using their size for physical means.
These five things the Devils do not need to truly adjust nor concern themselves with going into the new season. Tomorrow, I'll begin with what I feel the biggest issue actually is for the 2007-2008 season.
Labels: 2008 Preseason, Devils Issues