This past July, many Devils fans (or people who watch the Devils) were alarmed when the Devils didn't really make much of an effort to re-sign John Madden or Brian Gionta. Two long-time guys were let go, and even though it isn't all that uncommon of an occurrence in New Jersey, people were predicting doom and gloom for the Devils.
After all, the only free agents brought in during the summer were Yann Danis, Cory Murphy and Ilka Pikkarainen (during training camp and the season, the Devils did bring in Rob Niedermayer, Andrew Peters,and Dean McAmmond).
It has been somewhat clear that the Devils have not been pleased with the overall defensive skills and performance of Cory Murphy, or at least at a minimum, they feel Murphy has some things to work on. Murphy was previously sent down to the minors upon the return from injury by rookie Mark Fraser (pictured above on right) by the Devils earlier this season, but got a reprieve when both Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya went down with injury.
Despite scoring two goals, the Devils still were not covinced by Murphy's play, and rightfully so in my opinion, that he could be trusted, and that was made apparent to anyone watching closely, as Murphy barely averaged over ten minutes a game.
Even Fraser has been getting steadily over twelve minutes a game as Head Coach Jacques Lemaire becomes more and more trusting of the rookie.
The Devils had been hoping that Johnny Oduya would return from an alleged groin injury to replace Murphy in the lineup. When Oduya's health issues did not clear up, they then tried to bring back Jay Leach from the AHL through re-entry waivers to also replace Murphy. Unfortunately, Leach was claimed by the Montreal Canadiens, leaving the Devils on the hook for half of his $487,500 salary against their salary cap.
The next option was to bring up both Matt Corrente and Tyler Eckford to give the kids a shot at replacing Murphy. It worked earlier this year when they inserted Mark Fraser into the lineup, so they are probably at least curious as to what both Corrente and Eckford might add to the puzzle. Eckford played in his first game last night and from all accounts, didn't look that greatly out of place, all be it in limited ice time.
Corrente has yet to crack the lineup, but I'd expect that to happen sooner rather then later.
Add to this that the Devils put Nicklas Bergfors into a key forward spot at the beginning of the year and have inserted the likes of Rod Pelley, Tim Sestito, and Matt Halischuk into the lineup on a somewhat regular basis (some by necessity due to injuries to Niedermayer, Jay Pandolfo) and it is becoming quite clear as to why the Devils decided to open up the spots in the regular lineup with the departures of both Gionta and Madden.
Then again, this isn't really anything new for the New Jersey Devils.
They are known for being able to have the sum of its parts being greater then the parts themselves. In past years, the likes of Scott Gomez, Doug Gilmour, Brian Rafalaski, Scott Niedermayer and Bobby Holik all left the team via the free agent route, and the Devils didn't lose much of a beat.
That is mostly because it is the idea GM Lou Lamoriello has always preached, that no team is bigger then any of its parts. Don't also overlook the teaching ability of Head coach Jacques Lemaire, who always puts his players in a position to succeed.
This year has been just another example of the creed that Lamoriello, Lemaire and the Devils have and will continue to live by and continue to succeed.
It's worked for this long, it doesn't look like it's about to change anytime soon.
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