Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Apparently, Fourth is the Prediction

So with preseason already setting in, let's take a look at some more of the Devils previews that are out there. Until now, they've ranged as mostly positive with some caveats. But I found some more that aren't so kind and are actually somewhat blunt.

First, we look at the magazines. Basically, I ran to a local Barnes & Noble and checked out what the various hockey magazines had to say about the Devils. They included the NHL Official Yearbook - which I is a NHL "joint," McKeen's 2008-2009 Yearbook, and The Sporting News NHL Preview. I didn't see The Hockey News there, which I found a bit odd. Usually, THN is a regular over at a B&N; maybe it was my unlucky day.

Anyway, they are all similar to each other. Each and everyone one of them came to the same conclusions. The Devils' offense is questionable, but the signing of Brian Rolston should help. Brent Sutter is the right coach for the team. Special teams were a weakness. And the big one of all: Each of the three predicted that the Devils will finish fourth in the division. Ugh. That is a bold prediction for the team not doing so well.

Let's break it down a bit because beyond all that, there are some differences. For the NHL Yearbook, most of the preview was a re-cap of last season. However, they did point out the lack of a big shot on the point - which is true, but hopefully rectified with Rolston. Also, they were the only preview among the three that did state their poor inter-divisional record. They were so bold to state that while the team was talented to make the playoffs, and then predicting them a 9th place spot in the East. I guess they do not believe in the talent?

Now, the Sporting News preview for the Atlantic Division actually had a name associated with it - Chuck Gormley of the South Jersey Courier-Post. He's a regular contributor and seems to know his hockey. He has some interesting praise for the Devils, listing Martin Brodeur as the division's top goalie (of course) and Zach Parise as the division's top left winger (really). Overall, it's what you'd expect - goaltending, coaching, and defense are the strengths; special teams and offense are the weaknesses. Nothing we didn't know. He states that Travis Zajac is likely to breakout, rising like a phoenix from a sophmore slump. However, I disagree that the rookie to watch will be Anssi Salmela because it's looking like Corrente is the favorite of the non-regular defensemen to make the team. Curiously, he states in the division preview that there won't be much change in the standings; but does slot New Jersey as fourth, two spots lower than they were last season. Does this mean a playoff spot? It's not really clear, actually. A division prediction is made, but I didn't find a conference or a playoff prediction beyond who's going to the conference finals and winning it all. No, New Jersey isn't there.

Lastly, we come to McKeen's, a guide for those who like their season previews with fantasy predictions and discussion for literally every player on the team. Even Andy Greene got a small write up, fantasy-wise. McKeen's is interesting in that it predicted not just a position for the Devils, but also an actual record. They are predicting 39-31-12 (90 pts. tied with Tampa Bay for eighth, hedging their bets?), 231 goals for (yea, mo' goals!) and 223 goals against (what?). McKeen's preview is the most interesting for their bluntness. They just state that Brodeur played too many games and will get less (questionable), that Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus in particular need to rebound (true, but what of Brian Gionta?), the defense doesn't have any names but is effective all the same (true), and that they could very well challenge the Penguins for the division (only 4 points behind last season). Amazingly, the preview writer believes that Paul Martin is the man to watch for this season; it states to expect career highs in points now that he's had a year as a #1 defenseman. While I do agree with the idea that Martin will do better now he's more acclimated to being the de facto top defenseman on the team; I'm not so sure about the career highs. He'll have to contribute more on even strength unless he gets a regular spot next to Rolston on the power play. Even then, Martin's shot isn't great; I think he's better at puck distribution. That said, his career highs in goals is 6 and his highest mark in points is 37. Maybe it's not that far fetched. If the offense as a whole does better, Martin may benefit from the rising tide.

Still, I'm really impressed that among three different print guides, they all predict the same result for the Devils within the division. They tend to agree on the big-picture of the Devils - poor offense, a good-enough defense, amazing goalie. But they differ on the details, such as who to look for to have a big year or whether they will make the playoffs. None of them state the Devils are devoid of talent. Yet, they are big believers that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are top teams in the division; and they expect the Rangers to be slightly better (maybe based on how well they've done against New Jersey last season?). All across the board, fourth place is where they expect the Devils to end up.

I disagree with that prediction, to be frank. As those tend to doubt New Jersey, they tend to play better and finish higher than what they look like on paper. I think (and hope!) I'll be proven right in the coming season. Pre-season results, notwithstanding. Next time, I'll discuss more Devils previews from the blogosphere.

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I think 3rd in the division is the lowest the Devils finish. Im not so high on Philly (not because I cant stand them...), I think their run to the conference finals was a fluke. They struggled down the stretch, barely squeaked in, and played a Washington team in the 1st round that if you went on point totals alone should've finished 8th and not 3rd. They upset Montreal but looked outmanned and outgunned against Pittsburgh. As an aside thats not relevant to the playoffs but, remind me how many times did the Devils blew the Flyers out last year?

I also think Biron still has something to prove (its always goaltending with Philly). Plenty of goalies can get hot for a stretch, regular season or playoffs, but lets see it happen for a prolonged period of time.

While the Flyers are a good, deep squad the preseason hoopla is a little overblown.
4th is ridiculous.

Yes the Pens are the team to beat, and yes the Flyers are better; but the Devils haven't lost any big names and seem to have only improved (albeit modestly) over the summer. Most importantly, their inter-division record (aka The Ranger Catastrophe) was a bizarre fluke, it won't happen again, and the Devils still finished ahead of them.
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