With unrestricted free agency beginning tomorrow, July 1, the New Jersey Devils find themselves at a major crossroads. They have two major unrestricted free agents in LW Ilya Kovalchuk and D Paul Martin and what happens with both of them will have a significant impact on both the immediate and long-term future of the franchise.
You could easily make the argument that Kovalchuk and Martin are the top free agents at their respective positions and likely wouldn't receive much of a rebuttal from too many people. Now, the Devils have done this dance in the past with free agents like Scott Niedermayer, Scott Gomez, Patrik Elias, Brian Rafalski and many others over the years with limited success in terms of having players re-signing with the Devils that make it to unrestricted free agency.
In the salary cap era, there are only so many cap dollars to go around, so important decisions need to be made. The ball got rolling earlier today with the re-signing of RW David Clarkson to a three-year eight million dollar contract. In addition, LW Jay Pandolfo and LW Andrew Peters were placed on waivers with the likely intention to buy out their contracts if they go unclaimed.
With about $13 million of cap space available, and only 16 spots filled on the roster, is it even feasible to think the Devils have a chance of signing both players?
The Devils also must worry about signing restricted free agents like D Mark Fraser and LW Rod Pelley, and even that still leaves five roster spots left to fill.
What the Devils do here will greatly impact the team going forward. If they are able to secure Kovalchuk to a long-term contract, it will obviously signal that the Devils will look to build their team around the 27-year-old as one of the key members of the team for the foreseeable future. It also will impact how much room the Devils will have to re-sign star LW Zach Parise to a contract for next off-season.
Beyond Kovalchuk and Martin, the Devils also must decide if they want to pursue their other unrestricted free agents like C Rob Niedermayer, C/LW Dean McAmmond, D Mike Mottau and G Yann Danis. How much money GM Lou Lamoriello will have to work with will obviously be impacted by what takes place with both Kovalchuk and Martin.
If both are re-signed to long term deals, it probably will end the Devils careers for Mottau and Niedermayer. If Kovalchuk and Martin both bolt, it could start a re-vamping of sorts, opening up potential spots for youngsters like LW Mattias Tedenby, C Jacob Josefsson, C Adam Henrique, RW Nick Palmeiri, D Alexander Urbom, D Matthew Corrente, D Matt Taormina, or it could pave the way for new talent to be brought in via free agency or trade.
Let the free agency start, and the rumors run wild. It's time to enjoy the Hockey Hot Stove everyone, and see the lasting impact it will have for the Devils not only for this year, but going forward as well.
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