Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2011-12 NJ Devils player report cards

As another part of my 2011-12 NHL season in review, I'm taking a look at each Devils player's 2011-12 season.  For those players heading into free agency this summer, I'll weigh in on whether or not I think the player should be re-signed.  For everyone else other than Eric Boulton, they're probably coming back next season.

Johan Hedberg - #1
Season stats: 27 games, 17-7-2 record, 2.23 goals against average, .918 save percentage, 4 shutouts

Historically, the backup goaltender to Martin Brodeur never played much.  He'd usually get five starts over the course of the entire season and come in to relieve Brodeur from time to time, but for the most part, he'd just a benchwarmer.  That all changed during the 2008-09 season, when Brodeur missed 50 games with a torn bicep.  Since then, the backup goaltender role in New Jersey has become more important (mostly because they actually get to play games nowadays).

This was Johan Hedberg's second season with the Devils.  He won his second straight player's player award at the team awards in April, as his value to the team was apparent on and off the ice.  On the ice, he put up tremendous numbers, and allowed Pete DeBoer to not over-work Brodeur.  Hedberg also carried the team early in the season when Brodeur missed some time with another injury.  Without the strong play of Hedberg, the Devils' Stanley Cup run may not have been possible.

Grade: A

Hedberg is everything a team could ask for in a backup goaltender and so much more.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

Hedberg should stay.  DeBoer should do exactly what he did this season with these goalies next season.  Brodeur and Hedberg have become one of the better goalie tandems in the NHL, and they combine to just 79 years old!

Marek Zidlicky - #2
Season stats (with the Devils): 22 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, even +/- rating, 10 penalty minutes, 22:34 average ice time per game

There was much speculation that Lou Lamoriello wanted to add a strong puck-moving defenseman by the trade deadline this season.  He did so by shipping out Kurtis Foster and two minor leaguers plus a second round pick and bringing in Marek Zidlicky.  The move didn't pay dividends right away, as Zidlicky struggled in his first few games with the Devils, but he played better as the season wore on and became a huge piece of the Devils' power play.

Zidlicky further stepped up his game in the playoffs.  He scored a goal and added eight assists in 24 playoff games, but he was a different player after Game 5 against the Flyers.  That's when Wayne Simmonds boarded Zidlicky from behind, forcing him out of the game.  He played every game after that incident, but he never looked as confident or as strong with or without the puck.  It is likely that Zidlicky suffered an injury at that point, but unfair to speculate and read too much into it.

Grade: B

The Devils needed a puck-moving defenseman, and Zidlicky did a nice job of providing what they needed.  Plus, he's from the Czech Republic, so Sykora and Elias were happy to have him.

Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season

Adam Larsson - #5
Season stats: 65 games, 2 goals, 16 assists, 18 points, -7 rating, 20 penalty minutes, 20:37 average ice time per game

The hype surrounding Adam Larsson entering this season was evident, once it was announced that he would make the NHL club out of the pre-season.  At just 18 years old last fall, he joined Scott Niedermayer and Scott Gomez as the only Devils draft picks to skip playing in the American Hockey League and jump right into the NHL.  There were some obvious growing pains, as Larsson learned the North American game and how to use the boards, avoid bad turnovers, etc.  He and Larry Robinson became well-acquainted.  Eventually, Larsson found his groove and became a steady defenseman who played with an incredible amount of composure.

That all took a turn for the worst one night as P.K. Subban caught Larsson skating with the puck and his head was down.  Subban's hit knocked Larsson out of play for a few weeks, and following that game, Larsson never really looked like he re-gained his confidence.  He became the odd man out late in the season, and was scratched for most of the playoffs.  However, his goal in Game 2 in Philadelphia sparked the Devils, as they were in danger of going down 2-0 in that series at that point.

In the end, it was an up and down season for Larsson, but he's shown that there is potential for him to be a superstar on the Devils for hopefully the next two decades.  So don't worry, Devils fans, Larsson is still better than Peter Harrold.

Grade: B-

Again, Larsson showed some glimpses of brilliance, but 2011-12 was a major learning period for him.

Contract status: signed through 2013-14 season

Andy Greene - #6
Season stats: 56 games, 1 goal, 15 assists, 16 points, +3 rating, 16 penalty minutes, 19:30 average ice time per game

After playing for the first two months of the season, Andy Greene suffered one of many significant injuries to Devils players this season, especially to the defense.  His return from injury came immediately following the All-Star break, and not-so-coincidentally, the Devils went from an inconsistent, borderline playoff team to one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference at that point.

Personally, I give Greene a lot of credit for the Devils' rise this calendar year.  Guys like Larsson and Tallinder missed much of the second half of the season, there were players coming in and out, as Kurtis Foster left and Marek Zidlicky arrived, plus Peter Harrold's call-up and Anton Volchenkov's late season injury, but Greene was there for the entire second half of the season, and his presence was important to the Devils in that span.

Although Greene showed flashes of being a two-way defensemen over the last two seasons before 2011-12, he settled in as a shutdown-first defenseman this season, and it made him a better player, in my opinion.  He is steady in his end of the ice and can make a very good first pass out of the zone.

Grade: B

Andy Greene should be remembered as one of the unsung heroes of this Devils team.

Contract status: signed through 2014-15 season

Henrik Tallinder - #7
Season stats: 39 games, 0 goals, 6 assists, 6 points, -11 rating, 16 penalty minutes, 21:19 average ice time per game

This was a very difficult season for Henrik Tallinder.  After an extraordinary second half to the 2010-11 season, Tallinder struggled at times early in the 2011-12 season.  To make matters worse, he suffered what seemed like a minor injury mid-season, only to find out that he had a blood clot.  At that point, it looked like his season was over at the very least, and his career might even be in jeopardy.

So, with that said, it's a miracle that Tallinder even played the last three games of the Stanley Cup Finals.  He played pretty well in those three games, especially considering what he had been dealing with in the second half of the season and how long it had been since he played.

Grade: C+

The grade seems a bit harsh, but Tallinder struggled before his injury.  If he's 100% healthy for next season, he can still be an important piece to the Devils.

Contract status: signed through 2013-14 season

Dainius Zubrus - #8
Season stats: 82 games, 17 goals, 27 assists, 44 points, +7 rating, 34 penalty minutes, 18:41 average ice time per game

In a nutshell, this was Dainius Zubrus' best season as a New Jersey Devil.  His stats back that up, as he set highs in goals, assists and points as a Devil in 2011-12, but he was an important part of this team beyond his point total.  First of all, no Devils forward averaged more shorthanded ice time per game than Zubrus (2:00 per game).  He was as important as any forward on the team to the league's best penalty killing unit in the regular season.  He even added three shorthanded goals of his own this season.  He played almost as much time on the power play as he did shorthanded.  Zubrus, as he always is, was a versatile and multi-purpose player for the Devils this season.

Zubrus was one of five Devils players to play in all 82 regular season games, and he played in all 24 playoff games as well.  In fact, he reached the 1,000 games played milestone this past season.  Zubrus added 10 more points in the playoffs.  He found himself playing with almost everyone, as he was on a line with Parise and Zajac at times, Elias and Sykora other times and even centered Ponikarovsky and Clarkson a bit.

Grade: A

Dainius Zubrus is an underrated power forward on an underrated team.

Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season

Zach Parise - #9
Season stats: 82 games, 31 goals, 38 assists, 69 points, -5 rating, 32 penalty minutes, 21:29 average ice time per game

Anything would have been a bounce-back after the way the 2010-11 season went for Zach Parise.  Before the season started, DeBoer named Parise captain of the Devils, because after all, there's no other current Devil more perfectly suited for such a title.  From opening night on, it was apparent that Parise's injury that plagued his 2010-11 season was a distant memory.  He had a two goal game in the second game of the season, and it was business as usual from that point on.

Parise, like Zubrus, played in all 82 games in the regular season and all 24 postseason games, and also like Zubrus, he logged a lot of shorthanded ice time.  He was a huge part of the penalty kill and the power play, and when you add up all the minutes he played, he averaged more time on ice this season than any season before, and by quite a large margin, too.

On the other hand, 69 points is not as high as his 2008-09 and 2009-10 totals, when he put up 94 and 82 points, respectively.  He slumped a bit down the stretch late in the regular season, but he had a strong postseason.  He was tied for the league lead with 8 goals in the playoffs (although two of them were empty netters), and added seven assists.

Grade: A (I thought about giving him an A-, but I just couldn't do it.)

When it's all said and done, Zach Parise is the heart and soul of the Devils.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

Parise is probably the most talked-about and coveted free agent in the NHL this summer.  I, like pretty much every Devils fan, want to see him re-sign with the Devils.  I think the Devils are the most likely team he's playing for next season, but it's not a done deal yet, obviously.  I don't think his point total will ever get back to the mid-80s or 90s again, but because he's Zach Parise and he's the captain, you have to pay him more than any player who scored 69 points in the previous season.  I don't think he's necessarily worth $8 million per season, and I don't think the Devils can really afford to give him that over a long period of time.  Hopefully, the Devils and Parise can agree somewhere in between.  I really think they will and Parise will be re-signed.

Peter Harrold - #10
Season stats: (regular season and playoffs): 28 games, 0 goals, 6 assists, 6 points, +2 rating, 6 penalty minutes, 15:10 average ice time

Peter Harrold got a lot of hate from Devils fans this spring, and a lot of that was very unfair.  I think that people viewed Harrold as the reason Adam Larsson wasn't playing.  You can't be hard on Harrold because of who he was replacing in the lineup.  If you take a step back and critique what Harrold did for the Devils on the ice, there's not much to hate.  He's not a flashy defenseman and he doesn't make world-class plays, but he did a nice job for the Devils in the role he was given.  He played with a lot of composure, and he contributed to the team down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Coach DeBoer elected to use the experience of Harrold over the youth of Larsson for most of the postseason, and Harrold rewarded DeBoer for the most part.  He didn't make many mistakes.  In fact, he bailed out Anton Volchenkov on many occasions, especially in the first round of the playoffs, when Volchenkov was at his worst.

Grade: B-

Harrold was a pretty decent defenseman for the Devils this season.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

He should go, simply because the Devils are so deep on defense.  He really wouldn't have much of a role if he stayed with the Devils.  Between the defensemen already signed with the NHL team next season and those slated for AHL Albany, it would be best for both the Devils and Harrold if he went elsewhere next season.

Stephen Gionta - #11
Season stats (regular season and playoffs): 25 games, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, +5 rating, 4 penalty minutes, 9:17 average ice time

Well, what can you say about Stephen Gionta?  Before April 2012, nobody would have even thought of Little Gio as a potential member of the Devils in the playoffs this spring, but that all changed on the last day of the regular season, when he scored his first NHL goal in his first game of the season.  He proved it wasn't a fluke, as he added 7 points to his resume in the postseason.  He was a member of the "CBGB" (Carter/Bernier/Gionta's Brother) line, the Devils' fourth line that helped them in their playoff run.

What Stephen Gionta proved this spring is that he is an NHL player.  He's got the speed, he's got the work ethic and yes, he can produce offensively, too.  He'll never reach the 48 goals that his brother scored in a season for the Devils, but he's a player that can help this team moving forward.

Grade: A

Little guy, big-time hockey player.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

I think I speak for a severe majority of Devils fans when I say that I hope the entire fourth line remains intact for next season.  Stephen Gionta did a great job with his first real opportunity at an NHL role.  I don't think it's a fluke, either.  Bringing him back gives the Devils a fourth liner with a tremendous work ethic, and having a hard-working fourth line would make the Devils a much more difficult team to play against in an 82-game season and in the playoffs.

Alexei Ponikarovsky - #12
Season stats (with the Devils): 33 games, 7 goals, 11 assists, 18 points, +9 rating, 8 penalty minutes, 14:34 average ice time

I'll be honest, when Alexei Ponikarovsky was traded to the Devils, I wasn't really sure what to expect.  I knew he was a big forward that brought size and power to the Devils' lineup and that he had a good wrist shot, but I wasn't sure how he would fit into the Devils' system.  I think the answer was pretty clear from his first game with the team: he's a very good fit with the Devils.  He scored a goal in his first game in New Jersey and played a very solid game down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Ponikarovsky's role on the team was that he served in multiple roles.  At times, he found himself playing among the top six forwards, other times he killed penalties and at other times, he was on the third line.  Whatever the role, he did his job and did it well.

One of the more unnoticed statistics this postseason was that Ponikarovsky had nine points in the playoffs, and of them, five were on game-winning goals (three of them were in overtime).  He didn't light it up for the Devils, but he stepped up and made big plays when the Devils needed him.

Grade: B

Ponikarovsky added size and depth to the Devils' group of forwards.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

This is a tough one.  Aside from Parise, there aren't many coveted free agent forwards this off-season, so if the Devils let Ponikarovsky go and don't make a significant trade this summer, they'll have a hole to fill at forward.  For one year at about what he made last season ($2.5 million), it might be a good idea to re-sign him.

Adam Henrique - #14
Season stats: 74 games, 16 goals, 35 assists, 51 points, +8 rating, 7 penalty minutes, 18:10 average ice time

Adam Henrique made the opening night roster for the Devils out of training camp.  Things didn't go well at all for him early on.  He quickly played his way out of the lineup, became a healthy scratch and soon found himself back in Albany.  Henrique's big break (pun intended) came at the expense of Jacob Josefson, whose broken clavicle knocked him out of the lineup for several months and forced Lou Lamoriello to call Henrique up again.

Henrique looked like a completely different player after the call-up.  The results weren't immediate, but after a few games, he found his scoring groove and took the league by storm.  Just a few weeks later, he found himself centering Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise on the team's top line, and they became a dominant top line until Henrique suffered an injury of his own.  He never got back to his original scoring pace after the injury, but he was a constant in the Devils' lineup for the remainder of the season and was nominated for the Calder Trophy.  Ultimately, the injury will likely have costed him a legitimate chance at winning the award, but hey, it's an honor just to be nominated, right?

Henrique's presence was felt most of all in the playoffs.  He scored memorable series-clinching overtime goals in Game 7 in Florida and Game 6 against the Rangers, solidifying himself as one of the most clutch players in recent history for the Devils.

Grade: A

It's scary to think where the Devils would have been without Henrique this season.  He's a tough, two-way forward with potential to be a star for a long time.

Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season

Petr Sykora - #15
Season stats: 82 games, 21 goals, 23 assists, 44 points, +4 rating, 40 penalty minutes, 15:54 average ice time

Back in September, Petr Sykora came to the Devils as a pre-season tryout, and from the first exhibition game on, there was little doubt that he would make the team.  After not playing in the NHL all of last season, Petr made a smooth transition back into the NHL, and maintained a pretty consistent 20-goal pace all season long.  He played in a top six forward role for most of the season and played all 82 games, finishing with over 20 goals.  That's pretty remarkable, considering how his 2009-10 season with Minnesota ended, as Sykora wasn't sure if he'd ever play in the NHL again.

As the regular season wore on and the playoffs arrived, Sykora looked to cool off quite a bit.  Perhaps the grind of an 82-game season finally caught up to him, and unfortunately, he played his way out of the lineup in the playoffs once Jacob Josefson returned.  Sykora only managed 5 points in 18 playoff games, with his best series coming in the second round against the Flyers.  Still, he and Patrik Elias were fun to watch together again and Sykora's resurgence helped the Devils make this season possible.

Grade: B+

The wily veteran's return to New Jersey was a success.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

This is another tough one, and it'll be a difficult decision that Lou Lamoriello has to make.  I feel that Sykora will either be playing in New Jersey or Europe next season.  He's stated that he'd like to return to the Devils again next season, and barring a major trade, the Devils don't really have anyone ready to step into his spot in the lineup next year.  However, Sykora is up there in age, especially considering he barely played in the NHL for the previous two seasons before 2011-12.  I think in the end, he will return for one more year, which will also make Patrik Elias very happy.

Jacob Josefson - #16
Season stats: 41 games, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, +10 rating, 6 penalty minutes, 12:06 average ice time

I would say that Jacob Josefson was one of the biggest disappointments for the Devils this season.  On Opening Night last October, he was slated to be the team's top center between Nick Palmieri and Ilya Kovalchuk.  By the end of the playoffs, he was a healthy scratch.  But what happened in between Opening Night and the playoffs is what shaped Josefson's season.

Not even a month into the 2011-12 season, Josefson broke a clavicle and missed almost three months of the season.  He returned in mid-January, and struggled for a period of time.  He played a smart and disciplined game defensively, but the lack of offensive production from Josefson must have frustrated him.  He finally scored a couple of goals late in March, but suffered a broken wrist late in the regular season.

Josefson returned for the end of the Eastern Conference Finals, and played a few games in the Stanley Cup Finals, but this was a season marred with injuries for him, similarly to 2010-11.

Grade: C-

Although injuries aren't his fault, this past season was a step in the wrong direction for him, and even though he's only 20 years old, he needs to stay healthy if he wants a long NHL career.

Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season

Ilya Kovalchuk - #17
Season stats: 77 games, 37 goals, 46 assists, 83 points, -9 rating, 33 penalty minutes, 24:26 average ice time 

Coming into the 2011-12 season, Ilya Kovalchuk needed to bounce back.  Sure, he had a strong end to the 2010-11 season, but he, like the team, disappointed overall last year.  Kovalchuk and the Devils rebounded in a huge way.  His 83 points was good enough for 5th overall in the NHL's regular season and the 19 points he put up in the playoffs proved that he is a big-game player and will do what it takes to win because he wants to win.

This wasn't just another strong offensive season for Kovalchuk, though.  The 2011-12 season featured Kovalchuk turning into a premier player in the NHL, because he became a two-way player.  Kovalchuk played more than any other Devils forward on the power play, and also became a regular on the league's best penalty killing unit.  That added up to big minutes for Kovalchuk this season, as his 24:26 average ice time per game was the highest average of his career.

Then came the playoffs, where critics were quick to remind everyone that Kovalchuk had never played beyond the first round in his career before this season.  He was good, not great, in the first round against the Panthers, and then had to miss a game against the Flyers due to a developing back injury, but he fought through the injury and dominated the following game, putting up three points.  He continued his strong play through the second and third round series, but his physical condition deteriorated late in the third round against the Rangers and eventually in the Stanley Cup Finals.  He played through the pain, as there was no easy solution, but the once-dominant winger was helpless on the ice, and ultimately, that was a major factor in the outcome of the series against the Kings.

Grade: A

It's hard to live up to a $100 million contract.  Kovalchuk proved his value this season, and will be a valuable part of the Devils for many years to come.

Contract status: signed through.........hang on, I can't find the end of it...

Steve Bernier - #18
Season stats: 32 games, 1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, +6 rating, 16 penalty minutes, 11:58 average ice time

Steve Bernier's season will forever be remembered for its last shift, which came in the first period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  It was an unfortunate end to Bernier's season, but if you look past that game, he had himself a solid season with the Devils.  Like Sykora, Steve Bernier tried out for the team in the pre-season, but didn't make the team.  He played the beginning of the season in AHL Albany, but eventually found himself scratched in the AHL.  But Lou Lamoriello saw something in Bernier that might help the NHL club, so he called him up.

Bernier made an impact on the NHL team right away.  He played with Josefson and Ponikarovsky at first, at times filling in for David Clarkson, or on the fourth line.  Unfortunately, playing on the fourth line didn't give Bernier much of a chance to do anything with the puck, as Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton often occupied lineup spots.  That all changed for them in the playoffs.

On the last day of the regular season, Bernier, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta played in the same game for the first time all season.  A week later, they were together as the fourth line in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs.  The results were immediate.  Carter scored in Game 1, Bernier assisted on Gionta's goal in Game 3, and then Bernier got on the board himself in Games 4 and 6.  Bernier added four more assists later in the playoffs, but he was a huge part of the fourth line that may have saved the Devils' playoff run multiple times.

Grade: B

Bernier was a good fit for the Devils.  It's almost as if Pete DeBoer knew him before this season or something...

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

As I mentioned earlier, the Devils don't really have any top-end forwards waiting in the minors for their shot at the NHL.  Re-signing the entire fourth line would benefit the Devils next season.  Bernier, along with Gionta and Carter, would give the Devils four solid lines, and over the course of an 82-game season, that would make them very difficult to play against.

Travis Zajac - #19
Season stats (regular season and playoffs): 39 games, 9 goals, 11 assists, 20 points, -9 rating, 8 penalty minutes, 20:29 average ice time (in playoffs)

Travis Zajac's 2011-12 season didn't begin until December 16th, as an Achilles injury kept him out of the lineup for the season's first two and a half months.  Even at that point, he only lasted 8 games before he realized that he couldn't keep playing through the injury.  He returned to the lineup in late March, and the Devils won six out of the last seven games of the regular season and proceeded to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Coincidence?  I think not.

This season proved that Travis Zajac is close to irreplaceable.  Adam Henrique did an admirable job stepping up and playing on the top line, but ultimately, Zajac is the Devils' best all-around center.  He's nearly good enough to warrant consideration for the Selke Trophy, he plays the power play and is an elite face-off center in the NHL.  He got going offensively towards the middle of the playoffs as well.

Grade: B

Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season

Ryan Carter - #20
Season stats: 65 GP, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, -12 rating, 84 penalty minutes, 10:28 average ice time

Ryan Carter was another piece of the Devils' fourth line this season.  Unlike Gionta and Bernier, however, Carter was in the Devils' lineup for most of the regular season as well.  He played a solid game for the Devils, in fact, he was on the third line for some points early in the season when the Devils were battling several injuries to forwards.

It's difficult to gauge Carter's regular season, because he spent much of it with Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen, and personally, I'd have a massive headache if Boulton and Janssen were my linemates.  Carter played very well in the playoffs, though.  The second-best 'stache on the team scored more goals in the playoffs (5) than he did in the regular season (4).

Grade: C+

Carter had an inconsistent season, but was excellent in the playoffs.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

Like I said earlier, I'd personally love to see all three fourth liners return next season.  If Carter re-signs for minimum salary, or close to it, why not have him back?

Mattias Tedenby - #21
Season stats: 43 games, 1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, -15 rating, 16 penalty minutes, 10:45 average ice time

This season was a huge step backwards for Mattias Tedenby.  He showed the Devils some flashes of brilliance in the 2010-11 season, but this past season was an absolute failure for Tedenby at the NHL level.  While that is disappointing, there is still reason for optimism surrounding him.  He's still just 21 years old, and he heated up late in the season for Albany, finishing with 20 points in 35 AHL games this season.  Sometimes small players take longer to develop (i.e. Martin St. Louis).

I personally thought there were a few major problems with Tedenby's game this season, and it all started with his inability to score goals.  He found a taste of his goal-scoring ability last season, but he just couldn't finish plays this past season.  He was still good along the boards and was able to control the puck, but he couldn't do anything with it.  Perhaps it was out of frustration, but this resulted in some sloppy play by Tedenby in his own end.  He's never been known to be an elite two-way forward, but that area of his game clearly needs work, too.

Grade: F

Any way you look at it, Tedenby's 2011-12 NHL season was one he needs to forget about completely.

Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season

Eric Boulton - #22
Season stats: 51 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, -12 rating, 115 penalty minutes, 6:35 average ice time

Eric Boulton is a funny guy.  He scored a hat trick against the Devils in December 2010, yet the guy was not on the ice for a single Devils goal in the 2011-12 season.  I'm scrambling to think of anything he did on the ice all season to help the Devils and I'm coming up empty.  Well, except for the time he punched Douglas Murray in the face during a fight and injured his hand, forcing him out of the lineup in the process.

I completely understand why Lou Lamoriello brought Boulton to New Jersey.  There were two reasons: first of all, people say he's a good teammate.  He was apparently good friends with Johan Hedberg and Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta.  Secondly, the Devils felt that they needed someone to match the big goons of the Rangers.  That mini-line brawl at MSG was fun, right?  It's too bad Boulton got to play in 50 other games this season.  In fact, advanced stats show that Boulton was actually the worst player in the NHL last season.

Grade: F

There's no way around the fact that Boulton was completely useless on the ice and hurt the Devils every time he took a shift.

Contract status: [somehow] signed through 2012-13 season

(Please buy him out, Lou...)

David Clarkson - #23
Season stats: 80 games, 30 goals, 16 assists, 46 points, -8 rating, 138 penalty minutes, 16:22 average ice time

Re-united with his head coach from Kitchener (DeBoer), David Clarkson finally had his breakout season this year.  This was the season that Devils fans had been waiting for since 2008.  Clarkson was a part of the exclusive 30 goals/100 penalty minutes club this season.  Unfortunately, it looked like the injury that bothered Clarkson late in the regular season bothered him for much of the playoffs, but he still posted 12 points in 24 playoff games.  He was simply terrific this past season.

The problem with Clarkson is that I sincerely doubt that these offensive numbers will be sustainable for him next season and beyond.  Although he set a career-high in shots on goal (as well as goals, assists and points), his shooting percentage this season was 13.2%, which is up considerably from his career percentage (now up to 9.6%).  Perhaps Clarkson will continue to flourish under DeBoer, who seems to know exactly how to get the most out of him, but I would be surprised if he gets back to 30 goals next season.

Grade: A-

Clarkson was great this season, but seriously Pete, why does he have to take face-offs?

(He could have gotten an "A" if he had more discipline...)

Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season

Bryce Salvador - #24
Season stats*: 82 games, 0 goals, 9 assists, 9 points, +18 rating, 66 penalty minutes, 20:13 average ice time
*Playoff stats: 24 games, 4 goals, 10 assists, 14 points, +9 rating, 26 penalty minutes, 22:25 average ice time

When Bryce Salvador stepped onto the ice on Opening Night last October, he accomplished something significant.  Before last fall, it was unknown whether or not Salvador would ever be healthy enough to play a game in the NHL again, but he worked with Zach Parise on and off the ice to be ready for this season, and he had a tremendous season.

Salvador was the Devils' best defenseman all season, despite not scoring a goal in the regular season.  His steady play in his own end led the Devils on their blue line.  He was one of the keys to the success of the penalty kill as well.  After missing the entire 2010-11 season, Salvador's 20:13 average ice time per game set a new career-high.

It's inexplicable what happened to him in the playoffs.  All of a sudden, he turned into a puck-moving defenseman.  He and Marek Zidlicky were one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL during the 2012 playoffs, and as Zidlicky faded later in the playoffs, Salvador elevated his game.  His goal total multiplied by infinity from the regular season, and he surpassed his point total as well.  He found a way to get his shot through to the net, and it was a huge part of the Devils' offense.

Grade: A

I don't know how Salvador isn't the Devils' nominee for the Masterson Trophy.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

Unfortunately, Bryce Salvador will likely never play for the Devils again, nor should he.  As good as he was this past season, there are three key reasons why he shouldn't re-sign with the Devils: first of all, they have young talent on defense, as Alexander Urbom and company are ready for a full-time job in the NHL.  The second reason is that Salvador suffered a serious concussion in the fall of 2010, and there's no guarantee that he'll be healthy next season.  Finally, he's over the age of 35, so if he did re-sign and became injured, his contract would be stuck on the Devils' salary cap and payroll.

Cam Janssen - #25
Season stats: 48 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, -8 rating, 75 penalty minutes, 4:41 average ice time

It's still puzzling that Lou Lamoriello inked Boulton and Cam Janssen last summer.  Although players say that both are good teammates, you can't justify bringing in two goons because they're good teammates.  Maybe they were signed simply for that brawl at MSG.  Anyway, Janssen had a typical Cam Janssen season: he got into a lot of fights, hit people and got out-scored by Martin Brodeur.

The difference between Janssen and Boulton, in my opinion is that Janssen didn't hurt the Devils [as much] when he was on the ice.  At least Janssen would take the body and has the ability to keep the puck out of trouble in his own end.  Janssen is also a much better fighter than Boulton, so he's a slightly better player than Boulton.

Grade: D-

He's better than Eric Boulton.  So am I (almost).

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

He should go, but I have a bizarre feeling that Lou will re-sign him.  I hope the NHL rejects the contract, but they won't.

Patrik Elias - #26
Season stats: 81 games, 26 goals, 52 assists, 78 points, -8 rating, 16 penalty minutes, 19:51 average ice time

The most under-appreciated player in the NHL had another quietly brilliant season.  Patrik Elias ranked 10th in the NHL in points, yet he's hardly considered to be an elite player in the NHL.  Elias had more points than Hossa, Thornton, Gaborik, St. Louis, Kopitar, Parise, Zetterberg, Iginla and Daniel Sedin, just to name a few.  There aren't many adjectives you can use that would exaggerate how good Elias has been for the Devils over the years, and the 2011-12 season was another tremendous season for him.  He's a top-caliber offensive player in the NHL, and he's an elite two-way forward, something that also often gets overlooked.

Elias also broke some team records this season.  He became the third Devil to play 1,000 games, his entire career, with the Devils, joining Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur.  He scored his 93rd career power play goal (he's up to 99 now), which broke John MacLean's record in that category, while also breaking MacLean's record for even-strength goals (249) and goals overall (361).

The one that is puzzling is what happened to Patrik Elias in the playoffs.  He scored the first goal in Game 1 against Florida, and added another in Game 3 of that series, but he only managed 6 points in the 21 games after Game 3 of the first round (8 points overall).  Like every Devil, he got hit hard and banged up at times (especially against the Rangers), but there was never a moment when he truly looked injured.  He simply had a bad stretch in the playoffs.  Maybe he was just tired.

Grade: A

On a team with Kovalchuk and Parise, I think Patrik Elias might very well still be the best all-around player on the Devils.

Contract status: signed through 2012-13 season

Anton Volchenkov - #28
Season stats: 72 games, 2 goals, 9 assists, 11 points, +3 rating, 34 penalty minutes, 17:59 average ice time

Anton Volchenkov had a typical Anton Volchenkov-type of season: he got beat up, he blocked shots, he hit people and didn't score a ton of points.  He did, however, net his first and second goals as a Devil this season, and added one in the Stanley Cup Finals for good luck.  The most amazing part of Volchenkov's game is his pain tolerance.  In Montreal this season, he got hit in the face with a puck, and it barely phased him.  For all of the bad attention Russian players receive, the Devils have two of the most persevering and determined Russians in the league: Volchenkov and Kovalchuk.

Volchenkov had a solid regular season doing what he does best: shutting down the opposition's top players.  Late in the regular season, though, he came out of the lineup due to an apparent injury, and he never really recovered in the playoffs.  He was brutal to watch in the first round against Florida, as he was on the ice for almost every Panthers goal.  Luckily, the Devils advanced beyond the first round, and Volchenkov settled into the playoffs at that point.  He either felt better physically or battled through the pain, and knowing Volchenkov, I'd assume he battled through the pain.

Grade: B

Anton Volchenkov is a warrior, and he's got the black-and-blues to prove it.

Contract status: signed through 2015-16 season

If there is an amnesty clause in the new CBA this summer, I'd guess the Devils would use it on Volchenkov and terminate his deal, though.

Mark Fayne - #29
Season stats: 82 games, 4 goals, 13 assists, 17 points, -4 rating, 26 penalty minutes, 20:11 average ice time

Mark Fayne is another player who would accurately fit the description "under-appreciated."  He played in all 106 Devils games this season and he established himself as an NHL regular in the process.  He's become a steady shutdown defenseman ever since he got his chance in the NHL last season.  He got off to a slow start this season, as he occasionally blew coverage, but his overall play improved as the season wore on.

The problem I have, and it's hardly Fayne's fault, is that he's put into offensive situations that he shouldn't be in.  Unless he's playing in Toronto, relying on him to put up points is unnecessary.  He's a big shutdown defenseman, and he should be used that way.  He shouldn't be relied on offensively and he shouldn't be on the power play.  Other than that, he's a quality player.

Grade: B

Contract status: Restricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

He's an RFA.  There's no reason not to re-sign him.

Martin Brodeur - #30
Season stats: 59 games, 31-21-4 record, 2.41 goals against average, .908 save percentage, 3 shutouts

It was another up-and-down season for Martin Brodeur.  Like last season, he was inconsistent early in the season, and battled some injuries along the way.  Also like last season, he was great after the All-Star break.  His stats weren't great this past season, but all he really cares about right now is having a chance to win a fourth Stanley Cup.  He and Hedberg played well enough to get the Devils back into the playoffs.  It was then that Brodeur turned back the clock and played his best hockey of the season.

Brodeur also picked up a pair of new records along the way: most playoff shutouts and most points in a postseason by a goaltender.  Still, those stats are trivial.  Brodeur not only had a brilliant postseason, but he saved his best play when the Devils needed him.  He was phenomenal in overtime of Game 7 in Florida, and was strong against the Flyers, but he out-dueled Henrik Lundqvist and knocked off the Rangers and matched Jonathan Quick save-for-save as long as he could.  There's nothing he could have done about the calls in Game 6 that turned that game around.  He gave the Devils a chance to win every night, and the Devils fell just short.

Grade: B+

He wasn't brilliant in the first half of 2011-12, but he stepped up when it mattered most.

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Should he stay or should he go?

He'll retire if there's a lockout, but other than that, he's probably going to play next season...for the Devils.