Thursday, May 08, 2008


If Only They Could Get Younger...

The Devils are not a team that rebuilds in the traditional way. They sign players to fill holes or make improvements when they appear (e.g. Brian Rafalski) and generally look ahead for eventual players that fit their style (e.g. Jamie Langenbrunner) or can be groomed to fit their style (e.g. John Madden). It's one of the reasons why they have remained such a successful franchise since 1994. It's why they've had a continuing core of players with some shifts in position. Stevens and Neidermayer, then Rafalski was added and it has since given way to White and Martin. The older generation had John MacLean, Bobby Holik, Claude Lemieux, Randy McKay; and since then we've seen the rise of Patrik Elias, John Madden, the addition of Jamie Langenbrunner, and Jay Pandolfo. The constants since then being Martin Brodeur in net and Sergei Brylin playing somewhere at forward. Granted, that may not be a complete lineage nor is it equal in talent (I really do wish the 1995 versions of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer would show up, but alas, it is not to be.) However, there's something I feel I need to point out:

The Devils are starting to get old. Especially with it's core forwards. Consider who is on the Devils roster by the end of this past season. This your Devils line-up by age (apologies for any inaccurate pairings):

Parise (23) - Elias (32) - Langenbrunner (32)
Pandolfo (33) - Madden (35) - Gionta (29)
Zubrus (29) - Rupp (28) - Clarkson (24)
Brylin (34) - Zajac (22) - Asham (30)
Extras: Pelley (23)

Oduya (26) - Martin (27)
White (30) - Mottau (30)
Salvador (32) - Brookbank (27)
Extras: Vishnevski (28), Rachunek (28), Greene (25)

Brodeur (36)
Weekes (33)

There's nothing wrong with having a veteran-laden squad. The Detroit Red Wings have been and continue to succeed with such a lineup over the last few seasons; and are currently showing that they are still a dominant team. And for some players, like Brodeur, age really is just a number for a few more years. However, in general, many hockey players hit their prime by age 26 through 31 or 32. Usually by that age, they know what they can do, they are developed in a role, and they can maximize their talents both physically and mentally. For whatever reason, when an athlete hits their mid-30s, they start to become less effective. Maybe it's all the wear and tear they've built up starts taking more of a toll on themselves and they can't do what they used to as well. Maybe they can't harness their talent as they once could. It varies for everyone, I think. As we've seen with Sergei Brylin, players generally become less effective past their prime. Hence, the cliche.

In any case, I feel I need to point this out not to cause alarm, to freak anyone out, or to call for Lou to dump the team and stock it with fresh prospects and draft picks. This isn't HF Boards. You always need experienced players to be successful. Moreover, if someone can still be effective, then by all means, they should be on the ice regardless of age (e.g. Chris Chelios). That said, I am pointing this out because over the next few seasons the Devils core will need to be changed again. Elias, Madden, Pandolfo, and Langenbrunner are not getting younger and their eventual replacements will need to be considered. Zach Parise is already part of that core, I think, and so could Travis Zajac if he rebounds from his recent season-long slump. The defense isn't so bad; it needs stability moreso than younger talent. It also needs signed players, as I believe 5 of the 9 are free agents. Regardless, the "future" of White, Martin, and (yes) Oduya aren't exactly young guys - they are in their primes right now. As for Brodeur? Well, we have seen Patrick Roy (excellent through age 37) and Dominik Hasek is still going strong at age 43 - and both are legendary goaltenders. There's no reason to believe that Brodeur - a legendary goaltender himself - will suddenly fall from grace now that he's 36. But since he's the foundation of the team; he too cannot play forever.

The next few seasons are going to be interesting to see how the Devils organization acts to keep the Devils a contending team in the NHL. What they do in this offseason could become crucial, with respect to who they draft, who they sign (prospects and current NHL players), and what they do in preseason. This summer could play a large role of whether they remain among the best or slip down to requiring an actual rebuilding period in 5 years from now.

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I kind of wish the devils would rebuild. I'm saying trade everyone of any value and start from scratch, but there has to be a realization that the devils farm system is depleted. The devils were not contenders this year, and unless there is miracle signing in the offseason, they will not be contenders for a while. I would much rather they try to pick up some young talent and have them develop in Sutter's system, and with the guidence of guys like Brylin (I still disagree that he's less effective now) and Madden. Of course, the problem is that you waste some of Marty's remaining years, but what can you do?
Correction to my previous post, that should say "I'm NOT saying trade everyone of value..."
john, your point is well taken, which is one reason why i became mildy annoyed at some of the contributors to various devils' blogs who were suggesting that lou include zajac, bergfors/corrente and draft picks for soon-to-be UFAs at the most recent trade deadline
Thanks for both comments. I agree with you on the second one; if Zajac is still stagnant next season, then it's time to dump him. For the first comment, I think you will see the Devils starting from scratch when Brodeur does retire. Given that he's been the cornerstone of New Jersey's success since 1994, once he goes, it almost has to be a brand new team.
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