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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

OGA SPR: The New Jersey Devils – The Colonel

Today we bring you the first of three straight days spent in the New York/New Jersey area with the New Jersey Devils Season Preview Report. Stay tuned to www.ongoalanalysis.com for the Islanders and Rangers over the next 72 hours...

Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): Called as Chasing Stanley – in the Playoffs – after Game 30 /17 December 2008 and stand as one of the six teams to have made it into the Playoffs every year since the Lockout. They began the season well and then lost Martin Brodeur to injury, throwing speculators into a spin about how the Playoffs were already lost. After a week’s hiccup, Scott Clemmenson righted the ship and a seemingly more offensively free-flowing team continued the Devils’ winning ways. New Jersey finished the season with a PQC of 5.3, their second highest since the Lockout. It’s only deep into the playoffs that seems to be the issue...

Post-Lockout average PQC and what to expect this season: New Jersey has averaged a 5.16 against the PQC since the Stoppage and is consistently in the top half of the East’s playoff teams. Their worst season against the PQC was 2007/8 but was still the kind of season many teams aspire to. Unless there is an issue with the team this season, hints of another return to the post-season may show up before Christmas/Boxing Day, but certainly by the end of January. The excitement level of last season’s offensive output may or may not be missing under returning coach Jacques Lemaire who is known primarily as an antithesis to the mid-1980’s, Gretzky-led, Edmonton Oilers. His style wins games, and will most likely see the Devils into the Playoffs, but, um, (potentially) yawn!

How will the Devils turn out for the 2009/10 season?

Team Play: ISSUE – Too much defense? It’s ba-ack. Or is it? Is the stifling 2-1 defensive game of Coach-Lemaire-in-New-Jersey-and-Minnesota fame coming to a Prudential Center near you? According to players interviewed after the first day of camp, changes made were ‘small tweaks’ and they have no instructions to sit back and trap. Might it come out if the team is ahead in a crucial game or if key players are injured during the season? That remains to be seen. But for now, this is not looking like your Daddy’s Coach Lemaire.

The early CBS Sports page for the Devils indicates a No. 1 line of Parise–Zajac–Langenbrunner from left to right, and Elias–Zubrus–Rolston at No. 2. One issue here is the health of Patrick Elias. It has been widely reported that ‘minor’ groin surgery (is that possible?) conducted Tuesday, 15 September will keep him off the ice until sometime between 6 and 27 October. That’s two-to-nine games to come back and three-to-10 for the sea legs to settle in. When you are the team’s most prolific scorer, that might dampen prospects. However, indications are the other forwards will tote the note and get scoring done by committee, especially when early training camp indications are positive for some of the youngsters (like Patrice Cormier and Rod Pelley).

On defense, the initial top two pairings listed were Martin-Oduya and White-Salvador. That is in flux as Coach Lemaire evaluates the talents of such defenders as Alexander Urbom and Mark Fraser among others. It should be noted that last season, Martin and Oduya were the only defenders to score over 20 points, a testament to the defensive system of the team under Coach Sutter. They are good out in front of their goaltender. Overall, however, you can expect to see a prospect or two make their way up either now or during the season.

In goal, there is Martin Brodeur. That speaks volumes. But with Coach Lemaire already saying he does not want Brodeur playing as many games as he traditionally does, Yann Danis’ 37 games of NHL experience, Mike McKenna’s 15 and Jeff Frazee’s 0 in the 2008/9 season will have to translate into something closer to 20 games this season. Oft thought if not said during the summer season, maybe it was not the best time to let Scott Clemmensen head south.

Fantasy Value: Both Patrick Elias and Martin Brodeur will be on everyone’s list going into the draft. Elias is in most pools a 1st round pick. Looking at his injury, however, you are likely to invest a 1st or 2nd round pick on someone who won’t kick it in high gear until November. Other forwards of note will be Parise and Langenbrunner in early, middle rounds (four/five to eight). Brian Rolston looks to possibly land on the second line right now, and he is moving back to wing where he did quite well under Coach Lemaire in Minnesota – look for a steal in later rounds here. We might add we are personal fans of Brendan Shanahan’s grit, but do not look for more than 40-50 points from him this season. Brodeur may very well not be the top goalie taken. But not being in the top three-to-five drafted in every league is a mistake. It is difficult to reward a defensive defenseman with a fantasy pick. But drafting Martin with the 30-point defensemen and Oduya with the 20-pointers are solid picks, especially for their high +/- upside.

Schedule Analysis: Playing the most back-to-back pairs of games in one season since the Lockout and tied with Chicago for the most this season. For a primary analysis of the team’s overall 2009/10 regular season schedule, go to this link.

Tomorrow hook the New York Islanders’ 2009/10 SPR…

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