Taking anything positive out of a season that includes nothing but a single playoff win is difficult to do. It kind of comes with the whole ‘being a Devils fan’ ordeal… we’re spoiled, bratty, and sometimes straight-up mean. And, instead of refuting any of that, I’ll admit that the write-up I’m about to submit will sound a lot more like “Langenbrunner” than “Parise”, if you get catch drift.
Again, it’s hard to take a lot out of the season that has made a positive impact on the franchise: which seems silly when it’s noted that this team finished in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, winning the division that featured the defending Stanley Cup Champions and three playoff teams (and a fourth that missed it by that much). But that’s just what happens when you get into the groove of being a Devils fan: you chant “Rangers suck!” when we’re playing a Wednesday night game against Anaheim, you sing about Scott Gomez’s sexual orientation while waiting for the Devils and Sabres to take the ice for the shootout, you yell “shoot!” whenever we have control of the puck on a PSE&G powerplay, and you expect nothing less than that big old silver thing.
But this isn’t about those fans, that’s for a different time in a different place. The fact of the matter is, the season is over. As ugly as it started (home loss to Philly), it ended. There were ups, Parise’s awesome showing in the Olympics, the Devils trading for that freaking AMAZING player that we all needed: Skoula, Brodeur breaking another record (though that’s becoming an annual event), and the playoff emergence of Zubrus. But, damn, there were downs. The slow, sloppy start, the injury to Martin, the cold streak in the middle of the season where it seemed like we went 2 and a half years without a victory, Lou having a serious issue with a jar of jelly, and of course the no-show at home to end what was a very promising year with a very promising team.
And, as we do every year, we need to watch as Lou does everything he can to make this team better. It starts with coaching, and I’m thanking the good Lord that he made the first big move of the off-season in seemingly forcing retirement upon Frenchie Lemaire. So, to segway into my off-season plan, we’ll start at coaching.
Here are some of the names being tossed around;
My pick is Haviland. The NHL Assistant Coach of the Year (as voted by NHL-Fanhouse), Haviland is a current Blackhawks assistant after spending the last three years as the head coach of the organization’s AHL. The homegrown, Middletown, N.J., native has never once missed the playoffs during his seven-year minor league coaching career. His youth (41 years old) brings energy to the team, and I really don’t want to dig up an old guy (see Lemaire, Jacques).
Now, let’s work out the players. I’ll preface this entire segment with one sentence: this is a plan that I think makes sense, not a plan that I predict will come to fruition.
First off, the goners. Here’s the list of people that I am glad to see go via retirement or free agency:
Jay Pandolfo (retirement)
The first order of business after bidding ‘adieu’ to the list above is getting rid of that Rolston contract. Again, I know it’s going to be really difficult… but I think it’s possible. A guy I look at, an ex-teammate of Kovalchuk, is Nik Antropov from Atlanta. He’s got the size (6’6” 240) and the scoring ability (24+ goals the past 3 years) we need. His contract (4m/y) isn’t scaring me away, especially if he keeps those numbers up. Obviously, we would need to send more their way, but getting a nice big body to play center fills a very large need.
Devils trade Rolston, Clarkson, Eckford, 2nd round pick in 2011 for Nik Antropov.
The Antropov/Rolston swap saves a good 1m in cap space for the year and addresses an enormous issue. Clarkson is a loss-- no doubt-- but his role on the team isn't one that is prevalent to any continued success. Eckford is certainly painful to deal, but in case anyone hasn’t noticed, Martin Brodeur isn’t getting any younger. This team is in a win-now mode.
Now, before I go anywhere else, the biggest move of the offseason is made right here:
Devils re-sign Kovalchuk, 7/56.
Enormous investment? Yeah. Overpaid? Probably. Worth it? 110%. The guy is one of the 5 or 6 best pure scorers in hockey. He bought into our system, and Lou absolutely loves the kid. The scary thing is, he’s just getting better. A combination of Parise/Kovalchuk for the next 7 years is so scary to think about.
Paul Martin is the other goal this off-season. It’s going to be tough, but I can see a deal somewhere around 5m/year. Yeah, he’s overpaid… but that’s the definition of a ‘UFA signing’.
Devils re-sign Martin, 5/20.
Right now, let’s take a step back and see what we’re looking at.
Zach Parise (3.125) - Travis Zajac (3.9) – Langenbrunner (2.9)
Ilya Kovalchuk (8.5) – Nik Antropov (4.0) - Patrik Elias (6)
Vladimir Zharkov (0.850) – xxxxxx (???) – Dainius Zubrus (3.4)
Matt Halischuk (0.875) -- Rod Pelley (0.75) -- Nick Palmieri (0.816)
White (3.0) Martin (5.0)
Salvador (2.9) Greene (.750)
Corrente (.821) xxxxx (???)
From that list above, our cap situation is at $53.3m, giving us $3.4m to work with. Again, in my perfect little world, the Devils have every intention on spending right up to the cap. Addressing the 3rd line center role, via free agency, one guy comes to mind. I’m not reaching into any magic hats for this one- his name has been thrown around quite a bit.
Devils sign Eric Belanger, 2/4
This guy’s a grizzly vet, perfect for our third line. Even though he’s never made it out of the second round in the playoffs, he brings leadership and is a perfect plug until Josefson is ready to play with the big boys.
Now comes the final detail. The Devs are in need of a serious wake-up call, and nixing the captain is a great way to shake things up. I love Pitkanen from Carolina. Both players would enter the season in the last year of their contract, Carolina’s offensive depth isn’t really much to write home about, and Langenbrunner+ for Pitkanen could make sense for both sides.
Devils trade Langenbrunner, Gelinas to Carolina for Pitkanen.
Zach Parise (3.125) - Travis Zajac (3.9) – Dainius Zubrus (3.4)
Ilya Kovalchuk (8) – Nik Antropov (4.0) - Patrik Elias (6)
Vladimir Zharkov (0.850) – Eric Belanger (2.0) – Nick Palmieri (0.816)
Matt Halischuk (0.875) -- Rod Pelley (0.75) – Leblond (.5)
Pitkanen (4.0) Martin (5.0)
Salvador (2.9) Greene (.750)
Corrente (.821) White (3.0)