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Are The Devils The Sleeper Team In The Metropolitan Division?

For years the NHL preached about the need for parity within the league and I am certainly one to believe that the NHL has reached that goal. Some teams get better, some teams get worse and then come the following summer each team gets to do it all over again.

Let’s look at the Metropolitan Division, which as of July 2014 appears that it will look very different from the 2013/2014 season. The Penguins dominated the division last season by a 13 point gap over the New York Rangers. The Rangers, Flyers and Blue Jackets, all teams that made the playoffs finished the season within 3 points of each other. The Rangers would go on to win the Eastern Conference but to the delight of many New Jersey Devils fans, go on to lose the cup to the LA Kings.

So where does that leave this division heading towards the 2014/2015 season? Let’s start with the 3 teams that made the playoffs

I believe the Penguins have improved with the signing of Ehrhoff and a possible upgrade to their backup goaltending situation. I also believe the Blue Jackets will only build on the success they found last season and not become the 2014/2015 version of the New York Islanders.  The Rangers I feel got noticeably worse. Anton Stralman who was easily the Rangers second best D-man and left for more money. Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle also found new teams for next season. Those three guys were replaced by 38-year old Dan Boyle, Tanner Glass and Chris Mueller. On top of that, Brad Richards, who became the steal of free agency for Chicago was bought out within a week after the Rangers lost the cup. The Flyers don’t look so good either and didn’t make decent moves this summer. In fact, what happens to the Flyers if Steve Mason is unable to replicate his 2013-14 season?

As for the teams that didn’t make the playoffs, Carolina looks ok with the fact they are facing a terrible 2014-15 but when you take into consideration that they could be in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, then why wouldn’t you be ok with it? Washington made some moves on July 1st but $27.5 million for Brooks Orpik is the answer, the question can’t be are you building towards a championship. The Islanders should be better have potential to be the team with the biggest change in standings between seasons but don’t count out the Devils.

The Devils weren’t a playoff team last season but the only missed the playoffs by 5 points but let’s look at a few reasons why that shouldn’t be a problem this season.

Shootout

When you talk about the Devils missing out on the playoffs last season, one could easily blame the shootout and move on. In fact, New Jersey’s 2013-14 shootout performance is both insane and unrepeatable. The Devils went a remarkable 4-for-45, en route to becoming just the fourth team ever to fail to win a single shootout. The other three in that oh-so-fun category to be in lost as many shootouts combined (13) as the Devils did last year. NJ missed by 5 points and left 13 points on the table. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the easy fix. Cammalleri’s 11-41 career success rate should yield better results in the shootout for New Jersey.

Goal Scoring

It’s always something to talk about in NJ because it seems like it’s always an issue. The Devils had three 30-goal scorers in 2011-12  and none of them were with the team at the start of last season. Jagr was a great addition to the team last year and I would like to believe that he met every expectation that anyone watching the Devils had for him. Brunner was also brought in last summer but we knew at the time he came that he was a very streaky player, which he proved over and over again. There is a lot of pressure on Mike Cammalleri but all signs point to him scoring a decent number of goals next season. Last season alone he scored more goals than any member of the Devils despite suiting up for just 63 total games. We are certainly hoping that Marty Havlat has something left to show the world. We aren’t betting on it but if he does, it will certainly be a nice bonus. Of course we are hoping to get a healthy season out of Ryan Clowe because when he was in the lineup, only good things happened.

Goaltending

And here is where I will lose readers. Look, I get it, he’s Marty Brodeur and he did A LOT for this organization. Pat Lou on the back because he showed loyalty and respect to a legend Marty’s leaving of this organization was long overdue. I’ve always felt he should have retired after the loss to LA in 2012 but I also understand that saying you can’t play anymore is a hard thing to do. And admittedly, he did have some outstanding moments over the past 2 years.

His presence hurt NJ last year. Here’s a guy that really shouldn’t be playing but here’s Marty Brodeur and you’re going to be the coach that turns Marty Brodeur into Mike Dunham? But Marty’s need to play put the Devils in the bottom-10 of save percentage. But things are better now thanks to Cory Schneider’s new 7 year deal which officially makes him “the man” in New Jersey while Brodeur continues to look for work. By  giving Schneider 60-65 starts will be next season and basing his season on the past, the Devils will be in a much better position to give themselves a chance to win.

Should the Devils be considered a cup contender out of the gate, no but they are a team that could easily push for the playoffs and if we learned anything from the run in 2012 or even the Rangers run this past season, all it takes is a little hot streak come April to June and the Devils have the pieces to do just that.

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