NHL Free Agency 2012: Players the New Jersey Devils Must Target
New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello doesn’t have any time to sulk over his team’s Game 6 loss in the Stanley Cup Finals. With only 13 players under contract for next season, Lamoriello needs to immediately put the playoffs in his rear-view mirror in order to drive his team towards success in the 2012-2013 season.
Let's take a look at which players the Devils should re-sign in free agency.
As the LA Kings showered their locker room with champagne Monday night, the Devils sat in silence, pestered by an uncertain future stained with rumors of free agency and retirement. Forty-year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur sat at the head of the table.
In his postgame interview, Brodeur’s ambiguous response to reporters never fully answered whether he will be back for a 19th season next year. He did, however, say that a decision would be made by July 1.
Brodeur is a guaranteed Hall of Famer and will forever be a legend in New Jersey. He is the NHL's all-time leader in wins (656) and shootouts (143) and has worn a Devils’ sweater in every single game of his career.
Brodeur has played over 67,000 minutes in the NHL, and that experience is vital to New Jersey’s 2012-2013 campaign. Without him, there's no chance the Devils reach the finals in back-to-back years.
Even if Brodeur is back next season, New Jersey would still have an enormous hole in their lineup if they cannot re-sign LW Zach Parise.
Unlike Brodeur’s post-game interview, Parise would not field a single question pertaining to his future with the Devils. Parise is arguably the top prize in this year’s free-agency class.
New Jersey has $28 million of cap space, and just about every chunk of that change needs to go towards Parise’s contract.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post believes that Parise’s deal will be modeled after center Brad Richards’ of the New York Rangers. Richards signed a nine-year/$60 million contract last offseason, making $24 million in the first two years.
Sure, it’s a huge sum of money, but Parise is someone the Devils cannot afford to let go. He played all 82 games in the regular season this year, scoring the second-most goals and the third-most assists for the team.
ESPN analyst Barry Melrose says that Parise’s decision will not be about the money, but rather where Parise can hoist the cup for the first time in his life.
Alongside the Devils, the front-runners in the Parise sweepstakes seem to be the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes. A few more teams have said they are interested, and who wouldn’t be? Every coach wants a player like Parise, someone who can be a two-way forward and a leader on the ice.
New Jersey's 4th Line
One player can’t win a hockey game by himself. With lines shifting every 20-30 seconds, the Stanley Cup champs have to be the most balanced team of the year. A huge part of New Jersey’s success this spring was just that—their fourth offensive line was playing as well as their first.
Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Steve Bernier make up the Devils’ fourth and final line, but all three become free agents this offseason. The three finally clicked in the playoffs, netting 10 goals for New Jersey. However, the trio scored just six times in the entire regular season.
Lamoriello has to decide whether the three are worth keeping around. Will they continue to play up to the caliber that they displayed in the postseason, or will their regular-season scoring drought come back to haunt them?
And for those of you that think Bernier's game misconduct in the first period of Game 6 cost New Jersey the game, it's unfair to determine his fate on that play alone. One play in the span of an entire season should not, and cannot, speak for the impact Bernier has on this team.
Bryce Salvador was one of the biggest surprises for the Devils in their Stanley Cup run. The 36-year-old defenseman had better numbers in the past 24 games than he has had in any season of his nine-year career.
Salvador’s contract expires this summer, and at $2.9 million/year, is he worth keeping around?
With such a tight budget to fill so many roster spots (spending a majority of the $28 million on Parise and Brodeur), Salvador just isn’t worth the expense. It’s way too big of a risk to sign such an old player for so much money, especially when you remember that Salvador sat out the entire ’10-’11 season with head trauma.
Last year’s first-round draft pick Adam Larsson will have to step up for the Devils. The 19-year-old Swede embraced the pressure of his rookie year, dishing out 16 assists in 65 games in the regular season.
Larsson was a healthy scratch during most of the playoffs, playing only one game in New Jersey’s final two series. If Salvador leaves the team, Larsson would be expected to be an everyday starter.
Ordinarily, it would be a lot to ask of such a young athlete, but Larsson has proved he can handle the workload at the NHL level, and it’s time that Lamoriello puts his trust in the kid.
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