NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Reaching the Stanley Cup finals hasn't made the New Jersey Devils one of the favorites to win the NHL title in this lockout-shortened season.
Far from it.
Despite returning Ilya Kovalchuk, Martin Brodeur and almost everyone from the club that came within two games of winning its fourth Cup, the Devils have a lot of doubters heading into the 48-game regular season.
A big part of the concern is the loss of former captain Zach Parise. A 31-goal scorer last year, he returned home by signing with Minnesota as a free agent.
Not only did general manager Lou Lamoriello lose a face of the franchise, he also decided not to re-sign veteran Petr Sykora, a 21-goal scorer, and faces the prospect of starting without second-year center Adam Henrique (16 goals), who is sidelined with a thumb injury.
Indeed, the Devils have a mountain to climb in the tough Eastern Conference if they are to repeat last season's success.
Especially on offense. Lamoriello, after all, didn't sign anyone to help Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson to carry the load this season. And don't think a 40-year-old Brodeur is going to save the team on a daily basis.
Hence, the doubt — from everywhere.
"I guess we have to prove them wrong," said Clarkson, who is coming off a career-best 30-goal season. "Zach is a huge piece to the puzzle that got us to where we did, but at end of the day, there are opportunities that happen in hockey and in sports and guys are going to get chances. You look at what Mr. Lamoriello has done here in the past, and he always finds a way to find people or make the right decisions.
"I think we will be fine. If we stick to our systems and do what we are asked, I think we will be fine."
The last time the NHL had a 48-game season, 1994-95, the Devils won their first Cup. That was a different team, though. The Devils had lost to the Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals the previous year and were returning a young, loaded, talented team with Brodeur in just his second true season.
The Devils are a veteran team this time around. Their advantage is knowing what they want to do under coach Pete DeBoer heading into the sprint, but they do not have the youth the 1995 team did.
A year ago, New Jersey posted a 48-28-6 record and finished fourth in the conference with 102 points. In DeBoer's first season, they beat Florida in seven games in the opening round, knocked off Philadelphia in five in the second round, and the Rangers in six in the conference finals.
Los Angeles then defeated New Jersey in the Stanley Cup finals, in six games.