New Jersey Devils 2012 Free Agency: Dump 'Em or Keep 'Em?
With the season over, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello will head into an offseason filled with question marks and high-profile free agents. New Jersey will have to attempt to re-sign 14 unrestricted free agents, including captain Zach Parise and goaltender Martin Brodeur. Playoff heroes Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Bryce Salvador will also be able to test the market.
Here are my predictions for the 2012 offseason, including who the Devils will dump and who they will keep.
Note: This is only for the unrestricted free agents.
Zach Parise: Keep
According to CapGeek.com, the Devils will have roughly $28 million to spend on free agency, giving them plenty to work with to sign their No. 1 priority.
Parise made $5 million this past season, but it wouldn't be surprising if he asks for at least $7-8 million in his new deal. The Devils take an annual cap hit of $6 million for Ilya Kovalchuk's $100 million contract, so it would only make sense that Parise would want the same or more for himself.
It's going to be tough, but with the teams Lamoriello has built in the past with small contracts, I wouldn't be surprised if they sign Parise and still put a decent team around him.
Martin Brodeur: Keep
This is an absolute no-brainer. Brodeur has spent his entire career with New Jersey, and despite battling injuries the past few seasons, he remains one of the best active goaltenders in the game today and undoubtedly the best goaltender of all time.
His regular-season GAA of 2.41 may be alarming, but Brodeur put the Devils on his back throughout the 2012 NHL playoffs, going 14-9 with a 2.12 GAA and starting every single game in the postseason.
Without Brodeur on the roster, the Devils wouldn't have gone to the Stanley Cup Final.
The future Hall of Fame goaltender will not get the same $5.2 million that he made last season, and with the Devils attempting to re-sign Parise to a long-term deal, I expect to Brodeur to take some sort of a pay cut. If the Devils can get him to a contract somewhere around $1-2 million, it would be a steal.
Bryce Salvador: Dump
By all means, the Devils should keep Salvador after a remarkable scoring streak during the playoffs. The 36-year-old defenseman had four goals and 10 assists during the postseason, both of which came out of nowhere, compared to the nine points he recorded throughout the 2011-2012 regular season.
However, Salvador is aware he might not get an offer because he would be the third priority behind Brodeur and Parise, so the Devils may not have the cap room to bring him back (via the Buffalo News).
Salvador made $2.9 million this season, and with the amount of young talent coming up on the defensive side for the Devils, it would be hard to believe that New Jersey spends that much money on an aging D-man.
Salvador will play next season, but unless he takes an unrealistic pay cut after an impressive postseason, it will be somewhere other than New Jersey.
Alexei Ponikarovsky: Dump
"Poni" played a huge role in the Devils' turnaround this season, adding an extra goal scorer to a team that was lacking offense at the beginning of the season. He was a bigger hero in the Eastern Conference semifinals, adding the game-winning overtime goal against the Flyers in Game 3.
That being said, it is unlikely that the Devils bring him back for next season. With the money that Parise and Brodeur will likely take in new contracts, the $1.5 million that Ponikarovsky made during the 2011-2012 season will be way too much for a third-line winger.
Sure, Poni has the ability to be a top-line winger for the Devils, but it's unlikely that the Devils bring him back this offseason.
Ryan Carter: Keep
Ryan Carter would be what you call a "Lou Specialty." Lamoriello found Carter on waivers early in the season and turned a low-salary center into a playoff hero. Carter was instrumental to the Devils' success at the end of the regular season and through the playoffs, making headlines as the head of a fourth line that was taking the league by storm.
Carter isn't going to demand too much money this offseason, and his recent success with New Jersey should keep him with the team for another year or two. Expect a contract under $1 million, probably around the $750,000 mark, and another successful year for Carter.
Stephen Gionta: Keep
Gionta is another player who fits perfectly into how Lamoriello runs things. Despite being 5'7", Gionta plays with the most heart on the team, which showed all through the playoffs as he and Ryan Carter played like a first line throughout the postseason.
Gionta was making close to the league minimum last season, but I see the Devils bringing him back with a contract similar to Ryan Carter ($750,000). If they can keep Carter and Gionta together, they can have the four-line depth that every successful team needs to succeed.
Johan Hedberg: Dump
Like Salvador, the veteran presence of Hedberg was pivotal in the Devils' success this season. Despite filling the backup role behind Martin Brodeur, Hedberg finished the year 17-7 and helped New Jersey get back to the postseason.
Unfortunately, Hedberg will not have many opportunities to start as long as Brodeur is healthy and still playing in the NHL. I feel that Hedberg can still be a great goaltender for a team in need, so he will likely test the market and see what he can find.
Cam Janssen: Dump
Janssen is undoubtedly a fan favorite in New Jersey, as he has become one of the lone enforcers in the organization. However, the problem for Janssen is Eric Boulton, who is still signed for another season near league minimum.
Some teams prefer to not have any enforcers or "specialty fighters" on their team, let alone two. With Janssen only recording one point last season and Boulton expected to come back next season, it would make sense to let Janssen test the waters.
Boulton and Carter can carry the load in the fighting category, but Janssen will still be missed.
Petr Sykora: Keep
It feels like Sykora will always be a Devil in someway or another, so I wouldn't be surprised if he comes back for another season next year.
Petr was an absolute steal for New Jersey last season, scoring 21 goals and recording 44 points with a salary of just $625,000. He was a part of the Devils' steady second line with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus, and the three showed great chemistry throughout the regular season.
Sykora showed signs of age as the playoffs went on, and was eventually scratched for Jacob Josefson against the New York Rangers. However, he returned for the final three games against the Los Angeles Kings, and I believe he earned his spot on the team for next year.
If he asks for another minimum contract, Sykora will be back in 2012-2013.
Steve Bernier: Keep
Game 6 may forever be engraved with the memories of Steve Bernier's hit, but that doesn't mean the Devils will give up on him.
The fact is, despite that game, the fourth line was the reason why the Devils got as far as they did. New Jersey needs to keep the Carter-Gionta-Bernier line together, and if Bernier can request the contract minimum that he got this year, it would be beneficial for the Devils to take the deal.
Bernier had nine points in the postseason, and was a positive-rated player all season in plus-minus. New Jersey will need a role player like Bernier, with the lack of cap space it will have if it signs Parise, so Bernier will come back.
Peter Harrold: Dump
Harrold was a huge addition in the postseason, giving the Devils depth on the defensive side of the puck all the way into the Stanley Cup Final. His play enabled Pete DeBoer to sit down rookie Adam Larsson, which certainty shook Devils fans the wrong way.
However, even if the Devils lose Salvador to free agency, they will still be bringing back six starting defensemen for next season. New Jersey has a load of young talent in the AHL, and with the NHL draft coming up, it wouldn't be surprising if it drafts another defenseman as well.
This move will enable Larsson to start next season, which was pretty much in the works since day one. Harrold was a great role player, but I think he's gone.