Nothing has been more of a constant than change in the swamps of New Jersey over the past five years.
After enjoying a successful five-year run under Jacques Lemaire in the mid-1990s, the Devils will be adjusting to their fourth coach in five seasons with Pat Burns behind the bench to replace the fired Kevin Constantine.
Sure, they won a Stanley Cup and played for a second during that time, but that didn't stop general manager Lou Lamoriello from constantly tweaking the coaching staff and personnel in an attempt to find the right mix.
Constantine didn't have enough time to get comfortable finding his way to the arena last season, having replaced Larry Robinson 51 games into the 2001-02 season himself. The Devils seemed to be on the right track in the stretch run under Constantine, posting a 20-11 record and convincing many pundits that the Devils had enough of a surge in them to take a run at another Cup. But after chasing Arturs Irbe in Game 4 of its opening-round series against Carolina, New Jersey had the misfortune of running into the best two-game stretch of Kevin Weekes' life.
And a disappointing season was followed by a busy offseason, with Lamoriello sending Petr Sykora, defenseman Mike Commodore, goaltender Jean-Francois Damphousse and defenseman Igor Pohanka to Anaheim for defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky and wingers Jeff Friesen and Maxim Balmochnykh. Gritty two-way center Bobby Holik jumped across the Hudson River for a five-year, $45 million contract that the Devils had no prayer of matching. Holik and Sykora will be missed offensively, but Friesen should have a career revival in Jersey playing with better players than he did in Anaheim. And getting a defenseman like Tverdovsky, who is about to hit the prime of his career, is a stroke of genius by Lamoriello, who knows Scott Stevens is nearing the end of his career.
Martin Brodeur, G -- Even in an off year for the Devils, Martin Brodeur was among the five-best goaltenders in the world. Brodeur posted a 38-26-9 record with a 2.08 goals-against average last season, his best GAA average since posting tidy totals of 1.88 and 1.89 in 1996-97 and '97-98.
But New Jersey's dip from 111 points to 95 had little to do with Brodeur's play. The Devils allowed eight fewer goals in 2001-02 than they had in the previous season. Unfortunately, they also scored 90 fewer goals, as the "A Line" of Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott and Sykora slumped from 232 points to 156.
For the third time in the past four seasons, Brodeur's save percentage was .906, but his 38 wins was his lowest total since the 1996-97 season.
With only Corey Schwab behind him on the roster, Brodeur is a safe bet to play at least 70 games again this season. If he gets much help in front of the crease, another 40-win season isn't out of the question.
Jamie Langenbrunner is a former 50-point player who has had his scoring total dip from 52 to 26 since tallying his career-high in the 1997-98 season.
Youngster Brian Gionta is an incredible talent, but at only 5-foot-7 he may not be able to produce up to his college and minor league numbers while facing physical, tough checking teams in the deep Eastern Conference.
Christian Berglund may be forced to play on one of the Devils' top two lines as a rookie after netting 15 goals and 26 assists in 44 games with Albany of the AHL last season.
The Devils needed an infusion of young talent in their defensive unit badly enough to trade away a player (Sykora) who scored 81 points just two seasons ago.
Lamoriello got Tverdovsky, a top-pair defenseman on nearly any team, and Friesen, a poor man's version of Sykora, in return.
Enterting his ninth season at the age of 26, Tverdovsky could blossom playing in a defense-first system for a disciplined coach like Burns.
The defensive play at the Meadowlands slipped significantly last year after Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Colin White all played brilliantly in the Devils' run to the Cup finals in 2001.
Stevens went from 31 points and a plus-40 in the 2000-01 season to just 17 points and a plus-15 last year. Though his stats and speed are slipping, his leadership and ability to intimidate still make him one of the most valuable players on the Devils.
Niedermayer, Rafalski, Tverdovsky and Andrei Zyuzin make up what is likely the best skating foursome on defense in the league, which is needed if they are partnered with noted lead feet like Tommy Albelin, Ken Daneyko, Stevens and White. Numbers will become an issue in training camp, as Burns will have to whittle down to a regular rotation of seven, likely costing a veteran like Albelin or Daneyko his job. The Devils also will try to work Raymond Giroux (53 points in the AHL last season) into the mix on occassion.
Ari Ahonen struggled in his first season in North America, posting just a 6-22-6 record with a 3.02 GAA and .914 save percentage in 36 games with the Albany River Rats.
It can be viewed as either a luxury or a curse to have a stalwart like Brodeur in front of a skilled prospect like Ahonen. The young Finn could take advantage of playing in the same organization as one of the most talented goalies ever and build his own skills up in the hopes of getting a shot in another organization or once Brodeur retires. Or Ahonen could fail to thrive because of complacency or an inability to adapt to the North American style.
Ahonen is one of the most promising in the latest wave of Finnish goaltenders, joined by Miikka Kiprusoff (San Jose), Mika Noronen (Buffalo), Jani Hurme (Ottawa), Pasi Nurminen (Atlanta), Vesa Toskala (San Jose) and 2002 No. 3 overall draft pick Kari Lehtonen (Atlanta).
Ahonen is a big goalie at 6-foot-2, but his strength lies in his impressive glove hand and excellent reflexes. He is a good puckhandler and uses his stick well around the crease, much like Brodeur. Tipping the scales at only 172 pounds, Ahonen needs to gain strength and endurance if he wants to eventually develop into a No. 1 NHL goaltender.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for CNNSI.com.