Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pool Outlook for New Jersey

This isn't your old Devils team that you came to dislike in the late 90's. Remember when that team only had one good player on it for pool points? Martin Brodeur, for those keeping score. Well, this year, the Devils turned out to be an exciting team to watch with a few more names... five names in the top 100 in pool scoring and none of them were Brodeur. It's certainly seems strange, even to write that, but I assure you it's true.

Zach Parise also made heads turn all over the league this past season, as he finished with 45 goals and 49 assists for the Devils this season, which actually ranked him 7th overall in pool points, 5th among forwards. That was a huge leap from his very respectable season in 2008, where he finished 64th in pool scoring. He is certainly developing into one of the better picks for your fantasy team, especially when the marquee players are already picked. It will be a point of interest to see how he fares next season and if he is worthy of a top ten pick in your fantasy draft.

Now, beyond Parise, the Devils boasted four other forwards that hit the top 100 in pool scoring. Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, Tomas Zajac and Brian Gionta all came from below the top 100 mark to end up in some good company this year. With that kind of scoring, it is actually surprising that the team didn't finish higher than fourth in the Eastern Conference, as all four of these forwards finished with 60 or more points, Elias finishing with 77. One of the key components to their season would be their health, as Elias missed the most games of the bunch, being absent for only 5. This has been one of the biggest knocks about some of the Devils' good forwards, it's that they were never healthy. With a healthy season under their belts, they certainly did enough damage and likely earned a lot of respect.

On defense, this is where you may be hard-pressed to find some decent talent for your pool team, as the starting six or seven are not normally known for their offensive prowess. Paul Martin ended up as the top defenseman on the team with 33 points in 73 GP, which did rank him 45th among defenders in the league. That isn't half bad, but it certainly isn't elite. Johnny Oduya was the second best on the team with 29 points in 82 GP, which ranked him 57th among d-men. These two might not top your list when it comes to your fantasy team, but when picked correctly, they can beneficial to your team as depth players chosen in the right spot.

In goal, try not to be too surprised when I say it's Scott Clemmensen, hence the picture, and not Martin Brodeur. Clemmensen took over the number one spot when Brodeur went down with his torn bicep and did very well. Clemmensen finished the year with 25 wins and 2 shutouts for 54 pool points, just ahead of Brodeur, who finished with 19 wins and 9 shutouts for 48 points. Don't expect to see Clemmensen or Brodeur to have similar numbers next season, as things should be back to the status quo and you'll see Brodeur back to his Hall-of-Fame type career year.

2010 Season Outlook
The Devils should have felt that they had a pretty good team in 2009, but running into a good Hurricanes team in the playoffs showed you that they weren't tight defensively. If the team can be as good defensively with the scoring and goalie they already have, they should be in line for top spot in the East again and likely a Cup favourite. The Devils, as you can see below, still have some of their scoring from last season, plus some gaps for improvement on both sides of the puck.

Zach ParisePaul MartinMartin Brodeur
Patrik EliasColin White
Jamie LangenbrunnerBryce Salvador
Dainius Zubrus
David Clarkson
Brian Rolston
Jay Pandolfo

Salary cap wise, the Devils are in pretty good shape. The eleven players you see above only come at a cap hit of $38.6 million (approx.), which is pretty good, especially when you consider the team has a top 3 goalie, a top 10 forward and two more top 100 forwards already signed on. There is some savvy business going on in the Swamp.

The Devils don't have a lot of RFA's to deal with or even key ones for that matter. The most important RFA to sign this summer is another one of their top 100 forwards in Tomas Zajac. He should be in line for a nice pay day this Summer, possibly in the $3 million range. Andy Greene is the only other RFA on the Devils that had played more than half the season with the big club and he'll likely see a reasonable pay day for a depth defender.

New Jersey, like a few teams already highlighted in these Pool Outlooks, has a pretty big number of UFAs potentially going to market come July 1st. Brian Gionta, Scott Clemmensen, Johnny Oduya, John Madden, Niclas Havelid, Mike Mottau, Brendan Shanahan, Kevin Weekes, Bobby Holik and Mike Rupp all hit the list and there will be some picking and choosing by Devils' management for upgrades and/or consistency. Looking at that list, it's really hard to say who will want to sign before July 1st and who will want to hit the free agent market.

The Devils are not very deep in their own system, ranking very low between Hockey's Future and the Hockey News. I suppose if there is anyone to possibly scratch and claw his way onto the team in 2010, it would be Nicklas Bergfors, an all-around decent Swedish winger, as he's been working in the minors for the Devils for quite some time already. Mattias Tedenby is another Swedish prospect, taken in the first round last summer, thta will likely have to pay his dues over the next couple years before he's ready for the big leagues.

Overall, the improvements offensively is the biggest point about the new Devils team that we saw in 2009. I am a huge fan of Zach Parise, who helped me win the Draft this year, as a sixth round pick. Don't count out management re-signing the remainder of their offensive free agents, because there was a lot of chemistry shared between them all. Try and tap the well, even if they try and improve their scoring with some new faces or if the UFAs want to test the market. Oh yeah... that guy in net is pretty good too. Despite his injury, he should still be considered one of the more durable goalies in the league.

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