|Boosted by Offseason Additions, Langenbrunner & The Devils Plan Attack on the Stanley Cup|
|October 7, 2010 - Sean Hartnett, JL15.com Contributor|
|The Devils fell short of accomplishing hockey's ultimate goal last season but a revamped lineup gives New Jersey a strong chance at doing so this time around. General Manager Lou Lamoriello has spent the off-season meticulously retooling the roster into one that can make a serious run at lifting the 2011 Stanley Cup.
Popular former Devils' center Jason Arnott was re-acquired from the Nashville Predators this summer and fans will be eager to see him link-up once again with Patrik Eliáš. The two were part of a dominant line that helped New Jersey win the 2000 Stanley Cup. Arnott brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the Devils as well as an underrated ability as a playmaker on the power play.
The signing that had the entire hockey world buzzing was that of superstar Ilya Kovalchuk. The skillful Russian winger made his intentions clear that he only wanted to play for the Devils. Lamoriello attempted to lock Kovalchuk down in a historic 17-year deal. Shortly after the ink had dried, the league rejected the deal accusing the Devils of attempting to circumvent the NHL's salary cap. After two months of redrafting, the league finally ratified a 15-year, $100 million dollar contract and to the delight of the Devils' faithful, Ilya was set to be with the club for a very long time.
Kovalchuk's motivation clearly wasn't about money but rather the chance to be a part of a team who would contend for years to come. He spoke of his ambition a few days after signing the deal, "I want to win the most Stanley Cups I can. I have a good contract, but there have been a lot of players with good contracts who never won the Cup. I'm with the right team. New Jersey is a team with a lot of history, and I want to help them make more history. Scoring 50 goals is always good, but I've never won in the playoffs. I want to find out how that feels."
Captain Jamie Langenbrunner was delighted to have Kovalchuk back as part of the team's long term plans, "It's great to have him here, and he knows he's here forever. You can definitely tell he has the personality and he's going to take it and make it his team. He's the type of guy who can do that. You have him and Zach (Parise) and Marty (Brodeur), who has been the face. Now you have these guys coming in and it's their chance to put their stamp on it."
Puck-moving defenseman Paul Martin will be missed as he moved on to the Pittsburgh Penguins but Lamoriello made two signings to improve New Jersey's blueline. Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder were brought in to be physical, imposing defensemen who could shut down opposing attacks.
Though the pair will bring more stability to New Jersey's defense, Bryce Salvador is predicted to miss opening 2-3 months of the season and his absence will be felt by the entire team. Langenbrunner spoke about the importance of his gritty teammate, "He comes to play hard every night. He's battler, he's an experienced guy. You hate for guys to get injured, especially him."
Veteran net-minder Johan Hedberg was signed on the first day of free agency to take some of the workload off Martin Brodeur. As usual, Brodeur put up outstanding numbers during the regular season but making 77 appearances in net took its toll as the Devils were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs. Hedberg's contribution should have Marty better rested come playoff time.
Lamoriello was pleased with his free agent coup, "Johan Hedberg is a goaltender with more than eight years of NHL experience, including a significant amount of time in the Eastern Conference. He solidifies our goaltending for the upcoming season."
Another important change comes behind the bench as former Devil John MacLean takes over for Jacques Lemaire who called time on his 16-year NHL coaching career. MacLean was a key member of the 1995 team under Lemaire that brought New Jersey their first Stanley Cup championship.
Lamoriello gave his thoughts on the hire, "John MacLean is an astute hockey individual who has spent the past eight years preparing to be an NHL head coach. He knows our personnel from the veterans through our prospects, having worked with them as a coach during that time."
MacLean was known for his tireless all-out desire as a player and wants to instill that style into his Devils team. He preaches dedication to hard-work and high effort as part of his plan for success, "In this organization, even when we weren't very good, we always worked hard. If we can establish that night in and night out, with the talent level we have here, we'll be a successful team."
The newly installed Devils' boss gave his thoughts on Langenbrunner's contributions as captain, "I think Jamie's a great leader. I actually played with him briefly [in Dallas], and having coached him, I think he's good and he's good for what we're going to try and do here in the future. He's been tremendous with the young guys and himself being a veteran, he'll help with their transition."
Lamoriello shared a similar view, "Jamie Langenbrunner is our captain. John feels strongly on that, and I feel strongly on that."
Nine-time Stanley Cup winning former Hall-of-Fame great Larry Robinson returns as MacLean's assistant. Robinson himself lifted the Stanley Cup as head coach of the Devils in 2000 and few have had a career as decorated. He can be mentor to both MacLean as a rookie NHL head coach and the players whom he can share his vast experience.
With tremendous depth in scoring, an improved blueline and the always exceptional and never-aging Martin Brodeur in net, New Jersey has a terrific chance at once again delivering the Stanley Cup to their frenzied fans. The Prudential Center will be rocking when Jamie Langenbrunner leads out his Devils in their October 8th home opener against the Dallas Stars.
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