In order to gain a better understanding of a team’s prospects, it is often helpful to find a team parallel. Generally, that parallel is found in another conference. For the Rangers this season, the closest match would be the St. Louis Blues. They draw similar attendance, have the stingiest defenses in the NHL (the Blues and Rangers are first and second in 5v5 Goals Against per Game and 5v5 Shooting Percentage Against), benefit from fantastic goaltending, and have enough scoring punch to win the majority of their games. Neither do it in a flashy way. Instead both embrace a “lunch-pail, we’ll battle our opponents in the corners the entire game by pressuring the puck with an aggressive forecheck and force turnovers” style of play.
For the Devils, I see a different parallel and that is the Nashville Predators. Both teams are based in a smaller market, both have been praised for making the most of their smaller salary caps by building winning, playoff teams. The Devils major acquisition of Kovy makes the Predators currently resemble the Stanley Cup era Devils a little bit more now, possessing two high-end marquee defensemen who protect one of the league’s best goaltenders, while offense is a team-wide effort.
But the biggest similarity that draws the most media attention to both teams is their unrestricted free agents this summer: Devils captain Zach Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter.
The trade deadline passed Monday, and quite appropriately, the Devils lost their third game in a row that night. Trouble may be ahead for New Jersey. While both Suter and Parise wanted to see their teams make a commitment to winning, only Nashville made the key acquisitions for this postseason, positioning themselves as buyers who are making a run for the Stanley Cup.
Nashville prizes their star American defenseman Suter, and general manager Dave Poile made moves early showing he was going to bolster Nashville’s depth for what he expected to be a long playoff run. On Feb. 17, he traded for the highly coveted veteran Stanley Cup winning defenseman Hal Gill, obtaining with him a 2013 fifth round pick and sending to Montreal prospects Blake Geoffrion, Robert Slaney, and a 2012 second-round pick. Gill is a big body that will provide leadership and experience for Nashville’s back-end, a calming voice in the locker room during pressure moments in the playoffs, while still banging bodies and defending the net.
On Monday, Nashville then went out and got forward Andrei Kostitsyn, the mercurial but highly talented forward, who will be joining his brother Sergei on the Predators, giving them added offensive firepower on the front-end. Nashville also added the highly sought after Paul Gaustad from Buffalo. Gaustad is a great faceoff man who kills penalties and increases Nashville’s toughness and offensive front-depth. In addition to Gaustad, the Predators acquired a 2013 fourth-round pick from Buffalo in exchange for their 2012 first-round pick. Bolstering their front-end and back-end not only made them deeper for the postseason grind, but it prevented their competitors like Central Division rivals Detroit and Chicago from adding extra pieces.