NHL Free Agency 2013: Breaking Down the New Jersey Devils' Big Moves on Day 1
"Today was a good day for the Devils."
That quote came from GM Lou Lamoriello as the New Jersey Devils took a huge step in the right direction on the first day of free agency.
New Jersey signed three forwards, including 30-goal scorer Michael Ryder, to kick off what was an exciting first day of player movement around the NHL. The Devils also watched as David Clarkson, last year's leading goal scorer, signed a monster seven-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Starting at the NHL draft with the trade that acquired goaltender Cory Schneider, the Devils have been making quite a smash in the market. Let's take a look at how Lamoriello has been quietly having his best offseason in years on Day 1 alone.
Devils Sign Ryane Clowe
While it was never made official, it never seemed like David Clarkson was coming back to New Jersey after failing to reach an agreement before the draft,
Clarkson, 29, scored 45 goals in the past one-and-a-half seasons, and that performance paid off this offseason as he signed a seven-year contract with the Maple Leafs worth $36.75 million.
Needing a gritty replacement to replace a fan favorite, Lamoriello went out and signed Ryane Clowe, a former Ranger who was acquired by New York at the deadline from San Jose.
Clowe, 30, had undoubtedly the worst season of his eight-year career in 2012-2013, scoring just three goals and recording 19 points for the Rangers and Sharks. He did, however, score all of his goals in an eight-game span after being traded to New York.
I don't think fans approve of giving an injury-prone forward $24.25 million over five years, but it also may have something to do with playing favorites.
Devils fans love David Clarkson. He did wonderful things for the Hockey in Newark program and the surrounding areas and will be missed by everyone in the organization.
That being said, fans have to learn to let go.
The Hockey Guys' Todd Cordell made a very good point on Twitter today.
Clowe, 30, has 235 points in last 5 years. Clarkson, 29, has 144 points in last five years. I'd rather pay Clowe $4.85M than Clarkson $6M+— Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell) July 5, 2013
The Devils are getting 91 more points for LESS money than Toronto paid for Clarkson, and they are going to get much more consistency if he plays up to his full potential.
Clowe has reached 45 points in a season four times in his career. Clarkson? Once.
Clowe is a reported "injury concern," and that made other teams hesitant to give him a long-term contract. Besides last season's train wreck of a year, Clowe has only gone one year in which he didn't play at least 70 games (2007-08).
Clowe is also a bigger body on the third line compared to Clarkson, coming in at least 25 pounds heavier. New Jersey is losing a gritty third-line forward and replacing him with a gritty third-line forward with more offensive potential.
Point goes to Lou.
Devils Sign Rostislav Olesz
In the middle of the chaos that was the Clowe signing, the Devils made a second acquisition by signing former Blackhawks forward Rostislav Olesz.
Olesz has spent the past two seasons in the AHL with the Rockford Icehogs, although he missed all of last season after undergoing surgery on his ACL. Overall, Olesz has recorded 132 points in 355 NHL games with Florida and Chicago.
Olesz and head coach Pete DeBoer have some history, as the two were together in Florida early in Olesz's career, and that could be beneficial for him going into next season. He received a one-way contract, so don't expect him to see time in the minors.
Signing Olesz to a one-year deal worth $1 million ($700,000 base salary, $300,000 game incentive) is a low-risk, high-reward pickup if he can make the roster out of training camp. New Jersey will likely lose Alexei Ponikarovsky this offseason and Steve Sullivan is gone, so they'll need a new face in the lineup next year.
Olesz was able to average nearly 30 points a season in Florida before he was traded, which would put him as the Devils' eighth-best scorer during the 2011-2012 season.
I also think this could be a motivational tool for young guys like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson. Signing Clowe and Michael Ryder makes space limited on the roster, and it looks like these three will be battling for one spot next season.
Looking at the #NJDevils depth chart, I see one spot on the 3rd line available for Olesz/Tedenby/Josefson. Not sure how this will play out.— Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell) July 6, 2013
I don't expect Olesz to be anything more than a third-line winger, but getting him for $1 million will make it worth it if he can provide some desperately needed offense. He's a former first-round pick, so the potential to succeed has to be there somewhere.
Devils Sign Michael Ryder
Of all of the deals we saw on the first day of free agency, the Devils may have gotten the biggest steal.
New Jersey followed up their Clowe deal by signing former Montreal Canadians forward Michael Ryder, a three-time 30-goal scorer who is going to help be a huge upgrade to an offense that ranked 28th with 2.29 GAA last season.
Lamoriello was able to sign Ryder to a two-year deal worth $7 million, a steal considering what players like Clarkson and Stephen Weiss will be making. If New Jersey can get the guy who put up back-to-back 30-goal seasons, they have built a team that can get back to the playoffs and beyond.
Since the 2006-07 season, there have been only four different players to score 30 goals for the Devils in a season. Zach Parise did it five times, Ilya Kovalchuk twice and Clarkson and Patrik Elias once.
Elias is not the goal machine that he once was, but he still has the ability to make great plays and set up his teammates. Parise and Clarkson are now gone, which leaves only Kovalchuk to score the goals for New Jersey.
The Devils made a Cup run in 2011-2012 because they had three 30-goal scorers for the first time in years. Signing Ryder to a two-year deal gives the Devils the scorer they lost with Parise for a much cheaper price.
We must also note that Ryder hasn't slowed down in the past few years. The 33-year-old forward scored 35 goals in 2011-2012 and posted another 16 in a lockout-shortened season, a feat that put him at the top of the league in scoring.
His new contract will take him to 35, but veterans tend to strive when they play in New Jersey. It took a full year, but I think the Devils have found their answer for Zach Parise.
Trades Could Come Soon
The Devils certainly made an impact by singing Clowe, Olesz and Ryder, but with all of the signings and re-signings that happened today, New Jersey is left with $3.8 million to sign restricted free agents Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson.
Lou Lamoriello was quoted saying he will match any offer another team makes for his own guys, but he also made it clear that moves could be coming soon if they want to sign any more players.
Lamoriello said there were "moving parts" that would determine whether they will add anymore through free agency.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) July 5, 2013
"Moving parts" signals a deal coming soon, it just depends on what it is.
New Jersey currently has seven defensemen signed for next season with Marek Zidlicky still left to be re-signed. It seems that it will be 50/50 on bringing the veteran blueliner back next season, but that still leaves one player out of the lineup for next season.
Players like Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder have been discussed as players fans would like to see go, but the market for disappointing defensemen isn't exactly high. If fans want Volchenkov to be bought out, what makes them think they can get something for him?
Lou has shown he is a genius when it comes to acquiring talent, so don't be surprised if a package deal gets made in the next few days. It's really important to the organization that Adam Larsson get more playing time, and the only way that happens is if some of the veterans get moved out.
After losing Parise last year, the Devils can't afford to lose Henrique this season. If a trade has to be made to clear up some cap, it's going to happen soon.
The first day of free agency was crazy. Let's gear up for the second day.