Evolving Devils out to do it again

Wonder what shadowy assailants crusty Devils coach Pat Burns will conjure up now that he's beaten down unnamed critics in winning his first Stanley Cup?

Rest assured, the former Quebec cop will have no trouble finding ways to motivate his Devils as they begin their third Cup defense since 1995.

To make his point that the celebration is indeed over, Burns had his entire squad doing pushups doing training camp when drills weren't completed to his satisfaction.

That's no surprise given Burns' personality and the Devils' history.
No team in the NHL pays greater attention to detail than the Devils.
They don't spend on the big-name free agents, but they find quality players to slot into their system better than anyone else.

While general manager Lou Lamoriello was criticized for his inactivity at last year's trade deadline, role player Grant Marshall, who came over from Columbus, chipped in six playoff goals.

Jeff Friesen, whom Lamoriello had acquired the previous summer for talented Petr Sykora and who struggled under Burns during the regular season, was the team's most important player in the final against Anaheim with five goals and a plus-6 rating in the final. He had 10 goals in the playoffs overall.

Once again Lamoriello and Burns will tinker with the lineup, especially on the blue line.

The challenge will be to coax more scoring out of the forwards.

Of course, that was the challenge a year ago, and it didn't seem to impair the Devils' march to a championship.

It seems like a long time ago the Devils were blowing the doors off the misguided notion they were a boring, trapping team. But as recently as the 2000-01 season New Jersey scored a league-best 295 goals.

Last year they scored only 216 goals and finished dead last in the NHL on the power play.

Patrik Elias, perhaps pining for old linemates Jason Arnott and Sykora, led the team with 57 points, well off his 96-point season two years ago. It was the fourth straight year Elias has led the Devils in scoring, but he has failed to become the dominant player many predicted.

Perhaps a second year under Burns will see a higher comfort level from both coach and players, resulting in better production from leaders like Elias, Friesen and Scott Gomez, the former rookie of the year who frequently found himself at odds with Burns.

Game 7 hero Mike Rupp, who scored the winning goal and assisted on two others in the Devils' clinching 3-0 victory, will have to fight for a forward spot with the additions of Erik Rasmussen, who didn't meet expectations in Los Angeles, and Larionov.

The oldest player in the league, Larionov will turn 43 in December and will essentially take Joe Nieuwendyk's place on the roster.

Larionov will give the Devils' woeful power-play some character but isn't likely to play more than 11 or 12 minutes a night.

Pascal Rheaume remains unsigned, and character guy Jim McKenzie is in Nashville.

It's along the blue line the Devils will mark the biggest change since defeating the pesky Mighty Ducks in seven games with the retirement of beloved Ken Daneyko and the departure of Oleg Tverdovsky and Richard Smehlik.

Youngsters David Hale, Paul Martin and Matt DeMarchi were the training camp favorites to crack the lineup, although veteran Tommy Albelin was also vying for a roster spot.

Regardless, the Devils will still be deep and disciplined with Scott Stevens returning for a 22nd campaign. The Devils captain for the past dozen years is sixth all-time in games played with 1,597 and will pass Ray Bourque and Larry Murphy early in the season for the most games played by a defenseman.

Scott Niedermayer, a candidate for playoff MVP with 18 points, Brian Rafalski and Colin White round out the Devils' defensive cornerstones.
The Devils tied with Philadelphia for the fewest goals allowed last season, and as bad as their power play was, their penalty killing was exceptional as they led the league.

Not only do they have a superior penalty-kill system, the Devils simply don't take many penalties, ranking third behind Dallas and Montreal for the fewest penalties per game.

Although Martin Brodeur's numbers were impeccable in winning his first Vezina Trophy last year, one might have considered this a lifetime achievement victory as well.

Brodeur is the only NHL netminder to have four seasons of 40 wins or more and is tied with Patrick Roy with eight 30-win seasons.

With Roy's retirement, Brodeur ascends to the head of the NHL's goaltending class. And if anyone is going to approach Roy's all-time records for success, it will be Brodeur.

Technically sound, Brodeur thrives on a heavy workload, and his easygoing personality meshes well with his teammates. No goaltender in the league handles the puck as well.

Corey Schwab is an adequate backup, although it really doesn't matter who fills that role given that Brodeur has played in at least 70 games for six straight years. Only Glenn Hall had a longer streak at seven seasons.

Scott Burnside, a freelance writer based in Atlanta, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.