May we present you…2MA’S 2007-08 SUPER FANTASTIC AWESOMELY AMAZING SEASON PREVIEW!!!@!
I asked the 2MA crew to answer a couple questions regarding the upcoming season…here’s what me and the boys had to say:
PATRICIA: Okay kids, let’s just skip the nonsense and get to the meat and bones here…mmm…meat and bones…
Anyway, what do you think was the best off-season move, of, well, this past off-season?
DARREN: Brent Sutter was the best move the Devils made in the offseason. Sutter is a coach that demands his team to be aggressive on the forecheck. Claude Julien’s style seemed to be too passive where the Devils did not forecheck very often and waited for opportunities to happen rather than create them. Last year’s team seemed to rely on the top two lines scoring the goals, the checking line shutting down their opponent’s top line, and the fourth line coming in whenever a change in tempo was needed. The difference that will be noticed this year is that Sutter will expect every line to forecheck, play physically, position themselves well defensively, and score goals going hard to the net. Some lines will be better than the others, but Sutter hockey effectively rolls four lines the entire game.
JOE: The best off-season move? Not retaining Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski.
Gomez of course signed a contract with Bank of America and Brian Rafalski bolted to Detroit faster than Dan Blackburnâ€™s NHL Career. So, whereâ€™s the good in all of that?
Aside from the $9M in cap room the Devils saved, letting Rafalski and Gomez walk is a blessing in disguise. For one, the team has finally gotten that much-needed mani/pedi makeover combo that it oh-so-desperately needed.
Letâ€™s face it â€“ the Devils offense has been struggling over the last few seasons, and the team has failed to make any real noise in the playoffs since 2003 when, of course, they raised their third Stanley Cup. Since then, the offense has depended heavily on Moneybags McCoinpurse to rush the puck end-to-end and more often than not, cough it right up. Or shoot wide. Or wipe out. Or go off-side. My point being, without Gomez, the Devils offense will have a chance to recreate themselves. Not to mention that Dainius Zubrus will give the Devils some much needed size up front in the form of someone not named Mike Rupp.
Rafalski, on the other hand, isnâ€™t as big of a loss as most seem to think. Brian has become somewhat of a liability over his last few seasons. Point shots that were meant to hit the net would ricochet off shin pads and end up back in our own zone, where Raf wasnâ€™t really anything special either. Heâ€™s been making a ritual out of getting manhandled in the corners, yet refuses to throw a hit or play a physical game. On top of all that, his turnovers were taking years off fans’ lives far and wide. The Devils can do without him.
JOSH: Iâ€™d love to say hiring Brent Sutter as coach or inking the huge Dainius Zubrus to add heft to our tiny team, but those were only the second and third best off-season moves the Devils pulled. In an off-season that saw Brian Rafalski and Scott Gomez both flee for large sums of money, I think itâ€™s safe to say that the Devils best move was to not tie up mucho dinerno in the underachieving Gomez and aging Rafalski. Not signing either to a ridiculous long-term deal allows the team to save money, which can work twofold: One, if the cap goes up next year, more money to spend on a better free agent crop in the future. And two, if the cap drops, the Devils still have breathing room while many other teams struggle to get below.
TONY: Hee-hee. This one makes me laugh, both in disgust and amusement. It was the missing contract of Scott “sell-out” Gomez. Despite the â€œforget-what-I-said-beforeâ€ performance Scotty put on in the post-season, likely fueled by green if you know what I mean, he simply let us down. You know, lack of hustle, selfish plays, et cetera. Two Stanley cups only get you so far. After that, greed takes over. Tsk tsk. Dare to bite the hand that feeds you, eh Scott? Well, good riddance whale boy. Props if you caught that joke.
PATRICIA: Signing size!
After being absolutely manhandled by a significantly larger Ottawa Senators last post-season, Louie Lams set out to make black and red a physical force to be reckoned with. He added size with the signing of 6â€™4â€ Dainius Zubrus, brought physical dominance to the blue line with bruiser Vitaly Vishnevski, and gave a bit more grit to the checking line with the feisty Arron Asham.
Oh, and thereâ€™s some guy named Cam Janssen still hanging around the team, too. Even with one arm, heâ€™s still a beast!
And PS: Sheldon Brookbank ain’t too shabby on the physical front, either. Yays!
Good stuff boys. With all these lovely moves coupled with the players we already have, who is the Devil to watch?
DARREN: Brian Gionta missed only 20 games last season, mostly due to a groin injury, but his production on the ice was much less than it really should have been. I think this season, Gionta corrects all the wrongs and becomes the silent leader of this team.
JOE: Travis Zajac.
Zajac is primed to have a monster year in his sophomore campaign. After a rookie season that saw him tally more goals in his rookie season than linemate Zach Parise in his, Zajac will be even better in 2007-2008. From what Iâ€™ve seen, heâ€™s been the best player on the ice for New Jersey in the pre-season — his positioning has always been great and looks to get even better.
Would you be surprised if Zajac nets 25 goals this year? Good, me either.
JOSH: I really believe Vitaly Vishnevski will prove to be one of the best signings the Devils made this off-season. His style is perfect for this team, and his size and grit are exactly what our undersized team needed last year. Oh, he can hit a ton too. And when you play Sean Avery eight times a year, that’s a good thing.
TONY: Colin White.
Hereâ€™s how I think of it: everyone and their mothers believed that Rafalski was the go-to defender for black and red last year. With Brian out of the picture, someone must step up. Who better than a true Devil whoâ€™s been with the organization for quite some time? Regardless of taking more penalties than the average SAT score, Colin plays to the fullest, something not many players can say.
PATRICIA: Originally, I had pegged Colin White as the Devil to watch, but Iâ€™m rethinkinâ€™ that one after poor Anger Management took a puck to the face, giving him quite the nasty boo-boo.
While Anger and I have clearly had our differences in the past, he is an integral part of this team and Iâ€™d really hate to see him lost for a significant period of time. Fact of the matter is, without White, the blue line is scaryâ€¦and not the good kind of scary.
With that said, Karel Rachunek is really going to need to step up this season, especially in the early goings with White on the sidelines.
Rachunek has actually pleasantly surprised me in camp. Granted, my expectations were rather low for the lad, but he has made me happy so far. Now, at the end of the day, Iâ€™m really not thinking that Rachunek will be some amazing acquisition for New Jersey, but if he can play into and understand the system, he will be fine. When it comes to Karel, what he puts in is what we will get out of him. Fair enough, yes?
So, which lucky SOB will be the Devil to break out?
DARREN: With Rafalski returning to his home state of Michigan, Lou has basically turned to Paul Martin and Colin White to lead this team defensively. Paul Martin has shown signs of both brilliance and stupidity at times. This is his year to shine and I think he rises to the call.
JOE: Andy Greene impressed the brass last season by his uncanny ability to stay calm with the puck in the most nerve-wracking situations. His demonstration of the games fundamentals is something that will surely impress Coach Sutter. For a little guy, Greene sure can play a scrappy game and has already proven heâ€™s more than capable of holding his own. Look for him to be a mainstay on Special Teams â€“ both the power play and penalty kill.
JOSH: Andy Greene. Yes, he has less than a year with the big boys under his belt. Yes, heâ€™s not particularly creative. Yes, he makes some bad mistakes sometimes. But short of Paul Martin, heâ€™s the most solid all-around defensemen the Devils have. I expect to see him make some great strides in the coming year. It may not show up on the stat sheet, but he will be a solid Devil for the forthcoming years, and I think this year he really comes into his own. Not to mention he likes Kool-Aid, signing a $600,000-a-year contract last June. Players who play well and come cheaply are always worth rooting for.
TONY: Dainius Zubrus. This kid can shoot. With a wrist shot harder than Scott Stevens hits, Zubrus can provide a much needed scoring boost when it comes to A) Odd-man rushes, 2) Power Plays, and C) Shoot-outs. I expect a high scoring season for Mr. Zee.
PATRICIA: Zach Parise.
Odd answer? Not really. I know, I know, Zach already did some breaking out last season (cue pimple joke?), but this season is Mr. Pariseâ€™s time to shine. I really think Zach is being groomed to be an eventual capâ€™n of this team, after Jamie Langenbrunner, of course. Look for our golden boy to really emerge as a leader of these here Devils.
And to close out Part 1, it’s only fair to ask which Devil will, most sadly, crap out.
DARREN: I am going to list Patrik Elias as the answer to this question, not because I think he will have a miserable season, but heâ€™s the one Devil I feel that has the most pressure on him. 21 goals arenâ€™t enough from a guy who is paid to be the most dangerous offensive player on the team, especially with Gomez there to feed the puck to you. Sutter has already come in a tried to light a fire under Elias, stripping him of the captaincy at the beginning of training camp. Elias needs to take control of the top line as well as the power play and become the kind of player that deserves the salary he is paid. If Patty walks away with less than 40 goals and 50 assists, Iâ€™m afraid the masses will look at this season as a failure on his part, and yes, those are some big numbers right there.
ny Oduya. The player most victimized by the leagues new â€˜puck-over-the-glassâ€™ rule, Oduya is going to have to really work his ass off if he wants to keep his job.
Although he would contribute nicely to the new giantess-like blue line the Devils have put together, with the emergence of Andy Greene I donâ€™t see Johnny-O earning a starting spot on the Devils backend. Once the boys get healthy, I expect Oduya to be used as the Devils 7th defenseman for the upcoming season.
In all reality, Iâ€™m viewing John Oduya much the same way I looked at Josef Boumedienne (Boume-what?) when he was with the Devils: a young kid with some raw talent that just never seemed to get it all together in the right places. Iâ€™d love for you to prove me wrong, John, but forgive me if Iâ€™m not surprised when you donâ€™t.
JOSH: I donâ€™t like it, and I hope Iâ€™m wrong, but something about John Madden lately kind of worries me. He didnâ€™t do much to warrant this worry last year; he shut down the guys he was supposed to shut down (at least until the playoffs). I worry that he may not have quite enough quickness left in him to hang with the Crosbys, Brieres, and Heatleys of the world. This is more a feel-based prediction than a numbers-based one; however, if Mad Dog DOES crap out this year, the boys will have a big problem on the checking line.
TONY: Patrik Elias.
It is my thought that Zubrus will break-out more than a 16 year oldâ€™s face. Zubbie will likely be connecting with good olâ€™ Gionta more than anyone else. This means, le sigh, points down the drain for Elias. Donâ€™t get me wrong, this is as far from Eliasâ€™ fault as possible. Things happen, and this time, Patâ€™s on the wrong end.
PATRICIA: John Madden.
It aches my beating heart to write his name, but let us face the truth: Mad Dog ainâ€™t getting any younger. Already 34 years old, Madden has shown signs of wear and tear, while his teammate Jay Pandolfo appears to be coming into his own as a shutdown checking line forward. Fact of the matter is, neither player really shows a touch of offensive talent, but the two-years-younger Pandolfo enjoyed a Selke nomination last season, putting together one of the best yearâ€™s of his career while Madden seemed to have stretches of struggle and frustration. Look for the pattern to continue.
…of course, this was written before Coach Sutter shook up the lines like whoa (yeah, I said it), so who really knows.
CHECK BACK LATER TONIGHT FOR PART TWO, WHERE WE ASSESS STUFF, PREDICT STUFF, AND UH, MAKE FUN OF STUFF. IT’LL BE GRAND!