30 Thoughts: Devils out to prove last year no fluke | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Devils out to prove last year no fluke

Posted: Monday, February 11, 2013 | 11:01 AM

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Rookie forward Stefan Matteau, left, the son of former NHLer Stephane Matteau, has so impressed the Devils that they opted to keep him rather than return him to the junior ranks with the QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. (Vincent Pugliese/ Getty Images) Rookie forward Stefan Matteau, left, the son of former NHLer Stephane Matteau, has so impressed the Devils that they opted to keep him rather than return him to the junior ranks with the QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. (Vincent Pugliese/ Getty Images)

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The New Jersey Devils simply refuse to be written off, despite losing marquee names like Gomez, Holik, Mogilny, Niedermayer, Rafalski and Parise to free agency since 2000.

The New Jersey Devils lost Zach Parise for nothing and we were quick to write them off. Boy, do we look dumb.

"Part of it is the history of the organization," Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said minutes after the defending Eastern Conference champions finished a weekend sweep of the the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"They've done this a half-dozen times and the mandate is always the same: fill the holes as best you can and continue moving forward. It's not even an option to feel sorry for yourself.

"One thing about the Devils, there are no irreplaceable parts. We do it by committee."

Since 2000, they've lost Scott Gomez, Bobby Holik, Alexander Mogilny, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Parise to free agency (Don't forget Scott Stevens to retirement, too).

There were dry years, though, by New Jersey's standards. After winning their third Stanley Cup, the Devils won just two post-season series between 2004 and 2010 and missed the playoffs in 2011. DeBoer's first season was a rousing success, getting within two wins of another Cup conquest, but when Parise walked, many of us thought fun time was over.

A coach, however, is expected to believe otherwise.

"We had a lot of guys step up [last season] and I thought it was big enough of a sample size ... that it was not a fluke," DeBoer said. "We could do it again, build on it."

Unlike the Washington Capitals, Calgary Flames or Winnipeg Jets -- all making systemic changes without the benefit of a lengthy training camp or exhibition games -- DeBoer knew how his players in New Jersey were going to play.

"My biggest concern was that not too many of our guys played during the break," the coach said. "But I had a good feeling two or three games in.

"One advantage I really felt was our systems were in place. We played into late June and I didn't think it would take long to get back to a good level.

"With the schedule, we've had one practice in 16 days. Because of that foundation, we've been able to survive."

A little motivation didn't hurt, either.

"I think a lot of people felt we didn't belong [in the Stanley Cup final] or we were a fluke," DeBoer said. "These guys all read, they know where people picked us to finish.

"They're a proud group. They want to show last year wasn't an accident."

30 THOUGHTS

1. While David Clarkson, tied for second in the NHL with nine goals, moved up to a top-six forward position, Parise's coveted spot alongside Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac went to 18-year-old Stefan Matteau, a second-generation NHLer. Matteau only plays at even strength, but hasn't looked out of place. "He's got a confidence to him a lot of junior age kids don't have," DeBoer said. "Many of them have that 'deer in the headlights' look; just overwhelmed. With him, there's no intimidation. Being around NHL players for a long time is a big help."

2. The extra half-season "vacation" may have extended the life of New Jersey's 79-year-old, two-headed goaltending monster (Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg). "I'll be the first one trying to convince those guys to keep playing," DeBoer laughed.

3. DeBoer can't possibly write 28 more of these, so let's move on. Teemu Selanne was the poster boy for Lockout I extending a career, with knee surgery at age 34 giving him new life. Will 40-year-old Daniel Alfredsson be this year's? "My groin and hip flexors and back, which I was worried about ... after not having a training camp, has been great," he said last week on Hockey Night In Canada Radio, heard weekdays from 3-5 p.m. ET on Sirius XM. "If I can keep up with everybody else in the league and I feel it's fun and I'm contributing the way I want, definitely I can see myself continuing."

4. I mentioned a few weeks ago that Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean didn't want his captain playing all 48 games. The flu already kayoed Alfredsson for one and Jason Spezza's injury throws a grenade on that plan.

5. There's a lot of angst in Minnesota about the Wild's 5-5-1 start. After the free-agent bonanza, several opponents said Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher's biggest challenge would be managing expectations. While Parise and Ryan Suter are big upgrades, the roster has holes. The organization is stocked with talented youth, but in different stages of development. "They will not be a contender until their young players are ready," said one executive. "But that will be hard for ownership to hear."

6. A scout had an interesting take on the Wild: "Parise is an aggressive, attacking player. This is an organization without much of a history playing that way. He's playing very well. But they're going to have to get used to each other."

7. It's interesting to hear executives talk about some of the struggling teams. "This is a tough year to make an honest appraisal of your group," one said. "Everything is so screwed up by the lockout." Players showed up in different degrees of conditioning and the injury situation is already ugly. As you can imagine, there are coaches, GMs and players who feel they will be unfairly judged by this 48-game mess.

8. When it comes to GMs, it probably comes down to how secure you feel. There are lots of questions about what will happen in Washington. Since Ted Leonsis bought the Wizards in April 2010, the NBA team is 57-140. Fans scream for Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld's head yet Leonsis has held firm, even after an 0-12 start this season. George McPhee's record as GM of Leonsis's Capitals is much better than that, so no need to make a panic move, which is better for the Capitals anyway.

9. McPhee said Friday he won't "blow up" the team. Firing rookie head coach Adam Oates makes zero sense. How many times can you change the voice and/or the system? The Philadelphia Flyers are stabilizing. Will Washington?

10. Who is available? Well, a few teams would love Ryan O'Reilly, but God knows how that ends. Once again, Derick Brassard's name is coming up. That's been an uneasy marriage, to say the least. The Columbus Blue Jackets have three first-round picks next year -- their own and one each from the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers. I can't imagine they'd trade their own for anything less than a superstud, but the other two are strong commodities in a deep draft.

11. Another player of interest is Dustin Penner. He's really in the doghouse with just three games played. If the Kings so desired, there would certainly be a market. He's on a one-year deal. Hard to pin down many more names. Some teams don't want to deal excess players because depth is critical. Very few teams are out of it, which prevents fire sales, and with the cap going down to $64.3 million US in 2013-14, you don't want to add a big salary if you can avoid it. Maybe things loosen up in the next week or so.

12. One opposing coach on the Kings: "Still the best team we've played. And the best pace, too." Already five points out, though.

13. Patience will also be an issue with the Jets' penalty kill, another situation where the lack of a training camp and practice time hurts a club. Last season, it was 24th; right now, it ranks 30th.  Former Senators/Rangers/Canadiens assistant Perry Pearn was brought in and Winnipeg is trying both new tactics and different personnel, especially with Zach Bogosian out. With time, things can work out, but it's not easy to wait.

14. The Detroit Red Wings are seeing new defensive looks from other teams. Because the Red Wings defencemen don't move the puck very well, opponents are able to shadow Pavel Datysuk and Henrik Zetterberg much more than they used to. There were times last week where you could see guys basically standing next to them. That the duo has combined for 16 even-strength points (of 31 total) is pretty good, considering.

15. For years, the Red Wings bristled at suggestions that they are not tough, arguing toughness is in taking your hits and getting you back with goals. After seeing this, don't anyone ever say Datsyuk isn't tough.

16. A few Wings fans reached out when I included Valtteri Filppula as a potential first-line centre option in last week's blog. It's a legit question. I put him there because, depending on the market, someone may look at him and say, "There's not much out there and he's better than we have." Detroit really hoped Filppula would be impactful against the Nashville Predators in last year's playoffs, but it didn't happen.

17. As the Edmonton Oilers left on a road trip, rookie head coach Ralph Krueger wanted to see some of his top offensive players get minutes against the home team's third defensive pairing. Tough to do without last change, so he tried to spread out some of those guys. There were moments he did get scorers out against Jakub Kindl/Kyle Quincey (DET) and Tim Erixon/Cody Goloubef (CLB), but no damage. It's a chess match the Oilers will continue to try.

18. The Oilers thought giving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins a few days of rest and rehab was a major benefit for the bad shoulder. Now the question becomes, 'How often does this have to happen?'

19. Two goalies are en route to seeing the most rubber since 2000. Through 11 games, Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres and the Oilers' Devan Dubnyk lead the NHL in shots faced: Miller at 33.5 per game; Dubynk at 33. The last goalie to face the most shots and be that high on a per-game average is Roberto Luongo, who saw 33.2 a game in 2005-06 and 34.4 a game in 2003-04 with the Florida Panthers.

20. Miller and Sabres GM Darcy Regier have reached an "understanding" into improving the goalie's mask. The Sabres thought it wasn't safe, especially when he took a puck off it almost two years ago and suffered a concussion. It's not exactly easy to get a goalie to change his equipment, but there is a change with the interior padding. The bottom line for both is that Miller's been excellent.

21. I don't know if every Toronto-Montreal game will turn into the wild scene we saw last Saturday, but Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle won't be unhappy with it. In five full seasons as head coach in Anaheim, the lowest his Ducks finished in major penalties was eighth. They led the league once and were in the top five every other year. He wants that aggressiveness. It played a big part in Anaheim's 2007 Stanley Cup championship.

22. The Toronto expansion craziness has died down, but there are quite a few people who believe that if there are two teams in the area, Rogers will own one and Bell the other. They presently share Maple Leafs ownership.

23. The NHL's collective bargaining agreement must be finished Saturday and already there are complaints with the new practice rules. The Memorandum of Understanding states teams shall endeavour to schedule four days off per month and those won't be "altered absent compelling circumstances." There's a lot of room for interpretation there.

24. Case in point, Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff was so annoyed at his team that he cancelled a day off for a practice. Personally, I have no problem with that and, as it turned out, the players didn't either -- they were going bad and they understood. However, when the final document is finished, will the NHLPA have no choice to but grieve to protect precedence? And what will the penalties be?

25. The union argues this is about player safety, which is certainly fair. Coaches understand guys need their rest. Rangers head coach John Tortorella, for example, maps out his off days before the season and rarely changes them. But this has caught many by surprise and now that it's in writing, it could be a bit of a headache.

26. Teams are also unhappy everyone gets their own room. One exec said, "We don't want young kids in their room alone. You lose the mentoring aspect." I mentioned that to a player, who said: "Do young GMs get their own rooms?" I don't think we see much common ground on this one.

27. 2014 Olympics: I'm still shaking my head at IIHF president Rene Fasel's decision to napalm NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in an interview with CBC's Scott Russell. Bettman has some logistical issues about sending the NHL to Sochi, but he understands -- thanks to some arm-twisting -- that the players want to go and that it's good for the sport. Fasel, who is believed to have big designs on moving up in the IOC, sure took a risk as meetings begin Thursday.

28. Hockey Night In Canada analyst Glenn Healy reported on Hotstove Tonight that the men's Olympic hockey tournament generated $61 million in ticket revenue, with the gold-medal game alone earning seven per cent of that. The IOC can't go there because the tennis players and other athletes will demand the same thing. But access to players and access for the NHL and NHLPA can get better and that's where the concessions will be made.

29. Never mind not playing this year, there is no guarantee Tim Thomas returns next year. There's a chance we've seen his last game.

30. My favourite radio bit right now is Andrew Walker's sarcastic player profile on Sportsnet 960 in Calgary. Before every game, Walker takes a member of the opposition and does a funny rip job based on those puffball features us media types do. Here's the problem. In nine games, Walker's targets have skewered the Flames for six goals, four assists and one shootout winner. If that wasn't bad enough, the Detroit subject, Johan Franzen, injured Miikka Kiprusoff. I can't wait to hear which member of the Wild is getting a hat trick Monday night.

Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC

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