Jaromir Jagr

Will getting older, bigger up front help New Jersey score goals?


On paper, the scenario didn’t look good.

The New Jersey Devils — who finished last year with the third-fewest goals for (110) in the league — watched former 30-goal man David Clarkson sign in Toronto this summer, then had their most prolific sniper, Ilya Kovalchuk, abruptly retire.

Those subtractions alone were reason for pessimism.

In response, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello took an interesting approach to solving those offensive woes — he went targeted older, bigger and more experienced players.

Quite a few of them, actually.

Lamoriello’s biggest splash came by signing Ryane Clowe to a five-year, $24.25 million deal.

Clowe, who turns 31 in September, averaged 20 goals per season from 2008-12.

The savviest move might’ve been inking 33-year-old Michael Ryder to a two-year, $7 million pact. Though he’s been cast aside a few times in his career, Ryder’s goalscoring ability cannot be denied — he had 16 in 48 games last year and 35 in 82 games two seasons ago.

Lamoreillo’s most publicized move, though, was inking Jaromir Jagr.

Jagr, 41, is still producing at a clip most players would envy. His 35 points last year would’ve put him second on the Devils, one shy of Patrik Elias’ team-leading 36 — and that came during a season in which Jagr estimates he played over 100 games all told.

The Jagr deal — bringing on the NHL’s second-oldest skater — embodied New Jersey’s overall offseason approach, as Lamoriello also re-upped with 35-year-old Dainius Zubrus and 37-year-old Elias, giving the Devils a forward makeup filled with veterans. Of the club’s “top 12” forwards, only Adam Henrique and Andrei Loktionov are under the age of 28.

But the question remains: Can relying so heavily on bigger, older players work in the current NHL?

According Lamoriello, experience teamed with the size (Clowe, Jagr and Zubrus are all at least 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds) should work just fine.

“We like our team right now,” he told the Associated Press. “Certainly our goaltending is improved. Our defence is improved because of the experience of the young guys and up front we are going to be a four-line team.

“We have power-play people and penalty killers. This will be one of the bigger teams we’ve had.”

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”