Everyone expected the New Jersey Devils to make a big signing after losing captain Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild. On the contrary—Devils GM Lou Lamoriello did not show much interest in any of this year's free agents.
There were rumors buzzing about the Devils pursuit of former Washington Capitals forward Alexander Semin (via New York Sports World). The possibility of New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk and Semin playing in the NHL together was exciting—both represented Russia in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Since the 2004 NHL lockout, Semin has averaged more points per game than Parise. The Russian sniper could have filled Parise's point totals and then some.
It is hard to tell whether the Devils were simply outbid or whether Lamoriello was all that interested in Semin at all. There is virtually no official trace of any extended effort on Lamoriello's part.
In fact, not much suggests that Lamoriello has made a serious push for any top-tier free agent at all.
In this slideshow are reasons why Lamoriello chose to absorb the loss of Parise and endure the 2012-2013 season without a sizable replacement.
With the New Jersey Nets' move to Brooklyn, the Devils have become New Jersey's last major sports team.
According to ESPN's list of hockey teams' attendance, the Eastern Conference Champions ranked No. 24 in attendance--averaging fewer than 15,400 fans per game. Other Atlantic Division teams--not including the New York Islanders--averaged between 18,000-20,000 fans per game.
Is that anyway to treat a team that was two wins away from Lord Stanley's cup?
It seems "Jersey Pride" does not translate to hockey, despite the Devils' consistent playoff success and recent push to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Low ticket and merchandising sales have given Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek quite a financial burden to work with.
According to the New York Post, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was preparing potential investors to take control of the Devils in June, disbelieving of Vanderbeek's ability to reciprocate the $77 million he owed to his investors.
Although Vanderbeek is currently $22 million short, he will most likely be granted an extension after showing competency in paying back his loans.
Nothing is official yet, but it seems Vanderbeek will live to fight another day as the owner of the Devils. However, this precariousness that the Devils organization has always endured needs to change.
Money issues ultimately interfere with the works of Lou Lamoriello and head coach Pete DeBoer, who are trying to do their jobs with the resources at hand.
With these financial burdens, it is not feasible for Lamoriello to overpay for a one-year contract like the Hurricanes did with Alexander Semin.
Although things have started to look brighter for New Jersey, they are not out of their financial hole--a hole that undoubtedly played a part in Lamoriello's hesitance during the offseason.
Look at this frightening list of Devils players who will be unrestricted free agents after next season:
1. Patrik Elias
2. Travis Zajac
3. Dainius Zubrus
4. David Clarkson
5. Cam Janssen
6. Marek Zidlicky
7. Peter Harrold
The Devils have to re-sign these guys somehow. Realistically, if Zach Parise did not leave, the Devils would have had to let some of these guys go.
Not that Parise's departure is a blessing by any means, but his absence frees up a lot of money for the Devils to effectively lock down the bulk of their team.
Signing a temporary gun like Alexander Semin might not have been the best move after all. The Devils might have planned to capitalize on Parise's absence, giving other players a chance to step up and take the reins.
A season without a replacement would give Pete DeBoer and Lou Lamoriello a chance to see what their guys are made of. At the end of the season, the Devils would be able to invest their money accordingly into the UFAs who have stepped up.
Unfortunately Lou Lamoriello could not compete with Zach Parise's dream of playing in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Unlike other GMs who are desperate for signings, Lamoriello has not forgotten that good players can be developed and do not have to be picked from free agency.
The 2012 free agency was really nothing to write home about. Parise, Alexander Semin and former Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter were really the only noteworthy UFAs.
Once the Minnesota Wild snagged both Suter and Parise, the free agent pool was mostly empty.
Take a look at the top-five UFAs of the 2013 free-agency pool (excluding the Devils named in the slide before):
1. Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames)
2. Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks)
3. Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks)
4. Alexander Semin (Washington Capitals)
5. Joffrey Lupul (Toronto Maple Leafs)
With a free agent pool this thick, Lamoriello could be sitting on 2013 as a golden opportunity to strengthen any weaknesses within his team.
Zach Parise was a big and irreplaceable loss for the New Jersey Devils—there is no doubt about that.
Having said that, the loss of a captain gives other players the chance to step up and play to new levels. There are a lot of talented players on the Devils lineup who could take advantage of the vacancy in the top line.
Many will be looking toward Calder Trophy finalist Adam Henrique to step up his play. The rookie really came into his own during his NHL playoff, notching several key goals during the Devils' battle for the Cup.
Forward Travis Zajac will be starting the 2013 season on the right foot (no pun intended). He is healthy and itching to get back into form—a form that is more than capable of reaching the 60-point mark.
Enforcer turned goal scorer David Clarkson developed an uncanny offensive ability during the 2012 season. However, it is hard to know whether his past season was a fluke or the beginning of a new.
If Clarkson's playoff performance against the Rangers was indicative of his future play, it could mean big things for No. 23.
And of course, goal scorer extraordinaire Ilya Kovalchuk and veteran passer Patrik Elias are capable of being top-10 league forwards. With Parise off the front lines, the two will have to keep making goals happen—just more of them.
Lou Lamoriello's step back from the 2012 free agency is a sign of the faith he has in his team. The Devils GM knows that his team has the potential to win, even without their former captain.
Lamoriello also knows that if his boys are firing on all cylinders, they can continue to be a threat in the 2013 playoffs.