NHL Free Agency: Best Remaining Options for the New Jersey Devils
Barring a lockout (which seems likely at this point), the 2012-2013 regular season is right around the corner.
Besides re-signing most of the core members of last year's Stanley Cup team, New Jersey has only made a few minor signings by bringing in Krys Barch and Bobby Butler. However, the Devils still have a void in their offense thanks to Zach Parise leaving for Minnesota.
The pickings are slim, but here is a list of players that would best fit the Devils game plan going into next year.
1. Jason Arnott
Jason Arnott as a Devil in 2010
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Could a third time be a charm for Jason Arnott?
Arnott played for New Jersey from 1997-2002 and then returned in 2010-2011 for 62 games before being traded to the Washington Capitals. Arnott scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the 2000 Stanley Cup against Dallas, and developed great chemistry with current Devil Patrik Elias.
Arnott was a victim of the debacle that was the 2010-2011 season, posting 13 goals and 11 assists in an offensively challenged scheme. However, he scored four goals in 11 games with Washington after his trade from New Jersey and put up a solid 17 goals and +13 rating with St. Louis last year.
Despite being on a decline over the past few years, Arnott has still hovered around 20 goals per season throughout his long career. Although that does not equal the 30+ that Parise took with him to Minnesota, it would still fill a void that the Devils desperately need to fix.
The former first round pick would also fit beautifully into the Devils offense now that there is a hole left by Parise. If the Devils move Dainius Zubrus to play on the top line with Kovalchuk, Arnott could be paired with Patrik Elias and potentially regain their old form with aggressive head coach Pete DeBoer.
Arnott is considered by many to be a top-six forward, but he made an average salary of $2.5 million. According to Cap Geek, the Devils still have $14 million remaining in cap space, which would allow them to sign Arnott and still have space to make other moves.
New Jersey has the depth at center that would allow Arnott to become more of a role player rather then a necessary threat. If the Devils can get him for a cheap, one-year deal, I believe it would work out for them.
2. Brian Rolston
Brian Rolston with the Devils in 2010
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Another former Devil worth looking at is Brian Rolston, who was also apart of the awful 2010-2011 campaign that led to his release.
In his eight full seasons with the Devils between 1994 and 2010, Rolston averaged between 15-20 goals and only posted a negative +/- once (and you can guess which season that was). After his final year in New Jersey, Rolston struggled with the Islanders before he was traded to the Boston Bruins and rejuvenated himself for a playoff race.
Rolston finished the 2011-2012 season with three goals, 12 assists, and a +7 rating in 21 games with the Bruins, and he proved he could still play at the NHL level even if he is not necessarily a top-six forward. With Alexei Ponikarovsky leaving for Winnipeg, the Devils could use another offensive threat on the third line.
Bobby Butler was signed from Ottawa earlier last week, but he is more depended on his potential rather than his proven skill. Rolston could fit into the Devils offense if he is a role player, and New Jersey could use a fan favorite now that Parise is gone.
New Jersey may want to focus on getting younger, but the remaining free agent list makes it nearly impossible. Rolston may be worth taking a look at if they want to fill voids in their starting lineup.
3. Radek Dvorak
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Radek Dvorak had a down year last season, scoring just four goals in 73 games. His -16 +/- rating was also the second worst of his career.
However, according to NHL.com, Dvorak is "Still a useful third-liner and checker who can contribute a little offense as he approaches 1,200 games played." Now that Alexei Ponikarovsky is gone, the Devils will need another third line quality veteran that can plug in holes and potentially score some goals.
Dvorak is long gone from the 2000-2001 campaign where he scored 31 goals for the New York Rangers, but he still may have something left in the tank to provide the Devils with some scoring. If he takes a contract less than the $1.5 million he made in Dallas last season, he could make a nice fit for New Jersey.
4. Jochen Hecht
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Jochen Hecht missed most of last season due to a concussion, but the 35-year-old still may have something left in the tank.
Before his injury, Hecht scored four goals and posted four assists in 22 games with Buffalo last season. Over his nine year career with the Sabres, Hecht averaged roughly 19 goals a year and only posted a negative +/- once.
The Devils need a guy that can contribute roughly 20 goals a season while not giving scoring chances on the other side of the ice. New Jersey relied on positive +/- players like Adam Henrique last season to get to the Stanley Cup Final, and they will need to do so again next season.
Hecht made $3.5 million in an injury plagued season, so it is unlikely that Buffalo will want to bring back his contract for 2012-2013. If New Jersey can negotiate a small contract, the benefits could be high.
5. Tom Kostopoulos
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At age 33, Tom Kostopoulos is considered one of the youngest remaining free agents, but that could lead to a longer reward if things go right.
NHL.com has Kostopoulos as a "Feisty fourth-line forward [that] gives everything he's got, will stand up for teammates and even contribute a little bit offensively." In other words, it sounds like the veteran forward is a player that fits perfectly into Lou's logic of hockey.
The Devils are planning on using Krys Barch or Cam Janssen on the fourth line in some situations, but Kostopoulos may be a nice addition if someone goes down with an injury. Plus, it helps that he'll likely take a contract less than $1 million.
6. Petr Sykora
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This is the obvious choice to re-sign, especially because of the performance he put on last season.
Petr Sykora was brought in as a camp invite, and with a minimal contract he finished with 21 goals and 23 assists. He is a long-term Devil that could still benefit the team if he is on the roster.
Negotiations haven't been discussed since free agency began, but if Sykora does decide to play next season, it will likely be in New Jersey.
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Fans were expecting to sign a big name free agent like Shane Doan or Alexander Semin to fill the void of Zach Parise, but that isn't going to happen.
Petr Sykora is currently second on the free agents list in terms of scoring behind Doan, and Doan is likely going to sign somewhere else. The fact is, the market is officially dry and New Jersey won't find a quality goal scorer on that list.
Bobby Ryan may still be available for trade, but that deal might not be worth it if the Anaheim Ducks ask for someone like Adam Henrique. I expect the Devils to stay quiet and go into the season with what they have.
If the Devils can make a Cup run with a no-name defense and Sykora finishing in the top six in scoring, I believe they can make an impact next season as long as they stay healthy.
In other words, fans shouldn't be expecting too much from free agency, but this list is a bunch of guys that would make sense for cheap.
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