As much as we poke fun of Brian Wee-onta, the Devils have had a fundamental problem for quite some time with regards to physical presence on the ice. In 2003-04, it was the Flyers that pushed the Devils out. In 2005-06, it was Carolina. And in 2006-07 it was the Ottawa Senators.
You may not see it at first, but the Devils lack of size leaves them unable to maneuver around the bigger players for opposing teams. They have been consistently inconsistent since they won the cup in 2003. They are consistently fighting to become better, and have always been a very skilled organization, don’t get me wrong. But year after year, teams with a larger physical presence than the Devils have lead to the eventual termination in the playoffs.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello knows this, and he’s going to fix it. Looking at the signings of players so far: Karel Rachunek is 6’2″, 220 lbs; Dainius Zubrus is 6’5″, 225 lbs; Vitaly Vishnevski is 6’2″, 215 lbs.
The trend is obvious for a team whose average weight was 200 pounds and average height was only 6 feet. The average height and weight of Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski, and Brad Lukowich was 5’11”, 200 lbs. That is not a coincidence.
Looking back on the 2006-07 season, Brian Gionta’s ability to plant himself in front of the opponent’s net and deflect pucks in is fantastic, and no one would want him to change that style; it also puts him in a fantastic position to collect rebounds. Likewise, Scott Gomez’s ability to start from behind the Devils net, skate the length of the ice, weave in and out of players, and get a great scoring opportunity, assist, or goal was one of the most exciting plays to watch.
But during the Devils final throws of the playoffs, it didn’t work. Ottawa matched those plays and found a way to break the system the Devils built. The problem wasn’t that the Devils were unable to successfully execute those types of maneuvers, but more accurately Ottawa learned how to defend against them. Once you stopped that, the Devils offense became non-existent and caused the Devils to sit on one goal leads – if they got that far – only to lose later during the game.
Lou is bringing a shift back to defense with the signing of defenseman Rachunek and Vishnevski, trying to bring back some of the passion players like Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, and Scott Niedermayer brought to the team, and produced three Stanley Cups.
There may be one or two more transactions, during the off-season, but for the most part, welcome to your 2007-08 New Jersey Devils.