For the second time since their first cup the Devils were beaten in the playoffs rather than losing to an inferior team (the other was sans Stevens against Philly in 2004). When the Devils first put it together when Elias returned I felt that the Devils were a standard deviation below the elite in the league. That showed against Carolina. The Canes were quicker, more tenacious and more talented.
Still, given that this was a rebuilding year without the Scotts, and with the venal trapezoid rule that was directed almost solely towards Brodeur, the Devils accomplished plenty. Gomez and Elias stepped into the leadership role vacated by the Scotts, Hale became a regular defensemen, their 15 game winning streak proved that Devils hockey can succeed in the “new” NHL, and they swept the Rag$ forever obliterating the lone talking point Manhattan’s club had on their betters to the south.
As constituted this team is only about three players/changes away from making up the standard deviation to regain champion status. Here they are in reverse order of difficulty.
1. Have a Real Backup Goalie: Brodeur still has at least five elite years left, but he is no longer un poulet de printemps (chicken of the spring) and with the evil trapezoid rule and weaker defense he is seeing many more shots per night. He should be playing about 65 games a year instead of 72. Of course Brodeur should always face the Rag$ and Philly, he just shouldn’t go up against the Islanders and Capitals so much. Either Clemmensen or Ahonen should be given first crack at playing ther other fifteen or so games.
2. Second Line Center: Elias needs someone of similar skill to compliment him. Doug Weight has always been one of my favorite players and would be ideal, but there are surely other options available.
3. Superstar Defenseman: If the Devils will continue to play a defense first game then they need to have a top defenseman, be it a skater like Nidermeyer of a monster like Stevens. They need someone who will bring a personality to the unit. Rob Blake is technically available.
I doubt either of the last two will happen as stated, but a version of them will suffice.
For now, jettison Klee, Kozlov, and Langdon. It would be nice to keep Albelin as a 7th D, but he appears to be retiring. Either Rasmussen or Weimer could probably also go if there is a similar player in the system.