There's no question that the New Jersey Devils failed to build on their surprising 2012 Stanley Cup finals berth in 2013. But, for the first time in recent memory, few were surprised that they fell so hard so fast. After all, their best skater, Zach Parise, departed to free agency and wasn't replaced. Plus, Martin Brodeur's play, although he has proved to be superhuman and has had a glorious Hall of Fame career, was assumed to be a blaze of glory rather than a sign of revitalization. Last season, his aging body finally showed signs of wear and tear from all those years of extra games and sidelined him for a significant portion of the year, reminding everyone that he's been around since the days of the Christmas tree jersey.
After seeing the writing on the wall and, admittedly, acting a year later than he would have liked, GM Lou Lamoriello traded for budding superstar netminder Cory Schneider in a shocking draft-day deal. Which is all well and good on the surface, but it raises a whole host of questions.
OK, just who is the Devils' No. 1 goalie?
Gracefully easing a legendary goaltender into the background is going to be a challenge for Lamoriello. Actually, that's going to be coach Peter DeBoer's problem. Nonetheless, it won't be easy, especially considering Brodeur's stature with the team, the respect the fans have for him and the fact that he might have something left in the tank, even at 41. Hence, Lamoriello's cagey talk about Brodeur still being a No. 1 -- though not necessarily the No. 1 -- and Schneider's respectful comments, etc. But it will play out with Brodeur and Schneider being effectively co-No. 1s in 2013-14, a situation with which Schneider has great familiarity and apparently great tolerance. Unlike the situation in Vancouver, however, Schneider knows with certainty that he is going to be the man in short order; Brodeur is signed through 2013-14, and that's likely his last deal with the Devils. What makes this even more of a genius move by Lamoriello is that Schneider is signed through 2014-15, so if Brodeur does indeed retire after this coming season, Schneider will be in a contract year as the pure No. 1. And we all know how players play during a contract year.
But how good will the Devils be this year in front of these guys?
The Devils look to be mediocre to decent, depending on how some traditionally inconsistent players step up. Specifically, the team's top forwards, both returning and newly signed -- Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Ryane Clowe, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus -- have a big burden to bear. In Clowe, Jagr and Ryder, the Devils will be holding their collective breath to see how much these guys have left.
As for the blue line, well, Anton Volchenkov, 31, and Marek Zidlicky, 36, are the Devils' top-paid defensemen right now, and that should tell you all you need to know. (That's not a good thing, people.) The good news is that the Devils have almost $8 million in cap space, so Lamoriello most assuredly has something up his sleeve to address this shortfall. After all, the goaltenders will only be as good as the defense in front of them.