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Coach Pat Burns, who guided the Devils to their third Cup win in 2003, is recuperating from recurring bouts with cancer, replaced by on-again, off-again coach Larry Robinson. Leading scorer Patrik Elias is out for at least the first month of the season and maybe more recovering from hepatitis A, contracted while playing in Russia during the lockout.
So what of the Devils, then?
Offense: Up front, the team's future seems pinned squarely on the shoulders of young Zach Parise, son of former NHLer J.P. Parise. The rookie has had time to develop with the team's AHL team in Albany and had a turn with the U.S. team at the world championships, but it's a lot of pressure. Too much perhaps. Unless one or two members of an offensive lineup filled with underachievers steps forward -- like Scott Gomez, Viktor Kozlov, Jeff Friesen and Sergei Brylin, (at least one of those players is likely to be shipped off to keep the Devils under the cap) -- the playoffs will be a difficult challenge.
Defense: Newcomer Dan McGillis will be counted on to take on the physical role abdicated by Stevens. In previous years, it was hoped Colin White might assume that role, but the 6-foot-4 defenseman hasn't proved capable, in part because he lacks the necessary foot speed and hockey acumen to make hits and get back into the play. Richard Matvichuk, signed away from Dallas before the lockout, also will be expected to help provide a defensive conscience for the Devils.
Goaltending: The game's finest netminder, Martin Brodeur, is the final link to the Devils' near-dynasty of the past decade, and is now by far the team's most important player. If, as expected, this team struggles to score, Brodeur will keep the Devils close. Although the game's best puck-handling netminder has been shackled with new rules restricting goaltenders' movement, watch for Brodeur to be on the cutting edge of netminders who try for the home-run pass in the absence of the red line.
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|Comings & Goings|
LW Darren Langdon; D Richard Matvichuk; Krzysztof Oliwa; C Pascal Rheaume; D Vladimir Malakhov; D Dan McGillis; RW Alexander Mogilny; C Zach Parise.
D Scott Niedermayer; C Jan Hrdina; RW Turner Stevenson; C Igor Larionov; D Scott Stevens; LW Jeff Friesen; G Corey Schwab; D Tommy Albelin.
|When we last saw them|
Elias led the Devils with 38 goals and 43 assists in 2003-04.
Brodeur posted a 38-26-11 record and led the league in wins and shutouts (11).
“I think the game is more mental than physical. You have to be in tremendous shape, but you have to want to do it in your head.
I didn't think I could put the mental parts there every day.”
— Scott Stevens on why he retired