GM For a Day: The New Jersey Devils' Offseason Script

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GM For a Day:  The New Jersey Devils' Offseason Script
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While I previously diagnosed New Jersey Devils and an Off-Season that was too Long" target="_blank">what went wrong with the Devils last season, I'm now going to magically put myself into the hotseat of GM Lou Lamoriello, and allow myself to come out with a plan of what I think the Devils should do to help right the ship, and put the Devils in the best (and hopefully somewhat realistic) situation possible to compete for the Stanley Cup in 2010-11.

This is not to say I am attempting to predict what Lamoriello will do.  Anyone who knows anything about the Devils knows that Lamoriello keeps things extremely close to vest.  Usually, any rumors that make their way to the mainstream media do not turn out to be moves the Devils actually make.  

With that, let's take a look at the sixteen players currently signed to a contract (post-Jason Arnott trade) for next season and how we would project that player's role to be for next season (contract info courtesy of Capgeek.com) and possibly going forward.

Patrik Elias (age 34, $6 million cap hit through 2012-13, No Movement Clause, 58 GP, 19 G, 29 A, 48 P, +18, 40 PIM, 3 PPG, 8 PPA, 1 SHG, 4 GWG, 145 shots)

Elias has the odd distinction of being often underappreciated, even amongst Devils fans.  He has been the most talented offensive player on the roster for years before the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk, and I don't think his contributions have been given enough recognition.  The Devils always have gone as Elias goes. Even though there may be a guy who produces better numbers, Elias is the guy who gets the Devils going more than anyone else in my opinion, and it's always been that way.

He is the franchise's all-time leading scorer, and while he may have had a slight decrease in his talent, Elias still is a force to be reckoned with.  He has also had the misfortune of being cast as a center recently, which definitely has forced Elias to take on more defensive responsibilities, and costing himself some offensive numbers. 

Also, he's an ultimate team player, as he apparently never complained about being miscast as a center.  While he did not have a normal Elias-like playoffs this year, it could also be attributable to the concussion he suffered against Colorado.  While he had some mistakes in the playoffs, I'm willing to write that off to no training camp (groin surgery) and the concussion.  However, it is something that should be watched next season.

Next season

Elias is slotted for the No. 2 line left wing (ideally), but thanks to the acquisition of Jason Arnott, he shouldn’t end up once again playing second line center.  Regardless, he should once again be a big focal point of the Devils offense in 2010-11 and be looked at to approach the point-per-game plateau offensively, while providing solid defensive contributions in his own end as well.  If Ilya Kovalchuk were to return, it could potentially move Elias to the right side, which could present some nice possibilities for Elias to play on his off-wing.

Martin Brodeur (38, $5.2 million through 2011-12, No-trade Clause , 77 GP, 4499 minutes, 45-25-6, 2.24 GAA, .916 save percentage, 9 shutouts)

Simply put, Martin Brodeur has been the backbone of the Devils for the last 16 years.  His career has been the kind of one that won't be appreciated until he is gone, and will rightfully be an NHL Hall of Famer as soon as he becomes eligible.  Only after he's gone from the Devils will the team and its fans begin to realize his impact.

While there is talk about Brodeur struggling because of being overworked, or that he cost the Devils in the playoffs, that's hogwash.  Anyone who watches this team over the long haul sees that while perhaps he isn't the same Brodeur as ten years ago, he is still a top goalie, and bails the Devils out time and time again after defensive lapses and breakdowns.  He no longer is heads and shoulders above everyone, but he is still a legitimate Vezina finalist for sure.

The biggest criticism I can think of about Brodeur is perhaps he tries to do too much and take on too much responsibility on his own.  A prime example of this was in the Olympics, where Brodeur definitely did things uncharacteristic for him, and it led to mistakes that cost him the starting goalie job for Team Canada.

Next season

While it might not be a bad idea to rest him a little more in 2010-11, Brodeur still can be counted on to carry most of the load for the Devils.  If they can upgrade the defense some, Brodeur will be able to try and not take on so much responsibility, which will only help the team.

Brian Rolston (37, $5.0625 million through 2011-12, over 35 contract and No-Trade Clause , 80 GP, 20 G, 17 A, 37 P, +2, 22 PIM, 7 PPG, 6 PPA, 3 GWG, 232 shots)

Clearly a disappointment in his first two seasons back with the Devils, Rolston has not lived up to expectations from when he was brought in as a free agent.  That being said, he does have some value, but it does not equate to his $5 million salary.  He can be an effective special teams player, as well as contribute on the third line.

His best games last season came when he was paired with David Clarkson and Rob Niedermayer on the third line, and he also matched up well at times with either Patrik Elias or Ilya Kovalchuk at times.  When Rolston was originally brought in though, he was supposed to be a difference maker, and that simply hasn't been the case even with being reunited with Coach Jacques Lemaire. 

At this point, Rolston is what he is, and the expectations should be adjusted to about a 20-goal scorer, who can also contribute on special teams. 

Next season

Next year, you should pencil Rolston in to be the checking line left wing.  It is to be debated whether or not that is the third or fourth line, but Rolston should also be a big part of the power play and penalty killing units.  Should there be any significant injuries or departures, Rolston could end up on the second line, but his best fit in my opinion would be on the checking line at this point.

Jason Arnott (35, $4.5 million through 2010-11 No-Trade Clause , 63 GP, 19 G, 27 A, 46 P, even, 26 PIM, 6 PPG, 12 PPA, 3 GWG, 216 shots. all with Nashville)

The Devils welcomed back Jason Arnott via a recent trade with Nashville, giving up W Matt Halischuk and a 2011 second-round pick back to the Panthers.  Arnott brings some much needed size and scoring ability to the second line, giving the Devils a much needed top six center to pair with Travis Zajac.  Arnott waived his no-trade clause to return to New Jersey, a place where Arnott definitely has some happy memories.

No bigger memory for Arnott then the night of June 10, 2000 , when he scored the Stanley-Cup winning goal in the second overtime of game six in Dallas to give the Devils their second Stanley Cup.  Arnott was part of the famed “A-Line” with Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora so you should expect Arnott to be teamed with Elias to see if they can revisit that chemistry they showed years ago.

Arnott should be a welcome addition to the Devils, giving them some much needed additional size and also offering them another option on the power play.  He should provide additional leadership in the locker room, and offer the Devils more consistency and balance. 

Next season

Arnott should be penciled in as the second-line center, and probably spearhead the second power play unit. He may not be a top face-off man, but he should be able to better with face-offs then his predecessor at second line center (Patrik Elias).  All in all, with only one year left on his contract, Arnott has a lot to play for and should give the Devils a nice season in the fifty to sixty point range this year if he can stay healthy.

Travis Zajac (25, $3.8875 million through 2012-13, 82 GP, 25 G, 42 A, 67 P, +22, 24 PIM, 6 PPG, 15 PPA, 1 SHA, 4 GWG, 210 shots)

Travis is a center who has continued to progress well and develop as a pseudo No. 1 center.  I use the term "pseudo" only because he may not be considered the typical first line center, but the numbers don't really lie.

Don't believe me?  Well, take a look. Jonathan Toews' stat line is very similar to that of Zajac.  Toews had 68 points, and Zajac had 67, both with 25 goals.  Zajac is developing into one of the better two-way centers in the league and has shown great durability thus far, missing just two games in his four seasons.  Zajac should be around as a top-two center for many years to come.

Zajac’s value also goes beyond the stats he produces, because of the chemistry he’s developed with LW Zach Parise.  As such, I see no reason why those two should not be paired together on a regular basis going forward.  Hopefully, the new coach will be in a position to allow linemates to better develop chemistry then with Jacques Lemaire.

Next season

Realistically, there's no other place to expect Zajac to be then centering Zach Parise on the first line.  Zajac should try to hit the weight room hard in the offseason and build strength to be able to withstand a little more physical game, and also to help in the face-off circle.  Other then that, there's not a whole lot you can't like about his development, and at 25, Zajac has a very bright future ahead of him.

Dainius Zubrus (31, $3.4 million through 2012-13, 51 GP, 10 G, 17 A, 27 P, +4, 28 PIM, 1 PPG, 2 PPA, 1 SHA, 4 GWG, 86 shots)

Dainius Zubrus sometimes gets a little unfair shake from the fans because he was brought in the offseason the Devils lost Scott Gomez to free agency.  Just because he was brought in then does not mean anyone thought he would be a replacement for the dynamic Gomez, and that is completely unfair.

At this point, Zubrus is what he is, and that's a guy who will clear space for his linemates, work hard, and chip in with some points here and there.  Is that an ideal first line guy?  No, probably not, but paired with the right players, Zubrus can give some invaluable contributions.

Zubrus is defensively responsible and plays a good physical game.  Is he overpaid? Perhaps, but he provides a dimension not too many guys on the current roster can provide, so he still has good value to the Devils.

Next season

Zubrus often is held to the standard of the production he had the one year he played on a line with Alexander Ovechkin in Washington, which is a little unfair, especially on a different hockey team with different personal playing a different system, etc. 

Zubrus may have played his best this year when he was paired with Travis Zajac and Zach Parise, and while he may not be an ideal first line winger, I'd like to see this given a chance to see how he can produce on a first line for an entire season (assuming he can stay healthy).

Zach Parise (25, $3.125 million through 2010-11, 81 GP, 38 G, 44 A, 82 P, +24, 32 PIM, 9 PPG, 17 PPA, 1 SHG, 5 GWG, 347 shots)

If there is anyone on the Devils who is going to get deserved praise, it's Zach Parise, who appears to be in line to become the new face of the franchise.  Parise is coming off a 38-goal season and an Olympics where he added star power to his resume, scoring the last-minute goal in the Gold Medal game to force overtime for the Americans against the mighty Canadiens.

Parise isn't the most talented guy in the league, but his work ethic and perseverance separate him from the pack.  Quite simply, he is a top player in the league because he outworks his opponents.  The ton of talent he does have obviously doesn't hurt matters, but in the end his ability to garner loose pucks and find open space is what allows him to produce like he does.

He also might well be one of the better cap bargains in the league, only costing $3.125 million this year, while making a $5 million salary.  His pending restricted free agency after the 2010-11 season is something the Devils have to prepare for, as Parise will have a big pay day coming his way very soon.

Next season

Parise is a player that GM Lou Lamoriello knows he needs to lock up.  Not only is Parise projected to very possibly be a future captain of the team, he is quickly on his way to becoming the face of the franchise. 

Rather than fool around, I would sign Parise to a 14-year, $95 million extension.  While that sounds outrageous with 14 years, my intention would be to backload the deal similar to a Marian Hossa-type contract with low salaries in years where Parise is most likely to be retired, and thus in reality, the contract would look like a 12 year $92 million contract, but only a cap hit of $6,785,514 annually. 

Parise is not eligible to sign this extension until July 1st when the new hockey year begins, but I would be talking to Parise's agent now to hopefully get this done ASAP.  He obviously is that important to the future of the team and I would make sure to get that taken care of and out of the way so that all young Devils coming up know they will be taken care of when and if their time comes.

Colin White (32, $3 million through 2011-12, No-Trade Clause , 81 GP, 2 G, 10 A, 12 P,+8, 46 PIM, 1 SHA, 47 shots)

A bit of a tragic story if you think about it, White hasn't been the same player as he was before his scary eye injury on September 19, 2007.  White was the type of player who the Devils were expecting and hoping to anchor their defense.  While he's still a "good soldier" for the team, there has been a clear drop-off in his play since the injury and understandably so.

That isn't to say White is no longer a productive defenseman; he just isn't a $3 million-per-year caliber defenseman anymore.  With the right pairing, White can be a second line defender, but has been counted on for more then that in recent years, forcing White to be a little over his head at times.

White tries to model his game after Scott Stevens, which makes sense since White came up as a rookie in 1999-2000 and learned from Stevens.  However, to be fair, he is no Scott Stevens, nor should he be expected to replace him.  There only is one Scott Stevens, remember that.  As for White, he is a good loyal team player who battles hard night in and night out, but does have his limitations.

Next season

White ideally would be a third pairing defenseman and paired with more of a puck-moving partner.  On this team, I can't see White not being in the top four, so a second pairing with the agile Andy Greene is probably the best place for White to fit.  Similar to Rolston, just remember, you aren't likely to get the equivalent of the cap hit, but you still will get some production.

Bryce Salvador (34, $2.9 million through 2011-12, 79 GP, 4 G, 10 A, 14 P, +8, 57 PIM, 1 SHA, 2 GWG, 47 shots)

Salvador is the type of player who rarely can be quantified in terms of statistics.  He has the old “lunch pail” mentality and comes to play each and every night doing a lot of the little things, whether it is standing up for a teammate, doing hard work in the crease or along the boards, or basically whatever may be needed in a particular game.

Similar to White, Salvador’s salary may be a little higher than his actual worth, but not by a wide margin.  I believe Salvador is a legit top four defenseman, who in a perfect scenario would be on a second line pairing with a more mobile and offensive skilled defenseman to create a nice balanced pair.

Salvador added a little more offense last year then you would guess for a typical Salvador-type year, with four goals, including two game-winners.  I wouldn’t expect him to exceed that production, somewhere in the one to four goal range is where he is expected, but if he can rise his plus/minus rating into double digits, that should be a good sign for the Devils, considering the types of players Salvador is usually matched against. 

Next season

Salvador should fit nicely as the “stay-at-home” type on the first pairing of defenseman.  In a perfect (or non-CAP) world, Salvador would likely be on the second pairing, but due to the economics of the cap with the Devils, Salvador fits in the first pairing.

Jamie Langenbrunner (34, $2.8 million through 2010-11, No-Trade Clause, 81 GP, 19 G, 42 A, 61 P, +6, 44 PIM, 6 PPG, 13 PPA, 2 SHG, 2 SHA, 4 GWG, 228 shots)

Langenbrunner is a player that received a lot of criticism this past offseason, especially from the fans who were displeased with the apparent (at least to the fans) lack of effort shown at times in the playoffs.  Also, the dispute in the media that Langenbrunner had with Head Coach Jacques Lemaire certainly didn’t help the perception, not to mention Langenbrunner’s stat line in the playoffs wasn’t up to his normal level.

Langenbrunner’s best production was playing right wing alongside Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, but with Head Coach Lemaire trying to find balance for the team, Langenbrunner was often utilized elsewhere, spending time with players like Zubrus, Kovalchuk, Elias, or Rolston.

Coming into a contract year, this is definitely a key season for Jamie, as he is playing for his next payday.  If he struggles at all this year, it would not be a surprise to have the Devils let him leave as a free agent next offseason.   That being said, I would imagine it would work best for Langenbrunner if he had a season on par with the last two, when he eclipsed the 60-point mark in both years. 

Next season

Langenbrunner will be a key player this season and may need to help groom the next generation of Devils by playing alongside a center on the third line that may not have NHL experience.  Langenbrunner’s presence would add some help defensively, as well as some grinding along the boards and timely scoring.  He should also be a vital part of the power play unit, specifically in front of the net like he did in the Olympics, where he was very effective working with Zach Parise for Team USA.

Jay Pandolfo (35, $2.5 million through 2010-11, No-Trade Clause, 52 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 9 P, -10, 6 PIM, 3 GWG, 71 shots)

Boy, the damage an injury can do to a player really sometimes is amazing to see.  Pandolfo has not been the same player since a freak injury received after crashing into the boards awkwardly in November 2007.  They said his injury was to the equivalent of being in a car accident and it definitely impacted his game tremendously.

A one-time Selke Finalist, Pandolfo clearly is not the same player he was in the past, and has now become an injury risk to boot, having had significant injuries the past two seasons.  The most troubling part of it all is that Pandolfo seemed to be thriving under Coach Brent Sutter before that freak groin/hip injury.  He has fallen to “healthy scratch” status the last two seasons, under two different coaches, so it’s hard to imagine things will improve much this upcoming season.

Coming off surgery to his shoulder in the offseason, what can one reasonably expect out of Pando this year?  It’s definitely a fair question, but with the shoulder surgery, it’s somewhat likely he will begin the season on the injured reserve list, which fundamentally would help the Devils with the salary cap.  He’s been an ineffective player, which is further documented in this article discussing the worst 20 adjusted plus/minuses in the league last year.

Next season

Pandolfo is recovering from shoulder surgery and at this point is likely riding out his contract, meaning he will likely be a reserve who plays when there are injuries to other players.  Quite simply, at this point of his career, if Pandolfo can’t be better than a -10 plus/minus wise, he shouldn’t be a regular for the Devils. 

Now, I don’t mean to overvalue a stat that I normally think is overrated, but for a player like Pandolfo who doesn’t generate much offense, he can’t be getting scored against regularly either to warrant staying in the lineup.

Pandolfo should be skating like mad this offseason, hoping to gain back that extra step he seems to have lost, which has eliminated a lot of the usefulness he brought to the team in the past.  If he wasn’t injured, he’d be an obvious buyout candidate, but since he’s recovering from injury, that is not a possibility.  He likely starts the year as the 13th forward, and how the season goes will dictate how often Pandolfo plays.

Vladmir Zharkov (22, $850,000 through 2010-11, 40 GP, 0 A, 10 A, 10 P, +2, 8 PIM, 2 PPA, 54 shots)

“Sharkie” was a very interesting rookie last year, who played in forty games, but was unable to score any goals for the year.  League-wide, there were only six forwards who played in as many games (or more) that did not score at all, most of them of the pugilistic nature.

Beyond goal scoring, Zharkov looked to be NHL-ready in many other aspects of the game.  He worked very well along the boards, showed good speed and burst, and some playmaking ability.  He meshed well with Patrik Elias at times in a couple of games.  I don’t think there is much doubt about whether or not Zharkov is going to be a decent NHL player; it’s only a matter of whether or not he should be at the NHL level.

Next season

I think to truly maximize Zharkov’s long-term potential, he should start the year in the AHL and work on his scoring touch.  If he were to start the year with the Devils and struggle to score, it could ruin him as a goalscorer for awhile.  I think he has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer possibly at the NHL level, but only if he is brought along with the right development.  Let him gain the confidence he needs in his shot by hopefully getting first-line minutes in Albany.

Andy Greene (27, $737,500 through 2010-11, 78 GP, 6 G, 31 A, 37 P, +9, 14 PIM, 4 PPG, 11 PPA, 1 SHA, 4 GWG, 86 shots)

It is very difficult to imagine where the Devils would’ve been last season if it was not for the play of Andy Greene.  When guys like Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya (pre-trade) were out of the lineup and players like Bryce Salvador were banged up, Greene truly stepped up his game when it was needed most.  For the end of October and beginning of November, Greene likely turned himself into the most indispensible player on the team for a spurt.

Greene has been a streaky player who really took advantage of the opportunity presented to him last year.  At the same time, it really was quite smart of GM Lou Lamoriello to lock up Greene to a two-year deal last year.  Greene will have to have a similar season this year, and should then see himself in line for a rather large raise this time next offseason.

Greene has turned himself into a reliable top-four type defenseman who was easily one of the best cap values in the entire league last year, listed at 21st in the CapGeek rankings for bargain hunters.  Greene also was likely the Devils’ best defenseman in the playoffs, even if he was starting to show some signs of fatigue, as the size of the Flyers really started to take its toll towards the end of the series. 

Next season  

It will be interesting to see how Andy Greene responds this offseason, as he is now a player that is expected to fill a certain role.  This differs from past years where Greene didn’t really have a defined role and had to earn his playing time.  Ideally, Greene will be earmarked for the second pairing with Colin White, which makes it only that more important that the Devils re-sign Paul Martin, or find a suitable replacement.

Anssi Salmela (25, $612,500 through 2010-11, 9 GP (with NJ), 1 G, 2 A, 3 P, -5, 0 PIM, 1 SHG, 14 shots)

Salmela came back to the Devils in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade this past February, and wasn’t able to crack the lineup as much as many might have expected.  Injury was definitely one reason as a concussion from an illegal Jeff Carter hit knocked Salmela out of the lineup on February 8th, after scoring a shorthanded goal.  He did return for six more games after the injury, but seemingly wasn’t able to get in a rhythm and really struggled, losing playing time to Mark Fraser and Martin Skoula.

Salmela further had injury problems, tearing a ligament in his knee and will likely miss the start of training camp next season, if not the beginning of the regular season as well.  It will definitely be a setback for Salmela, as training camp would have been a big time for Salmela to develop and show he belonged as a legitimate NHL defenseman.  As it stands now, post-injury Salmela will likely be ticketed for a return to the AHL.

Next season

Salmela will be recovering from his knee injury and similar to Pandolfo, may be forced to start the year on LTIR.  His cap number really isn’t a big number that will hurt his chances of being on the roster, so it will come down to his health and how he is able to come back from what is deemed a pretty severe knee injury.

Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (24, $525,000 through 2011-12, 27 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 P, -4, 48 PIM, 9 shots)

Leblond is a fourth-line guy who plays with grit, and is willing to drop the gloves and stand up for teammates.  He is not a player who scares other teams, but does what he can do with the limited ability he has.  In other words, Leblond is the type of guy who is good for a team, but isn’t exactly indispensible either.

He has some ability and even earned some shifts with the third line at times last year.  The more regular playing time he might get, the more likely he will to be able to add more scoring from time to time, but let’s not make it seem like he’s about to become the next Zach Parise either.

Leblond is a fringe player who is likely to have to continue to fight for his spot in the lineup almost seemingly on a game-to-game basis and must show and give 100% effort each night to hopefully become a regular.

Next season

Leblond is ticketed for a reserve forward spot and inserted into the lineup when needed, whether it is due to the opponent or to fill-in for an injury.  If some of the younger players progress, Leblond could become a candidate to get demoted to Albany, but I think Leblond would likely at least start the year with the Devils, to add toughness to the lineup, but is always going to be subject to any possible candidates the Devils may be able to bring in through free agency or development from the minor leagues.

Andrew Peters  (30, $500,000 through 2010-11, 29 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P, -5, 93 PIM, 15 shots)

I don't think it's unfair to say that Peters was a big disappointment last season.  Peters was brought in late to add some size and toughness.  Now, to be fair, Peters often had opponents who were unwilling to fight him, but he also didn't really add a whole lot to the game other then the threat of a fight. 

Peters wasn't a great fit and would be easily replaceable on the fourth line if the Devils wanted to look elsewhere.

Next season

I would waive Peters and either have him play in Albany next season, or find a team that was willing to trade for him.  I just don't see him fitting onto the roster for next season based on his play in 2009-10.

The following pieces are in place for 2010-11:

First Line: Parise, Zajac, Zubrus

Second Line: Elias, Arnott, ???

Third Line: Rolston, ???, Langenbrunner

First Line Defensemen : ???, Salvador

Second Line Defensemen: Greene-White

Third Line Defensemen: ???, ???

Starting Goaltender: Brodeur

Backup Goaltender: ???

Reserves:   Leblond

Injured:   Pandolfo, Salmela

Waived/Demoted: Zharkov, Peters 

Restricted Free Agents

The first thing to do is to have a plan of action with the following restricted free agents, all of whom have already been given the minimum qualifying offer to keep them as a restricted free agent and avoid unrestricted free agency.

RW David Clarkson (26, 46 GP, 11 G, 13 A, 24 P, +3, 85 PIM, 3 PPG, 3 PPA, 2 GWG, 106 shots)

Clarkson offers a dimension the Devils need more of, as he provides a little toughness, a little scoring touch, and is one of the tougher Devils for opponents to face.  All in all, there is little doubt that Clarkson will return, it’s only a matter of how much salary Clarkson will get, and for how long it will be.

My offer

Three years, $6 million ($2 million cap hit, salaries of $1,700,000, $1,900,000, $2,400,000).

LW Rod Pelley (25, 63 GP, 2 G, 8 A, 10 P, -4, 40 PIM, 1 PPA, 74 shots)

While Pelley came up short of the label he was given by Lou Lamoriello as “the next John Madden,” Pelley did play well when he was shifted to the left wing.  He provided some energy, dropped the gloves on occasion, and even showed a sprinkle of offense here and there.  I think he’d be a good fit for the fourth line left wing and should improve his numbers over least season.

My offer

One year, $600,000 ($50,000 raise over last season). 

RW Patrick Davis (23, 8 GP, 1 G, 1 P, -2, 8 shots)

Davis has some size, speed, and could provide a little depth at the forward position.  I don’t think his ceiling is all that high, but he has probably done all the development he will do at the minor league level.  Thus, I would bring him in as the 13th forward, and if he earns it, regular playing time.

My offer

One year, $550,000 ($50,000 raise over last season).

D Mark Fraser (23, 61 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 6 P, +3, 36 PIM, 24 shots)

Fraser was likely the biggest surprise last year as a player who initially stuck with the team only because he would’ve been subject to waivers if he was demoted to the AHL.  Fraser took advantage of the opportunity presented, offering strong play in his own end.  He did have setbacks down the stretch, and played an awful game in the playoffs in Philadelphia (it was a tough situation to be thrown into for a rookie). 

This will be a key year for his development, but he should be given a chance to have a regular shift on the third defensive pairing, and have his play dictate whether or not he sticks or potentially demoted.

My offer

One year, $600,000 ($100,000 raise over last year) 

D Tyler Eckford (24, 1 A, 1 P, even, 4 PIM, 1 shot)

Eckford received a qualifying offer, but I do not think he fits into the immediate plans for next year’s roster.  Should there be an injury or disappointment on defense, then obviously Eckford would be a candidate to get recalled.  From what I hear, he has too many holes in his game on the defensive end to be relied upon at the NHL level at this time.  

D Oliver Magnan-Grenier (24, no games played at NHL level)

OMG was given a qualifying offer, and is likely ticketed for Albany to provide depth and continue to grow as a player with the hope of eventually making it to the NHL level. 

Unrestricted Free Agents

Here’s where it gets VERY tough for the Devils, as they have two very big free agents to concern themselves with, and each one could impact the chances of resigning the other. 

LW Ilya Kovalchuk (27, 27 GP (w/Devils), 10 G, 17 A, 27 P, +9, 8 PIM, 2 PPG, 6 PPA, 1 GWG, 111 shots) and D Paul Martin (29, 22 GP, 2 G, 9 A, 11 P, +10, 2 PIM, 1 PPG, 1 PPA, 21 shots)

While they are two completely different players, I think grouping them together makes sense if for no other reason than the fact their salaries will have a major impact on the Devils’ salary cap situation.  If I was GM, I would call up both players and ask them how long they would like to play for, and sign them both to a Marian Hossa-type deal with a couple of extra seasons tacked on to ease the burden on the salary cap.

It isn’t often you get the ability to sign a player with the skill level of Kovalchuk, as they don’t grow on trees.  Did it fit perfectly last year?  Absolutely not, but with a full training camp and a new coach with fresh ideas, I definitely think it could work. 

Therefore, I would make the following contract offer to Kovalchuk, assuming he’d want to play twelve more seasons:  14 years, $92 million, which really would be more of a 12 year, $89 million deal.  The cap hit would be $6,571,429 per year, but he’d really be taking home $7.5-$8 million per year for the next ten seasons.

As for Martin, if he were to leave the team, it would create too much of a void on the Devils’ blue line.  If anything, they need to add a player with offensive ability from the defensive position, not lose one, so if it came down to choosing between the two, I think I’d have to secure Martin over Kovalchuk. 

However, I’d obviously to prefer to keep both, and assuming Martin would want to play another eight years, I’d offer him a 10 year, $40 million contract, which basically would be a $5 million salary for eight years and two years tacked on to the contract for cap relief.

Both players would put the Devils in a position to compete for the Stanley Cup next spring without a doubt. 

C Rob Niedermayer (35, 71 GP, 10 G, 12 A, 22 P, +3, 45 PIM, 1 PPA, 1 SHG, 1 SHA, 93 shots)

Surprisingly, at the beginning of last season, Niedermayer was one of the better players on the roster in terms of performance.  He had a great beginning to his year, scoring seven points in his first thirteen games before suffering an injury on November 4th against Washington.  He seemed to gel nicely with David Clarkson and Jay Pandolfo and made the players around him better. 

However, by the end of the year, Niedermayer looked just the opposite, and looked to be dragging the team down.  I would let Niedermayer test the market and find employment elsewhere.  He serviced the Devils well last year, but I don’t think is a great fit for the roster for the upcoming year.

D Mike Mottau (32, 2 G, 16 A, 18 P, +4, 41 PIM, 2 PPA, 74 shots)

Mottau is a player that has value, but has been too heavily relied upon in his tenure with the Devils.  He is too ineffective for the shut-down role he has been playing for the Devils, and has played too many minutes to potentially earn a salary that makes him unfriendly salary cap wise for the Devils to consider re-signing.  If his price dropped to under a million dollars per year, I’d re-sign him for the third defensive pairing, but I don’t see that as a realistic option.  Therefore, I’d let him go elsewhere.

G Yan Danis (12 GP, 6 GS, 467 min, 3-2-1, 2.05 GAA, .920 save %)

Danis provided solid play as Martin Brodeur’s backup.  While I’m sure he would’ve preferred more playing time, I would expect Danis to return.  He has stated publicly he’d like to return, and I don’t think his demands are going to be too outrageous that it wouldn’t be worthwhile to have Danis return.  I also would like to see him get a few more games in net next year.

My offer: One year, $550,000 ($50,000 raise from last season)

C/LW Dean McAmmond (37, 62 GP, 8 G, 9 A, 17 P, -1, 40 PIM, 1 PPG, 1 PPA, 1 SHG, 2 GWG, 87 shots)

McAmmond was a late addition in training camp and began the year at Albany before getting recalled. He provides nice versatility and can fill in for almost any spot in the lineup. While he isn’t necessarily the same player he used to be, and can probably use an occasional day off, I like what McAmmond brought to the team.  If used correctly, he can be a nice asset for the Devils and I’d like to see him return next season.

My offer 

One year, $550,000 ($50,000 raise over last season)

F Ben Walter (2 GP, 2 PIM)

Walter was brought in to the Devils via a trade with the New York Islanders and got recalled for two games last year.  I don’t think he has much of a chance with the big club, so it would depend on whether or not he wanted to be in Albany, or thinks he could get a better chance at being in the NHL elsewhere.  I’d bring him back with a minor league deal if he was interested, but only he would know that answer.

C Tim Sestito (9 GP, 1 A, 1 P, -2, 2 PIM, 7 shots)

Similar to Walter, Sestito was brought in via a trade last year, with Edmonton.  Sestito gave the Devils a bit of a spark in the nine games he played, showing a nice all-out effort each game.  He isn’t the most talented guy in the league, and he certainly isn’t an All-Star, but he could potentially be a fourth-line guy if a McAmmond isn’t brought back.

I’d like to have Sestito around for depth, and give him a chance to earn a spot in training camp.  Having played under John MacLean at Albany last year, you’d think MacLean would have an idea of what Sestito brings to the table and that could work to his benefit.

My offer:   Two-way deal, One year, $500,000 for NHL level

Now that we’ve taken care of the free agents, there are a few spots left for minor leaguers to fill out, which include the following:

C Jacob Josefson (19, no games in North America last year)

It would have to be figured out which one is more ready in training camp, but I would like to see Jacob Josefson make the lineup out of training camp.  Early comparisons have been to Patrik Sundstrom, a Devil from the late 1980’s, which sounds very appealing if he can avoid the nagging injuries that curtailed Sundstrom’s career.  Josefson would be a nice potential fit on the third line with Brian Rolston and David Clarkson. 

The other prime candidate for this spot would be Adam Henrique, a center for the Memorial Cup winning Windsor Spitfires.  If both players show they are worthy of a spot in the lineup in training camp, that would be a good problem to have, and changes to the lineup would have to be made. 

For now, I’ll go with Josefson as the third line center, but that would obviously be subject to his, Henrique, and anyone else who might steps up play in training camp.

D Matthew Corrente (12 GP, 24 PIM, 6 shots)

Corrente is a former first round pick from 2006 and was considered the best defenseman for Lowell last year.  With John MacLean as head coach, you’d think that would give Corrente a great chance to crack the lineup, and I think it’s a great fit. He should be able to add a little snarl to the back line and also give them a right handed shot, something that the defense has lacked in recent years. 

I would team Corrente with Fraser on the third pairing and look to give them a chance to grow.  When he returns, I would have Salmela share time with these two and see which two take the job and run with it.

In the end, my 23-man roster would be as follows (cap hit in parentheses)...

Forwards

Zach Parise ($3,125,000) – Travis Zajac ($3,887,500) – Dainius Zubrus ($3,400,000)

Ilya Kovalchuk ($6,571,429) – Jason Arnott ($4,500,000) – Patrik Elias ($6,000,000)

Brian Rolston ($5,062,500) – Jacob Josefson ($900,000) – Jamie Langenbrunner ($2,800,000)

Rod Pelley ($550,000) – Dean McAmmond ($550,000) – David Clarkson ($2,000,000)

Reserves:  Patrick Davis ($550,000), Pierre-Luc Letourneau-LeBlond ($525,000)

Defensemen

Paul Martin ($4,000,000) – Bryce Salvador ($2,900,000)

Andy Greene ($737,500) – Colin White ($3,000,000)

Mark Fraser ($600,000) – Matthew Corrente ($821,667)

Reserve:  Anssi Salmela ($612,500)

Goaltenders

Martin Brodeur ($5,200,000)

Yan Danis ($550,000)

Total Cap Hit: $58,843,096, $556,904 space left

Overall, I think I’d want to leave myself with more cap space and wiggle room.

The biggest area for this would be if somehow we could get a lower cap hit for Ilya Kovalchuk and/or David Clarkson.

I’d also push to get as many of the lower end players like Yan Danis, Dean McAmmond, Mark Fraser or Rod Pelley as close to the $500,000 minimum as I could as every dollar saved against the cap could end up making a big difference down the line.

It’s unfortunate, but Jay Pandolfo would be a casualty of the cap, whether he stayed on Long Term Injured Reserve for the season, or had to be waived/demoted, I just don’t see him able to play a game with the Devils if the Devils were able to re-sign Kovalchuk and Martin.

If the Devils do not sign Kovalchuk, look for rookie Mattias Tedenby to become a candidate to fill that spot, but also don’t discount the chances of guys like Nick Palmieri, David McIntyre, Michael Swift, Vladmir Zharkov, Alexander Vasyunov, and anyone else that might have a chance to step up during training camp.

Ultimately, keep in mind, this is a description of what I would do if I were the GM, and not necessarily a prediction of what I think will actually happen.

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