The New York Post's Mark Everson takes a look, and drops some hints about the future:
MISSING PIECES IN DEVILS' PUZZLE
By MARK EVERSON, New York Post
April 30, 2009
THE difference is heartbreak rather than humiliation. Otherwise, the Devils are exactly where they were when last season ended, still lacking exactly the same pieces that weren't obtained all season.
Doubts about Martin Brodeur, 37 next week, have rekindled, despite his 1-0, 44-save Game 5 shutout, despite his victory record. Eric Staal and his goal, a real goal, and Jussi Jokinen's goal, a real goal, are the new supposed exposers, much as Sean Avery was last season.
Goaltending was the least of their worries then, and still. They needed a No. 1 defenseman then, and they still do. Colin White was heroic, yes, heroic, manfully attempting, and early on winning a job against Staal that was poorly conceived, and should have been the duty of Paul Martin, except that Martin was ailing from a back injury that hindered him all season. But that's a quibble. Either way would have been a risk, and were the only alternatives.
The lack of a (start with one, anyway) right-handed defenseman, so often and boringly nagged about here, came glaringly home to roost in Game 4. They needed a clearance up the right-wing boards and, lo and behold, a lefty had to use his backhand, and it's doubtful that anyone else would have had better luck than Martin did, unable to clear past Joni Pitkanen for the relay to Dennis Seidenberg and Jokinen's winning deflection with 0.2 seconds left.
Coach Brent Sutter's hindsight that Martin should have eaten the puck, the way the Hurricanes had performed end-boards theft, was a bad option, a smokescreen for the righty void.
The other screaming need last summer was for a No. 1 center, a playmaker or a scorer. Travis Zajac developed nicely this season and he may become a point-per-gamer, but he isn't yet. He would have been a perfect No. 2 center this season, but lacking a No. 1, he remained up there, and Dainius Zubrus took the No. 2 spot.
That's because Brian Rolston, who had his Minnesota success on wing, didn't rebound from an ankle sprain sufficiently to hold that spot, another dubious summer-time remedy.
With Zajac between Zach Parise and heroic captain Jamie Langenbrunner, that line was superb. But the second line, often detailed checking duty, did not make the most of Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta on the wings.
At the beginning of the season, a mammoth line of Zubrus, Bobby Holik and Mike Rupp was envisioned, but never materialized.
So they're back where they were last year after Tuesday's shocking 4-3 loss to Carolina in Game 7, when victory and series triumph turned into defeat and elimination in the unbelievable final 1:20.
Theirs was a special season that deserved a better ending, or at least, a longer life. Sutter almost always made the correct decisions, adhering to Rule 1 of the NHL Coaching Handbook: "Don't do anything stupid."
But his failure to refute rumbles that he might not return next season, missing Alberta, may have been one leak in the team's well of internal good feeling.
Lamoriello indicated he has no issue with Sutter's coaching, or Sutter's failure to guarantee a return next season. The GM was just trying to get through today's breakup meeting in Newark.
"I'm just taking a step back," Lamoriello said. "You don't look left, you don't look right. You absorb everything and get focused on what you have to do."