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s16 - Progress or Fool’s Gold? (®)


East Rutherford, NJ – Now that the season has ended and the dust has settled we take a look at the New Jersey Devils.  The team entered the season with a new look, gone were fan favorite and Captain, Scott Niedermayer. Beginning their Devils careers were goaltender Rick DiPietro, forward Mark Parrish and defenseman Anton Babchuk. 

During the season 1st round draft choice Zach Parise began in Utica but quickly found a home in New Jersey. Management continued the reshaping by acquiring veterans Jamie Langebrunner, Johan Franzen and Patrick Elias in order to get these assets, young star Brad Richards was sent to Calgary for a 1st and 2nd round pick along with prospects Alex Goligoski and Steve Bernier.  Both prospects will help replenish a barren prospect pool.  

It has been no secret that the Devils were after Elias for several seasons.  They finally landed him from the rival New York Islanders. 

A review of the season starts in the free agency period.  The Devils were active and revamped their blue line corp by signing defensemen Alain Nasreddine, Vlastamil Kroupa, Patrick Traverse, Karlis Strastins, Jeff Jillson and Dan Lambert. To bolster a weak offense, veteran Dmitri Kristich was signed.     

So how did these signings work out?

Nasreddine led the team in scoring with 71 points (24g-47a) in 76 games which included him finishing 2nd in goals and tied for 1st in assists along with a +4 rating. Nasreddine was paired with Kroupa to become the team’s 1st pairing and was voted the team’s MVP.  GRADE = A

Kroupa finished 2nd in scoring with 66 points (19g-47a) in 65 games finishing 4th in goals and tied for 1st in assists along with a -7 rating. GRADE = A

Traverse had a mixed season having injuries cut into his games played (65) and hampered is offensive production (8g-37a=45pts).  There were rumors about him fitting into the locker which also resulted in him watching a few games from the press box.  On a positive note, Traverse led the team in +/- with his +13.  He has 1 more year on his contract and should be motivated to play well in hopes of getting an extension or new contract in free agency.  GRADE = B-

Strastins barely had time to unpack his bags. After signing a $1.5m 2-year contract, he began the year in Utica putting up decent numbers in 14 games (6g-5a = 11pts).  He got caught up in a numbers games with the team having 8 or 9 VHL defensemen on the roster. Karlis got into 9 games putting up 1 goal and 3 assists with a +3 rating and found himself on waivers where he was claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. It should be noted that Karlis was subsequently waived by the Penguins and ultimately landed in Edmonton.  GRADE = F

Jillson was a curious signing in that he had 4 seasons in the VHL with 251 games in the minors along with a modest 9 game pro career.  The Devils still saw potential in Jeff’s skating and strong defensive skills signing him to a 4-year deal at $2.3m per season. He played in 71 games in his first pro level season tallying 30 points (5g-25a) along with a +3 rating.  He found himself playing on either the 2nd or 3rd pairing with a variety of partners. The team will look for improvement next season in both ends of the ice. GRADE = C-

Lambert like Strastins didn’t complete a full season with the Devils. The team liked his offensive potential and were looking for him to QB the 2nd power play unit and provide the 2nd line and pairing with some scoring.  Unfortunately, he remained in Utica for ½ a season (42 games) with 11 goals and 22 assists. He joined the pro team putting up a 1goal, 3 assists in 20 games.  Dan was waived and, like Strastins, ended up on the Edmonton farm team. GRADE = F

Kristich had a very productive season with the Devils leading the team in goals with 25 and finished 2nd in assists with 38 for 63 points.  Dmitri was only signed to the 1-year contract and thus is a free agent or ready for retirement. If he continues his career, the Devils will look to bring him back.  GRADE = A

At this time the GM approaches the podium.......

First of all thanks to everybody for attending today.  Let me start off by saying we are not happy with the way our season turned out. We were hoping to finally get back to the postseason but that didn’t happen. In fact, we have not made the playoffs in the last five seasons which is unacceptable.  We have taken steps to ensure that we rebuild and get back to where we need to be which is contending VHL and getting into the postseason.

Our 74 points this season have been the most since we last made the playoffs in the 2000 2001 season but obviously not enough.  The goal is to be competitive and challenge for that playoff spot.

In the past we’ve tried to retool rather than rebuild to be competitive. This is evident by the number of draft picks that were traded away for establish players, some have worked out some have not.

Our roster has been turned over many times in fact only two players on the current roster were on our playoff team. Brian Rolston, who’s been a very consistent player for us and Glen Murray who was actually traded away after the 2000 - 2001 season and was required at the beginning of last season.

We embarked on a real rebuild by trading away some of our older players and getting draft picks back. We are committed to build through the draft to improve this team and making us be competitive for the long term.  We will be a player in the free-agent market in hopes of filling some holes and letting us put a good team on the ice every night. We will not however make transactions at the expense of our future.

I think our forwards were ok and need time to play together.  We were consistently juggling lines looking for the right combinations.  This resulted in us not having dominant forward play and consistent offenand get more scoring punch. This is evident by the fact that I talksive play.  This was evident as defensemen Alain Nasreddine and Vlastamil Kroupa finished 1 -2 in team scoring.  To help us improve the forward group, we drafted David Krejci and TJ Oshie to provide some scoring from our forwards. Additionally, acquiring Steve Bernier in the trade this past season will also help.  All these players will develop in juniors and the AHL until ready, they will not be rushed to the VHL.

As for our current group of forwards, we believe we have the fire power to be competitive next season, they just need time to work together.  Guys like Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, Peter Sikora, Patrick Elias and youngster Zach Parise along with Rolston and Murray can put up big numbers next season.

The signing of Dimitri Christich provided to be very good as led all forwards in scoring and had one of his best years as a pro. We would love to re-sign him but we also know he’s considering retirement, so we’ll wait and see.

As we mentioned earlier, Nasraddine and Kroupa were very pleasant surprises and still have game left.  We are grooming David Schemko and alex Goligoski and they will join us in the future both are projected to be 2nd pairing defensemen.  Mike Komisarek is progressing well and took on more responsibility. We expect him to challenge for the top pairing spot next season. Jeff Jillson played very well for us and we see him as part of our future.    Rounding out our defense last year was veterans Patrick Traverse and our captain Bryce Salvador.  Patrick got caught in a numbers game so his time was intermittent with us appearing at only 65 games but we have sorted out our defensive core and look forward to Patrick returning next season.

As for goaltending we think we have our answers both in the short and long-term going with Chris Osgood and Rick DiPietro. Some of you might question why we resigned Ozzy to a long-term contract.  We believe Chris provides that veteran presence, helps Ricky and makes for a very good tandem.  We expect an open competition next year and we believe that competition will make both players better.

Like I mentioned earlier we’re not happy where we are, but we also think we’re moving in the right direction and look for more improvement and challenge for a playoff spot next season.

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