3. october 2009 / FRESH FACES, FAMILIAR FACES AND RETURNING FACES MAKE UP 2009-2010 DEVILS
Earlier this week, New Jersey Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello set the tone for the 2009-2010 Season by removing seasoned veteran Brendan Shanahan from the Devil’s roster to make way for some up and coming forwards itching to make their mark. While the news came as a surprise to many fans, Lamoriello trusting his youthful prospects to spark an already talented core of players is nothing new. Star players throughout the years such as Patrik Elias, Scott Niedemeyer, Zach Parise, Martin Brodeur and Brendan Shanahan himself have risen to great heights out of the Devil’s system. In the wake of some key losses from last year, the youth will need to rise again for the Devils to remain competitive.
It began with the resignation of head coach Brent Sutter who broke free a year before his contract was up to take a job with the Calgary Flames. Fleeing the nest via free agency were second line forward Brian Gionta (Canadiens), goaltender Scott Clemmensen (Panthers) and key checking center John Madden (Blackhawks). The career Devils departures left big gaps in the lineup. In addition, enforcer Mike Rupp left for the Penguins, goaltender Kevin Weekes took a job on television and veteran Bobby Holik retired.
Lamoriello’s first move was to ensure that his defense, which sat in the top 5 in the NHL last season, remained solid. Johnny Oduya signed a three-year $10.5 million contract and Andy Greene singed a two-year deal worth roughly $1.5 million to return to the squad. Both Oduya and Greene will be expected to provide more of an offensive touch. Colin White, Bryce Salvador, Mike Mottau and Paul Martin will be mainstays on D.
To fill Sutter’s shoes, Lamoriello tapped the man who brought the team its first Stanley Cup in 1995: Jacques Lemaire. Lemaire has adamantly stated that he is promoting an up-tempo style of play with defensive accountability. The top line of Langenbrunner, Zajac and Parise were instrumental in keeping the Devils afloat last season after Martin Brodeur missed 4 months with a torn bicep. If the pre-season is any indicator, the trio will skate together again this season. Brian Rolston is hoping to improve on a season where he struggled to find a comfortable spot in Sutter’s system after suffering an ankle injury early on. Patrik Elias, who was recently named an Assistant Captan under Lemaire, is healing from the groin surgeries he underwent this summer. The star winger is hoping to follow up a whirlwind 2008-2009 campaign where he registered 78 points and captured the all-time franchise points record. Dainius Zubrus, David Clarkson, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, and Jay Pandolfo are the other returning forwards.
22-year old Niclas Bergfors and 21-year old Matt Halischuk will have their chance to make an impression on the score sheet. Bergfors was the team’s leading point getter in the pre-season and could be seen on the second line in Elias’s absence. Goaltender Yann Danis looked solid in pre-season play after coming to the Devils from the Islanders and locked up the backup spot behind Brodeur. Danis was 10-17-3 with a 2.86 GAA with the struggling Islanders last season. The team signed defensemen Rob Davison and Cory Murphy and brought back former draft pick, forward Ilkka Pikkarainen. The most recent addition was the signing of free agent Rob Niedemeyer who will try to fill the gap at center left by John Madden’s departure. The team will look to follow up a 106 point year and defend its Atlantic division title tonight at the Prudential Center against the Philadelphia Flyers at 7 pm.(Dan Altano)