The New Jersey Devils have been slumping lately, and their current nine-game losing streak has all but ensured the team will miss the playoffs.
The team is currently 11th in the Eastern Conference, and there are just seven games remaining in what has to be considered a disappointing season.
The Devils put a lot of faith in this season, bringing back 40-year-old Martin Brodeur on what will likely be the last contract of his career. Management acquired numerous players during the season, and at times it looked like the team could contend.
Instead though, the Devils have sputtered out and look like they will be limping into the offseason with a high number of players becoming free agents––including a few of the team's most important players.
So who are the Devils going to have to lose this offseason? Based on player history, Devils' needs and the past season, here's a prediction of those most likely to leave.
Alexei Ponikarovsky was acquired by the Devils at last season's deadline in an effort to build for a playoff run. The move proved fruitful, as Ponikarovsky become a contributor on the team and played a noticeable role in the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Once the postseason hit though, Ponikarovsky left, signing with the Winnipeg Jets.
Well, once again, the Devils acquired Ponikarovsky during the season. This time though, there will be no big playoff run to contribute to.
Poni has been completely lackluster with the Devils, scoring two goals and four assists in 24 games with the team. Given the ordinary outlook of the Devils and his history of moving around, there's no reason to think Ponikarovsky will re-up with them. More likely, he'll sign a one- or two-year deal with a team that can put his talents to better use.
Dainius Zubrus is coming to the end of six-year contract that paid him $3.4 million per season.
The contract was probably more than Zubrus deserved; he's never managed 20 goals or 30 assists as a Devil, despite playing a pretty significant role with the team when healthy.
Unfortunately, Zubrus has been fairly unhealthy this season. He's played in just 15 games and has a goal and five assists.
There's a decent chance Zubrus could remain a Devil. The team has cap space and a solid history with Zubie. However, it's not entirely clear what he brings to the team at this point. He brings some ability to the lineup, but the Devils can't make too much use of a second-to-third-liner without a knack for scoring.
Teams rich in talent could look at Zubrus as a good veteran to bring in for some experience, and he'd probably be better off joining them. Unless the Devils offer him more than his market value, expect the Lithuanian to depart this offseason.
Marek Zidlicky joined the Devils around last year's trade deadline and has been with them since. He's emerged as one of the most offensively capable defensemen on the team, leading D-men with 17 points.
Unfortunately, Zidlicky's offensive abilities come at a cost: He currently has a minus-10 rating, third worst on the team.
Like Ponikarovsky, Zidlicky can be a valuable player for a team that already has most things in place. The problem is that most things are not in place for the Devils. For a player like Zidlicky, who can neither handle the defensive game nor produce enough offensively to be worth it, that means he'll probably be moving on from New Jersey this offseason.
It's safe to say Tom Kostopoulos has been a low-impact player for the Devils.
The team claimed the forward off waivers in early March, and since then, he's been nearly nonexistent. Kostopoulos has managed just a goal and 18 PIM in 14 games with the Devils.
Expectations are bound to be low for a player picked up off waivers, but whatever those standards were, Kostopoulos has presumably fallen short.
It was fun while it lasted, but expect his tenure with the team to end along with the season.
When the New Jersey Devils are fully healthy, they have eight defensemen theoretically capable of playing at an NHL level: Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov, Zidlicky, Andy Greene, Mark Fayne, Adam Larsson, Henrik Tallinder and Peter Harrold.
It is largely due to that depth that Harrold hasn't really been given much of a chance this season: The 29-year-old has appeared in just 16 games and has actually managed two goals and an assist.
Unfortunately, he's also earned a minus-nine rating, and that's been enough to keep him from being full-time.
Harrold is far from a star, but he's certainly capable of playing good, solid defense for a team that needs it. At the very least, he should be on a team that can use him full time, and that's likely what he'll look for once the season ends.