Two years ago, the New Jersey Devils fell two games short of their fourth championship. Last year, the Devils missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. In a 14-month span, they lost their top three players to free agency and "retirement." Now they have a roster with mostly stop-gaps and aging veterans. There's no question the franchise in in a transition period. With all that said, the question remains, what's a realistic goal for the 2013-14 season?
Transition or not, this team needs to make the playoffs. I think that's a fair starting point. In a salary cap league, no team should be down in the dumps that long. Consider that outside of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings, the Eastern Conference isn't exactly a powerhouse. So even with all of the roster turnover, I don't think a return to the playoffs is asking too much of this Devils team.
It's not like GM Lou Lamoriello filled the big losses with random players. Jaromir Jagr, albeit older, has shown that he is still a productive player in this league. Michael Ryder is a streaky player, but when he's hot, he's one of the best in the league. Damien Brunner appears to be a promising player and is a younger guy at age 27. They are above-average to quality players in this league. In fact, it's fair to say that this team has more depth than last year's squad. I like the CBGB line as much as everybody else, but for a good portion of last year, they were the team's third line. Now, they're back where they can be most productive; the fourth line.
So making the playoffs would be the lowest degree of a successful season. Now, what exactly is this team's ceiling? I think they have the potential to win a round and play a deep series in the semifinals. Even if everything broke exactly right, it's hard to see them being one of the final two teams left in the Eastern Conference. I think most Devils fans would be extremely proud of this team if they made a run to the semis.
This year is really about passing the torch to the younger guys. There's going to a come a point in time very soon, where the leaders of the Devils are Andy Greene, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique. There is going to be a lot of turnover with this defense in the next few years. There's no telling if an Andrei Loktionov or Rusty Olesz will be with the team next year. The hope is, that this team has some success while they also bring along some young players that will be part of the team's future. We've seen what Eric Gelinas can do. We saw what Jon Merrill was capable of in preseason. Maybe we'll see the NHL debut of Reid Boucher this year and if Stefan Matteau can return and be a productive part.
There really is no way to define what is a successful season for the New Jersey Devils. We saw the team essentially hit rock bottom already and now, they're posting victories, playing cohesive hockey and everyone looks to be comfortable with each other. Some may agree. Some might be of the belief that the only success is a Stanley Cup championship. To each their own. Sometimes you have to take steps backwards to go forward. The 2010-11 season was dreadful, but it made the 2011-12 run to the Finals all worth it. If the Devils miss the playoffs this year, but Gelinas, Merrill, Boucher and Matteau all play really well, then maybe it's a success.
Whatever your thoughts, most everyone can agree that if the team competes hard every night, wins their share of games and sees some hope for the future, then the year was a success.