Last season was a distinct retreat from the pre-lockout trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The injury report reads like a who’s who of New Jersey Devils players; Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador, Adam Henrique, Martin Brodeur, and more. Worse, the players on the ice didn’t execute. The Devils finished 28th in goals for, without a solid defense, the team would have finished even worse.

The off season was a very mixed bag. The NHL Entry Draft saw the Devil’s select blueliner Steven Santini with their second round pick, and forwards Ryan Kujawinski, Miles Wood and Myles Bell in the middle rounds. Draft day was highlighted in the hockey sense by Lou Lamoriello stunning NHL observes by uprooting Cory Schneider for a single first round pick (which the Canucks used on Bo Horvat). The emotional highlight was Lou Lamoriello acquiring a 7th round pick and passing off the microphone so that Martin Brodeur could make the call to draft his son Anthony into the Devil’s family.

With the ‘retirement’ of Ilya Kovalchuk, and Henrik Talinder, Johan Hedberg among others exiting the organization as well, there will certainly be some new jersey numbers on display this season. Continuing his tour of the old Atlantic division is Jaromir Jagr who enters on a one year deal, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe join the squad. If the roster currently on the Devils site is any indication they intend to make camp very competitive. Twenty-six forwards, sixteen defensemen and five goaltenders grace the roster.

The opening five games will be challenging. They contain two different back to backs, four road games and three teams who were in the playoffs last year. The New Jersey Devils challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road to open the season, then travel home the next night for the Brooklyn New York Islanders. Then they set out for an extended road trip that starts with the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks back to back before a pair of off days and a date with the Calgary Flames.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Weakest opponent: Calgary Flames

Home games: 1

Projected points: 4+

The opening fistful of games will likely be rough. The schedule is as tight as last years compressed schedule, there are a lot of new players, and two back to back sets. If the DevilsĀ  win two of three against the Penguins, Islanders, and Canucks they are likely bound for the playoffs. On the other hand if there’s one thing decades of October hockey has taught us it is that the standings don’t much matter until late November.

The NHL Draft isn’t a day where easy grades for all 30 teams can be made. Some moves do standout though and the teams that make them deserve to be singled out.

Losers:

Colorado Avalanche: Not only did they deliberately pass on a franchise quality defenseman in Seth Jones, the defense they took later in the draft lacks upside. Most look to be fringe NHL players who will likely never play above bottom pairing quality. Nathan MacKinnon is undoubtedly a quality player, but those outside the Avalanche war room are largely scratching their heads today.

Boston Bruins: After Nathan Horton’s announcement that he would go to free agency, and then rumors surfacing of Tyler Seguin’s availability, the Bruins not only failed to replace their departing top line right wing, or trade his rights for a draft pick or another players rights they didn’t do much to appear competitive this offseason. After receiving due criticism that the front office was failing to compete the summer they won the Stanley Cup, it appear the same is true this year. While Chicago, New Jersey, Toronto, The Islanders and the Canucks all made moves that address current or near future talent and salary cap needs, the Bruins sat on their hands. Arguably by publicly attacking Tyler Seguin’s professionalism they even poisoned their own well if they do decide to trade him.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Clearly the Lightning leadership have great faith in the defense they drafted last year. That draft class is highlighted by their tenth overall pickSlater Keokkoek who in the last three OHL season has played a total of 68 games, only two of which were in the most recent season. Or perhaps it is Radko Gudas that inspires their faith in their defensive talent pool. I can’t think of another reason for a team that has finished 26th and 30th in goals against the last two seasons, to fail to draft a single defenseman they also failed to trade for an NHL ready or veteran defenseman.

Winners:

New Jersey Devils: The Devils opened the day with Lou Lamoriello swindling Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis out of Cory Schneider. That one move to solidify the post Martin Brodeur era means any NHL regulars who turn up out of this years draft are icing on the cake. They also got the NHL’s best father son moment when Martin Brodeur got to call his sons name at the NHL draft picking up Anthony Brodeur in the seventh round of Shattuck Saint Mary’s.

Chicago BlackHawks: On and off the draft floor the BlackHawks took care of business this weekend. They traded away David Bolland for two picks in this years draft and one in next years to the Toronto Maple Leafs, they then moved Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets and picked up an additional two picks. They resigned Bryan Bickell who was second on the team in scoring over their run to the Cup. At the end of the first round they picked up Ryan Hartman a veteran of the USNDT in the USHL, and well known pest.

New York Islanders: The Islanders did some of their addition by subtraction this weekend. Swiss left wing Nino Niederreiter was clearly unhappy with the Islanders brass, and they with him. In moving him for Minnesota Wild they get a potential problem out of the system and pick of a physical, aggressive forward who will force opposing defenses to double check before grabbing the puck. Perhaps their two best pickups at the draft were Eamon McAdam, and Stephon Williams. The two goalies project as starters. McAdam’s athleticism is cheered, and Williams led Minnesota State at Mankato to the Frozen Four tournament as part of roster that had just three NHL draft picks on it. On top of the crease they drafted Ryan Pulock, a hard shooting, right handed thick set defenseman with a rep for skating well and hitting hard.