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By Matt Canamucio, NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - This offseason was a relatively quiet one in the swamps of Jersey.

After a season that saw the team flourish under general manager/interim coach Lou Lamoriello, player personnel changes were scarce. However, Lamoriello, who led the Devils to the second round last spring, decided not to stay behind the bench and hired former Canadiens' boss Claude Julien for the gig.

In addition he found the funds to re-sign winger Patrik Elias after he had become an unrestricted free agent. Elias was the top forward on the market, and was inked to a seven-year deal worth a reported $42 million.

Elias enters this season healthy, after sitting out past New Year's in 05-06 recovering from a bout with Hepatitis A. The numbers he put up after his return -- 45 points in just 38 games -- were staggering enough, so it will be interesting to see what he does in his first full post-lockout campaign.

Of course, the Devils' success will still be rooted in defense, as has been their trademark for more than a decade. This is year two of the team being without Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, but in 05-06 the blueline corps got by relatively well with the likes of Brian Rafalski, Colin White and Paul Martin leading the way.

And we can't talk Devils defense without mentioning goaltender Martin Brodeur, who came on strong down the stretch following a tough start a season ago.

The Devils are still here folks, and they are going to be a presence.

FORWARDS - After Elias' return, he, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez comprised a sizzling first line. The diminutive Gionta finished with a team-record 48 goals, while Gomez, the playmaker of the group, tallied 51 assists. Elias was back playing at the level he was at earlier this decade, when he finished with 40 goals and 56 assists in 82 games during 2000-01.

Overall, this top unit is lacking a big physical presence, but its dynamic speed and pure skill is perfectly suited for the style of hockey being played these days.

Big-time scoring depth could pose a problem for New Jersey, as Jamie Langenbrunner was the only player aside from Gionta and Gomez to reach the 50- point mark. Of course, the Devils have made a living being successful without a ton of scoring depth.

An x-factor for this season might be youngster Zach Parise, the team's first- round pick in 2003. Again, he isn't a big forward, but he has the motor of a champion and posted 14 goals and 18 assists as a rookie. Parise primarily played on the wing last season, but should be the second-line centerman in 06-07.

The Devils also continue to have one of the best group of defensive forwards in John Madden, Sergei Brylin and Jay Pandolfo. Madden and Brylin are also typically good for between 15 and 20 goals apiece.

DEFENSE - The Devs' defense corps has a nice combination of size and skill. Brian Rafalski became the anchor in the wake of Stevens' and Niedermayer's departures, and he finished third on the team with 49 points.

Colin White was re-signed this offseason and will continue to be counted on to replace some of the physicality that left when Stevens retired. He has improved tremendously as a pure defender, and should keep on doing so.

Paul Martin is heading into his third NHL campaign, and his development is progressing nicely. In addition to being defensively sound, he logs significant time as a power-play quarterback, and finished last season with five goals and 32 assists.

David Hale and veterans Brad Lukowich and Richard Matvichuk will also be in the mix on the blueline.

GOALTENDING - Brodeur posted his fifth 40-win season in 05-06, going 43-23-7 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. Heading into this season the future Hall of Famer is 34-years-old, and it remains to be seen whether or not he can keep up his recent workload. He has logged at least 70 games in eight consecutive campaigns, and at some point you'd think that would be too much.

Scott Clemmensen will likely back-up Brodeur. Last season he appeared in 13 matches and went 3-4-2 with a 3.35 GAA and .881 SP. It would be nice to see Brodeur have an experienced understudy who can start 20-25 games, but that isn't the case.
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