New Jersey Post-Mortem: Where Do You Go From Here, Devs?
Thursday, February 23, 2017
By Stan Fischler
Why did the Devils lose? Where do they go from here? Does Zach Parise stay or leave? What about Martin Brodeur's future?
These are the most prevalent questions whirring around The Rock as Peter DeBoer's club empties lockers and bids au revoir or adieu -- depending on who returns next September. Here's what The Maven thinks:
FIVE REASONS WHY THEY LOST TO THE KINGS:
1. Brodeur summed up the difference between his club and LA with one word: "Size." The Kings were bigger, more imposing, younger and more able to win the Battle of Attrition both legally and illegally. (And don't for a minute underestimate the number of cheap shots delivered by Darryl Sutter's loyalists.)
2. The opening pair of overtime losses put New Jersey behind the eight-ball. Had Ilya Kovalchuk's overtime shot gone in rather than harmlessly off the crossbar in Game Two it would have been a more positive saga.
3. Officiating killed Parise, Inc. in Game Six. Objective critics such as Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun and CBC commentator Craig Simpson are among many ripping the refs on the Jarret Stoll non-penalty for hitting Stephen Gionta from behind. That, of course, led to the Steve Bernier major which never would have been called since Stoll would have been whistled off to the sin bin.
4. Snoozing zebras notwithstanding, major penalties can be killed by an efficient PK. It was the worst time for New Jersey's time-killers to fail but they did; egregiously. What's more Brodeur missed at least two of the three stoppable PP shots. What could have been a heroic, game-turning kill turned into the Devils death knell. Also, the refs ousting three Devils forwards from a decisive Cup game was the worst sort of decision-making.
5. The best players must be the best; and they certainly were not; especially the key scorers. Parise tried hard throughout but only managed the one goal in Game Five. Travis Zajac proved to be a virtual non-factor compared to early playoff efforts. Ditto for Ilya Kovalchuk. Their overall lack of production was most evident on the totally disorganized power play which was an abject failure in Game Six when there still was time for a comeback.
FIVE 'WHERE DO THEY GO FROM HERE' ISSUES:
1. Marek Zidlicky notwithstanding, the Devs should be seeking a close-to-elite rushing defenseman. Until that happens, Peter Harrold should become a regular while Adam Larsson will assume a major role along with vets such as Andy Greene, Mark Fayne and Henrik Tallinder. Underrated Matt Taormina could be the surprise next season as an offensive D-man. Don't forget that Anton Volchenkov was by far the hardest-working, hardest-hitting Dman in the losing cause in Game Six at LA.
2. With Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter, DeBoer has one of the best fourth units since the 1995 Crash Line. If possible, all three free agents should be re-signed and maintained as the super-forecheckers who led the team over the Rangers.
3. Brodeur has gone beyond hinting that he wants to return for at least one more year as a Devil. Lou Lamoriello will confer with Mister Goalie and they'll work out a plan that best fits the 40-year-old. Clearly, his late-season run secured a return in 2012-2013 but with which backup? The best case would be splitting time again with Johan Hedberg but Moose may have other ideas. Jeff Frazee is a maybe.
4. Bryce Salvador becomes an Unconditional Free Agent this Summer and that poses issues on both sides. The big guy was easily New Jersey's best backliner over the regular season and playoffs. He's one performer who competes in every single game. He appears to like New Jersey and the organization. Hopefully he'll return but you never know with Free Agents.
5. Ilya Kovalchuk's overall numbers were impressive in both the regular season and playoffs yet he has yet to smoothly meld into the Devils ebb and flow. This is mostly the fallout of so many years being the Lone Star in Atlanta. Strange as it may seem but Kovy remains DeBoer's most challenging work in progress and plenty more of that work will flow into training camp.
THE PARISE EFFECT -- PICK YOUR CHOICE, ONE OF FIVE:
1. He's happy being Devils captain and wants to continue skating with buddies such as Zajac, et. al. Therefore he'll sign for as much of a bundle as ownership can afford.
2. Leading his mates to upsets over Florida, Philadelphia and Rangers plus a stirring pair of comeback victories over LA leads him to believe his reach should exceed his grasp. That will inspire a return to The Rock.
3. Some big-time athletes still feel a sense of loyalty -- Exhibit A, Martin Brodeur's only-Devils career -- and Zach will want to repay the man who drafted him and made him captain. He's comfortable in Newark and will want to remain comfy.
4. As the most coveted Free Agent, Parise is being pursued by a flock of teams including home-state Minnesota and perennial playoff team, Detroit. Big bucks are hard to ignore as ex-Devils Scott Gomez and Bobby Holik proved in the past. (Yeah, they got the moolah but their games never were as good after leaving New Jersey.)
5. Zach's big-time agent and his father, ex-NHLer J.P. Parise, will be the prime influences on the player along with the captain's own gut feeling. The trio will decide as a unit but agents being agents, the rep may lean toward the biggest bucks. If that happens, the operating word will be adieu.
At this point in time The Maven believes it's even-money that he'll stay. But that means it's also 50-50 that he'll leave.
What can I tell you; that's the reality and that's why this suddenly-arrived post-season is yet another Melodrama on Mulberry Street!
Stay tuned; the guessing fun has just begun!