New Jersey Devils: The Year That Was and the Year That Will Be (Part II)

levinakl@levinaklCorrespondent IIIMay 11, 2009

RALEIGH, NC - APRIL 26: Paul Martin #7 of the the New Jersey Devils skates up the ice with the puck in the second period of Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 26, 2009 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

We tackled the shock and awe of the end of the season in our last installment, and took a look at the goaltender position.   

If you want to get caught up, check out Part I

Now, we move on to the defensemen..

Andy Greene

Regular season: 49 GP, 2 G, 7 A, 9 P, +3, 22 PIM. Playoffs: 3 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P, -1, 1 PPA. 2008-09 salary:  $600,000. 2009-10 salary cap:  RFA, age 27 (as of October 1, 2009)

Greene is and has been a very interesting Devil the past few years.  Another one of those undrafted free agents that GM Lou Lamoriello seems to uncover often, Greene came in 2007 to join the squad, and made an immediate impact on the team, especially in the playoffs that season. 

Unfortunately, Greene hasn't always been able to repeat that level of performance over the subsequent two seasons.

Greene has been caught up at times in a numbers game, and hasn't always been able to stay a regular, both from inconsistent play, and injuries at the wrong time.  Early this year, Greene had a career game on October 29 against Toronto, posting three assists—only to break his hand in the same game, causing him to miss over seven weeks of action at a time he was seemingly playing his best.

At age 27 (as of October 30), it is time for Greene to either step up and become a regular, or be subjected to a career as either a depth guy—or even worse, a minor-leaguer. 

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I believe in Andy Greene, and think he has the talent to be a regular top-six defenseman.  I want to hope Greene is more of the type of player that can add offensive punch then I want to think he's the guy that gets beaten often along the boards for puck possession.

2008-09 grade:  C 

2009-10:  Re-sign to one-year deal around $700,000, regular shift in third defensive pairing.

Niclas Havelid

Regular season (with New Jersey) 15 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 P, -2, 6 PIM, 3 PPA.  Playoffs: 7 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P, even, 2 PIM). 2008-09 salary:  $2,900,000. 2009-10 salary cap:  UFA, age 36.

Havelid was the Devils' transaction deadline acquisition, acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers for Anssi Salmela on March 4, and seemed to become a bit of a scapegoat for the Devils' fans. 

At that point of the season, the Devils were on a run of winning 18 of 22 games.  In the first game after his acquisition, the Devils got beaten badly by the Islanders, 7-3 on March 7. 

Fans wanted to blame Havelid for "ruining the chemistry" of the team—but while certainly not flashy, Havelid usually got the job done.  It was a bit mysterious to me why he was paired with Bryce Salvador as his partner, but it's tough to blame Havelid for the Devils' disappointment. 

That being said, it would've been nice if Havelid got in the way of Joni Pitkanen's pass which led to Jussi Jokinen's tying goal with 1:20 left in the third period of Game Seven.

At this point, I do not expect Havelid to return, and I think he has his heart set on returning to his native Sweden.  There are already Internet reports out there that he has retired from the NHL

At his potential salary hit, I don't think the Devils truly have any interest in Havelid's return anyhow, so this should be a situation comparable to guys like Ken Klee and Richard Smehelik in the past, where they thank Lou for their short stint in New Jersey and ride off into the sunset.

2008-09 grade:  C+  

2009-10:  Retire from NHL, and head home to his native Sweden

Jay Leach

Regular season: 24 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P, even, 21 PIM.  2008-09 salary:  $475,000. 2009-10 salary cap: $487,500, age 30

Jay Leach was brought in on a two-year deal that was most likely looked at as a move to add depth at Lowell.  Sure enough, Leach played his way onto the NHL roster, and ended up playing in 24 games for the Devils. 

That may not seem like a lot, but he had only played four career games at the NHL in previous stints with Boston and Tampa Bay.

Leach has nice size, but also is a bit slow, so he is what he is.  You certainly aren't going to expect much offense from him, but you also expect him to add some toughness and defensive stability. 

Leach is probably at risk of the Devils possibly obtaining an upgrade to their current top-six defensemen (minus Niclas Havelid). 

If they do not get an upgrade via free agency or a trade, then it is likely Leach can remain at the NHL club as a number seven defenseman.  If not, Leach will likely be ticketed for Lowell.

2008-09 grade:  B   

2009-10:  Seventh defensemen in New Jersey if there is an injury, otherwise likely ticketed for Lowell

Paul Martin

Regular season: 73 GP, 5 G, 28 A, 33 P, +21, 36 PIM, 2 PPG, 16 PPA, 1 SHA, 1 GWG. Playoffs: 7 GP, 0 G, 4 A, 4 P, even, 2 PIM, 1 PPA. 2008-09 salary:  $4,000,000. 2009-10 salary cap:  $3,833,333, age 28.

Martin is the closest thing the Devils have had to both a legitimate number-one defenseman and to Scott Niedermayer since Niedermayer departed New Jersey. 

I am not saying Martin is as good as Niedermayer, but he does have the same type of all-around game which resembles the way Niedermayer plays.  They also share the same weakness, which is their shot from the point.

If you match Martin with someone willing to do more of the dirty and physical work, then you'd probably have yourself a perfect pairing.  The year started out with Martin and Bryce Salvador playing together, which I thought would be ideal.  The pairing never was utilized for the long haul, however, and I think it may have been more beneficial to keep them together.  Hopefully, that will be the case next year.

Paul Martin has been about as consistent as one can get over the last two seasons.  In the same number of games, he had the same number of goals each year, and was only off on assists by one.  His plus minus was also different only by one as well.  He has set a pretty high barometer for his play, and one shouldn't expect that barometer to go down anytime soon.

As far as his status with the team, Paul Martin isn't going anywhere. It would likely be in the best interest of the Devils to try and sign Martin to an extension before he starts his walk year next season.  

He is very high on the list of Devils they cannot afford to lose, as he gets more ice time then any of the other skaters, averaging about 26 minutes and 20 seconds per game over the playoff series with Carolina.  No one approached that kind of ice time, as the closest any skater came was Zach Parise, who had 24 minutes and 29 seconds of ice time in Game Two, which also went into overtime.

The fact is, Paul Martin would be an outstanding number-two defenseman on just about any NHL team.  Unfortunately, he is being counted on to be the number one for the Devils.  When he had Brian Rafalski to share the load, things went much more smoothly for everyone. 

That being said, Martin is as good as it gets right now for the Devils, and the prospects of replacing Martin at the top of the defensive depth chart do not appear to be very high at this point. 

Let's hope the Devils give Martin a more physical presence to play with next season, which would allow him to focus more in the areas he excels—like making outlet passes and leading the offensive rush.

2008-09 grade:  B+  

2009-10:  On No. 1 defensive pairing

Mike Mottau

Regular season: 80 GP, 1 G, 14 A, 15 P, +24, 35 PIM, 1 PPA, 1 SHA. Playoffs: 7 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 P, -3. 2008-09 salary:  $750,000. 2009-10 salary cap:  $775,000, age 31.

Another player that the Devils found off the scrap heap, Mottau floundered between the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames, only playing in 23 NHL games between 2000-01 and 2002-03.  He did not play again in the NHL until the Devils brought him in for the 2007-08 season, and he has been a regular since. 

Mottau was a phenomenal college player, scoring the Hobey Baker Award in 2000 at Boston College, but couldn't utilize his skill set at the NHL level until his arrival in New Jersey in 2006.

Mottau seems to have developed some type of chemistry with Colin White, and together they formed to be a solid No. 1 defensive pairing for the Devils. 

However, to be fair, this is probably the single biggest area the Devils should look to improve this offseason.  Not to single out Mottau, but he is a third-pairing type of guy at best, and shouldn't be the type of player a head coach has to utilize against a team's best offensive players—like, for instance, Eric Staal in these past playoffs. 

As I indicated in my midseason report, Mottau and White never seem to play as well when they are apart, and even when together they rarely look pretty.  However, they usually get the job done. 

Unfortunately, this is the kind of pairing that gets exposed when they are needed most, which is exactly how it played out in Games Six and Seven of the Carolina series, where this pairing was exposed greatly, and was a combined minus-six. 

I don't see how this pairing can be counted on to be the No. 1 shutdown pair in 2009-10.

2008-09 grade:  C+  

2009-10:  Either on the third pairing, used as the number seven guy, or traded away to a team in need of a cheap defenseman.

Johnny Oduya

Regular season: 82 GP, 7 G, 22 A, 29 P, +21, 30 PIM, 1 PPG, 4 PPA, 1 SHG, 4 GWG. Playoffs: 7 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P, +3, 2 PIM). 2008-09 salary:  $600,000, 2009-10 salary cap:  UFA, age 28 (on Oct 1).

Who would have thought that two years ago, anyone would think Johnny Oduya would be the most underpaid New Jersey Devil? 

I remember two years ago, thinking Oduya was good to get burned and probably to lose his stick a couple of times a game.  Sure, there was some talent, and there were those moments where people referred to him as Johnny Orr-Duya, but all in all, there still seemed to be a lot of development to endure with Oduya. 

Well, it now seems that all that work has paid off, because Oduya has played himself into a legitimate top-four defenseman.  In fact, I think Oduya is an absolute must re-sign for the Devils, and is likely at this point the biggest need for the Devils to re-sign amongst their unrestricted free agents. 

I shudder to think where the Devils defense would be if they were to lose Oduya.  How’s that for an eye opener after what we endured with Oduya a few seasons back?  He has had two pretty impressive seasons by any measure, especially if you consider the fact that he is a plus-48 the past two regular seasons—a number that has him near the top of the league.

Oduya was extremely solid in the playoffs against Carolina, but I think he is miscast as a defensive partner with Paul Martin.  They are too similar in their play, and I think long term, both would benefit with more of a physical presence. 

I hope Oduya is signed for the long haul, and we continue to see his development reach new heights in years to come.  If he bolts from New Jersey, his career would likely blossom for someone else, instead of the heights it could’ve reached with the Devils. 

However, in the end, I’m hoping Oduya will remain loyal to the team that brought him back from Sweden to the NHL after his first NHL stint with the Washington Capitals was deemed a failure.

In addition, his recent play at the World Championships for Team Sweden should only increase his value if he were to hit the open market.  GM Lou Lamoriello would be best served to close a deal with Oduya before July 1, which is the beginning of free agency.

2008-09 grade:  A-  

2009-10:  Sign to a four-year, $11.5 million contract; put on second defensive pairing.

Bryce Salvador (regular season, 76 GP, 3 G, 13 A, 16 P, -1, 78 PIM, 2 SHA, 2 GWG, playoffs, 4 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P, -3, 4 PIM), 2008-09 salary:  $2,900,000, 2009-10 salary cap:  $2,900,000, signed through 2011-12 season, age 33

Salvador is one of the types of players that will often get overlooked.  He certainly isn’t flashy, but he’s the type of guy that has the “lunch pail” mentality, as he comes to work hard each and every night.  He both gives out and takes a lot of punishment in front of the net and in the corners, and will even drop the gloves to help stand up for a teammate. 

Salvador was an excellent pickup at last year’s trading deadline, and is definitely the type of player every successful team needs to have on its roster. 

If you want to look at the glory years of the Devils, Salvador is currently the closest thing the Devils have to Ken Daneyko.  Now, to be fair, he doesn’t have the history with the franchise like Mr. Devil did—but he is in the same mold, where he will do just about anything for the good of his team. 

I also think that the Devils should put Salvador in the best place where he can do the most good for the team.  I am not sure that this was always the case this past season, as Salvador was often put on the third pairing. 

In the playoffs, Salvador should not have been paired with Niclas Havelid.  I think the old Devils way of pairing a more offensive-minded defenseman with a more defensive, stay-at-home type of guy works well. 

Thus, I think Salvador should play with Paul Martin on the top unit, and add more of a physical presence to the general all around game Martin offers.  I think they complement each other way, and should be the Devils number-one defensive pair next season to match up against opponents’ top lines.

Salvador is no Scott Stevens or Ken Daneyko, but he is what he is–and that’s a very-solid, blue-collar, top-four defensemen.  Let’s hope his recent injury history with the Devils turns around next season, as I think the injury he suffered in Game Four was overlooked, as the Devils definitely missed his presence in the final three games of the series.

2008-09 grade:  B  

2009-10:  On No. 1 defensive pairing with Paul Martin

Colin White

Regular season, 71 GP, 1 G, 17 A, 18 P, +18, 46 PIM, 3 SHA.  Playoffs, 7 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P, -3, 4 PIM. 2008-09 salary:  $2,900,000. 2009-10 salary cap:  $3,000,000, signed through 2011-12 season, age 31.

The recent career of Colin White has been a sad story of sorts.   White came up in 2000, and was a very promising young player who, despite some mistakes, stepped up greatly to help the Devils win two Stanley Cups in 2000 and 2003. 

White looked ticketed to be the backbone of the Devils' defense for years to come, but that plan was derailed when he suffered a nasty eye injury in September 2007, and nearly ended his career. 

While White was a big physical force before his injury, he has unfortunately been forced to accommodate since.  He is no longer able to fight with opponents.  Not that he was necessarily a regular fighter, but I can recall countless instances of White getting into it a bit after whistles and things like that.

Now, he is unable to do so because of his injury.  It has affected his vision of the ice as well, and as a whole, he isn’t the same player he was before he hurt the eye.

That being said, the 2008-09 version of Colin White was significantly better then the 2007-08 version.  It is still possible White can improve beyond this season’s version, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

It’s more likely at this point that what you see out of Colin is what you will get.  He’s a big defenseman who can be good on the penalty kill, and can occasionally make a big hit, but sometimes his timing won’t be all that great. 

On two instances in the Carolina series, White went for the big hit at the wrong time, leading to two huge Hurricanes goals—one a game-tying tally in the third period of Game Two, and the other a series-losing goal in the final minute of Game Seven.

White is a decent defenseman, who unfortunately is not able to bring the same level of physicality that he was able to before his injury.  That being said, I think White can make a home on the third defensive pair and make his presence felt as a penalty killer, playing about 15 minutes  a game, and still be effective. 

His days against the opponents’ top lines should come to an end, which would be an upgrade for this team.

2008-09 grade:   C+  

2009-10:  On No. 3 defensive pairing with Andy Greene/Mike Mottau

Coming soon: Part III, where we look at the defense as a whole—and then on to the forwards, front office and team as a whole!


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