Coming into this 48-game short season, parity was supposed to be even more of a factor than ever before. This was confirmed when teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders both made the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and 2006, respectively. During the past decade or so, there have been primarily two teams that have made the post season on a consistent basis. This year, only one made it, and for the 22nd consecutive year: the Detroit Red Wings.
Who is the other staple you might ask? Well, unless you are from New Jersey, you probably wouldn’t think it so, but yes, it is the New Jersey Devils. Since 1990, the Devils have been to the playoffs 20 times in 23 lockout-free seasons. Along the way, they have accumulated 9 Atlantic Division titles, 5 Eastern Conference championships, and 3 Stanley Cups. Along with the Red Wings, they have been among the most successful franchises of any sport in the past 20 years. This year however went a little differently due to some unfortunate events and a midseason collapse that just dragged on and on. In the end, the Devils finished in last place in the Atlantic Division for the first time ever with a record of 19-19-10.
Devils fans and the Devils organization may look back on this short season as a “pass”. When I look at it, I see much more. I see cause for concern. When the season first started, the Devils came out flying and were atop the Eastern Conference. The high point during the initial weeks of the half-season was an impressive home-and-home sweep of the eventual Eastern Conference regular season winner Pittsburgh Penguins. At that point all was well for New Jersey and many of the questions coming into the season for the team seemed be a nonissue. Not long after this however was where the wheels came off and the successful season that was to be came apart.
With that said, here are the 3 key things that led to the demise of the New Jersey Devils in 2013:
1. No Replacement for Zach Parise
Besides the massive deal they made with Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils organization isn’t one that usually makes a splash in free agency or the trade market. When they lost Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild last summer, they lost a lot of contribution in almost every facet of the game. Parise logged a ton of crucial minutes on the ice, was a consistent 20+ goal scorer, a great penalty killer, and most of all, a fantastic leader. Although his playoff numbers weren’t spectacular last season, there is no denying what he brought to the Devils organization. When he left, it was expected that the Devils were going to do something, anything, to at least attempt to fill the hole Parise left. This hole however was never adequately filled and it severely cost the Devils. They lost a consistent point-getter and an all-around player that could change the outcome of games based just off of his tenacity. His motor was always running and even when he wasn’t getting on the board, he was doing something else that reflected positively on the team. When they lost Parise, they lost a lot more than just 60-70 points a year, and not replacing him was an extremely detrimental and ill-advised decision on behalf of the management.
2. Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
In my season preview, there were a few things I noted that needed to happen, or not happen, for the Devils to be successful. Unfortunately, the most important of those things happened and doomed the Devils: injuries. The first injury occurred in February, a back injury suffered by the heart and soul of the Devils, Martin Brodeur. Shortly after the initial diagnosis, Brodeur was placed on the IR and sat out a month, where the Devils downfall commenced. They went 3-9-1 in that time and just as he returned to the ice, the unthinkable happened as Ilya Kovalchuk sustained a shoulder injury and sat out a full month as well. In the time Kovalchuk was sidelined, the Devils lost their first 10 games in a row without him. This is not a coincidence that when these two players went down, the Devils went down with them. I have full confidence that with these 2 players healthy, the Devils are a lock for the playoffs and would have fought for the top overall seed in the East. From the look of this team in the early stages, they looked hungry and ready to get back to where they were. Everyone was contributing, but when Brodeur and Kovalchuk were out of the picture, the Devils sunk. Fast.
3. Lack of Depth and Support
The above two points tie into this third and final point as to why the Devils came up short this season. To reiterate, when the Devils lost Zach Parise, they lost a lot more than just a consistent point-getter. When Brodeur and Kovalchuk were out of the picture for a few months, seemingly so did the Devils. But why was this? The Devils don’t have the star power of the New York Rangers or the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it’s not like they don’t have players that aren’t capable of producing at the NHL level and shouldering a sizeable secondary load. For the Devils, two of these kinds of players that come to mind are David Clarkson and Travis Zajac. David Clarkson, who scored 30+ goals last year, started this season off with 13 points in 10 games. After that, he cooled off big time and didn’t score over the next 13. It seemed as if Clarkson was going to build on his breakout 2011-2012 campaign but in the end, he just disappeared for too many games at a time and was a non-factor way too often. Another disappointment this season was Travis Zajac. Zajac, who was coming into this season with a fresh 8-year, $48 million contract, had high expectations. With Parise gone, many expected Zajac to be the guy to step up and develop the way Parise did. The first two games of the season got everyone thinking just that as he scored 2 goals and the Devils got just as many wins. However, as the season progressed and the injuries piled up, this thought turned out to be very premature. Like Clarkson, Zajac was a non-factor on the scoreboard way too often and finished the season with a disappointing 20 total points (7G, 13A). Aside from these two players, there was not much else to look at from an offensive standpoint. Defensemen Andy Greene, who I noted was a player to look out for in my season preview, had a great all-around year and finished with 16 total points (4G 12 A). Marek Zidlicky also provided a nice offensive punch from the blue-line (4G 15A), but both of these players are defensemen, which shows just how shallow the Devils offense was this season as they both finished with more points than all but 4 forwards.
In the end, when push came to shove, the Devils lack of depth proved costly. The two injuries obviously were the biggest detriment to the season, but other teams had to deal with injuries too, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins were without Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and James Neal for long periods of time, but when it came down to it, they had the secondary scoring punch and depth to combat those injuries. For the Devils to be successful in the immediate future, as in next season, the way of the Devils of old has to be put aside. The Devils have been a staple of the post season for a long time, so if they want to get back in and contend, things have to change, and fast. From the looks of it, a lot of change seems to be headed their way already in the next 2 years with the looming retirements of Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur. With those two players gone, the future of the Devils will undoubtedly be in question and a new era of Devils hockey will be upon us.
About the Author
Written by Mike Mastrandrea
Mike Mastrandrea is currently a Junior at Indiana University studying Sports Communication and Marketing. He was raised in New Jersey and is a dedicated New Jersey Devils, New York Jets, New York Mets, and Indiana Hoosiers fan. Mike's other interests include movies, hanging out with friends, and Chel.