Devils heading home again after missing the playoffs for the third straight year

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NEWARK, New Jersey — The New Jersey Devils have developed a new trend when it comes to the playoffs.

Instead of making them seemingly every season, Devils general manager and president Lou Lamoriello talks about the disappointment of missing the postseason and taking responsibility for it.

For the Devils, the playoff drought is now at three straight seasons and four of five. It's only getting worse, too.

While some might see reason for optimism with a young defense and an excellent goaltender in Cory Schneider, the record says otherwise.

New Jersey went 32-36-14 for 78 points, missing the playoffs by 20 points. It was the sixth-worst record in the NHL and the team's worst in a full season since getting 66 points in 1988-89. The season ended with a 1-7-3 skid.

"Right now it's still an empty feeling," Lamoriello said Monday after the Devils took a team picture and the players cleaned out their lockers at the Prudential Center.

"We've only had 24 hours. You take a step back now and you look in the mirror. You don't look left or right. I take full responsibility. You look at where the positives are and where the negatives are, and that's what will transpire."

The most immediate task facing Lamoriello is finding a head coach. He fired Pete DeBoer in December and ran the team with Adam Oates and Scott Stevens. The long-time executive plans to meet with both, but he would not say anything about their chances of getting the top job.

Lamoriello doesn't expect a coaching decision soon, adding it might not be done by the draft in late June.

What the Devils need is obvious. They need offense.

Their 181 goals were the third fewest in the league. It's been the same problem since they lost Zach Parise to free agency after going to the Stanley Cup finals in 2012 and then had Ilya Kovalchuk walk away the following season to play in his native Russia.

"It happens, that's the business side of the game," said 38-year-old center Patrik Elias, one of six Devils in double figures in goals this season. "You try to replace that and we never got that scoring to where we want it for us to win hockey games. So that's one of the problems, obviously."

Forward Mike Cammalleri turned out to be an excellent free agent addition this season, scoring a team-high 27 goals. However, there was no other go-to scorer.

How much money Lamoriello will be given by ownership to sign players remains to be seen. The Devils will pick no lower than seventh in the draft, where they have a 7.5 percent chance of winning the lottery for the No. 1 pick overall.

The back end of the Devils was the strength of the club. After a slow start, Schneider had an excellent first season replacing Martin Brodeur as the No. 1 goalie. He posted a 26-31-9 mark with five shutouts and a respectable 2.26 goals-against average with a young defense playing in front of him.

Those youngsters — Adam Larsson (22), Eric Gelinas (23), Jon Merrill (23) and Damon Severson (20) improved as the season progressed. Veteran Andy Greene anchored the group on a team that gave up 216 goals.

Montreal and Chicago tied for the league low in goals against at 189.

"We have some pieces, we have some good players and I think we believe in one another," Schneider said. "In terms of the big picture, that's management's job. We all have to look in the mirror and say: 'What can I do next year and what can I bring that is better?' If we all do that the result will turn around."

The Devils have some roster decisions. Former first-round pick Stefan Matteau, Gelinas and Larsson are restricted free agents. Forwards Michael Ryder, Martin Havlat, Jordin Tootoo, Scott Gomez and Steve Berneir, and defensemen Peter Harrold, Mark Fraser and Bryce Salvador are unrestricted free agents.

Salvador, the 39-year-old team captain, missed most of the season with a hip injury. Forward Ryane Clowe played only 13 games before being sidelined by a concussion. He still has not been medically cleared to play.

The bottom line is the Devils are heading in the wrong direction after making the playoffs 13 straight seasons between 1997 and 2009-10 and 19 of 20 since the 1990 season.

"It's the part of the cycle that nobody really wants to talk about," Salvador said. "You don't want to be in that cycle. With the tradition of this organization, not making the playoffs just isn't acceptable."

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