The Devils' Offseason To Date

JerseySenior Analyst IJuly 9, 2009

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 28: Brian Gionta #14 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates a goal by Brian Rolston #12 (not shown) against the Carolina Hurricanes during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on April 28, 2009 in Newark, New Jersey. The Hurricanes defetaed the Devils 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I suppose it's high time I weighed in on the Devils utter lack of offseason action.

Aside from re-signing Johnny Oduya and Andy Greene and bringing in former draft pick Itkka Pikkarainen, the Devils have brought in exactly zero players (unless you count AHL center Ben Walter) and have watched four of their own find new homes.

Admittedly, it's frustrating. I've always been a big fan of Brian Gionta and would have loved to see him stay. John Madden has been a superb defensive forward for years, and despite his off year, would have been welcome back.

But those two players were let go for a reason. The other two players, Mike Rupp and Scott Clemmensen, were unlikely to return anyway and most Devils fans were happy to see Clemmensen earn his deserved paycheck and playing time elsewhere.

Madden wasn't brought back due to age and the presence of ready rookies. With Rod Pelley poised to make the team, Lou Lamoriello opted to let the old Madden walk and save some money.

I would not have been upset if Lamoriello had opted to match Chicago's offer to Madden. A one-year deal would certainly be worthwhile, as there is minimal risk. If he continues to show his age, he's gone after the year, but if he returns to form, it's a great investment.

But Lamoriello never made an offer to Madden, probably because he assumed Madden would draw a bigger deal. He was willing to let the guy walk and didn't even consider matching anybody's offer, as he felt it wouldn't be worthwhile anyway.

While I do think a one-year gamble on the longtime Devil would have made sense, it was not an option that crossed Lou's mind. I disagree with the move overall, but I understand it.

Still, I doubt the return of Madden would have satiated Devils fans. As stars moved all around the league, the return of an old third-line center would not be so appealing. Brian Gionta's return certainly would have made fans happy, but that didn't happen either.

But Gionta's dismissal is easily understandable. There was a mutual interest between the team and the player, but they disagreed about the money. After earning a $4 million-per-year contract following a 48 goal season, Gionta has never matched that output and has only reached a high of 25 goals since then.

Yet, Montreal was willing to spend $5 million a year over five years to attain him. For those not keeping score, that's a raise of $1 million a year over five seasons.

There was no way Lamoriello would have paid Gionta even the same salary after three years of 20-25 goals, let alone pay him even more. Especially when one considers that Brian Rolston is expected to replace Gionta on the second line, there was absolutely no reason for Lou to overpay to bring him back.

It hurts to see the shorty go, but he just isn't worth that kind of money. Montreal gave him a crazy offer, and Lou was smart for not matching it.

So the Devils lost two key players, but they were able to replace them, right? Not quite. Stars like Marian Hossa and Gaborik joined new teams, but the Devils stood pat. The loss of players, and lack of new players, only made Devils fans even more restless.

It's definitely frustrating to watch other teams bring in big names, but after a closer look, it appears the Devils have been very wise about it. The players shuffling around have signed for ludicrous amounts of money, price tags that will only serve to hamper teams in the future.

The Rangers, after unloading Scott Gomez's awful contract, signed Marian Gaborik to an even worse one. For the next five years, the Rangers will be paying $7.5 million to a guy who played all of 17 games last season, has never played a complete season, and has reached 70 games only once in the past five years.

A player with his talent certainly deserves the big paycheck, but when one considers how much time he spends off the ice, it becomes apparent that this was a terrible move.

The Canadiens took on Gomez's horrible contract, and then overpaid significantly to bring in his former linemate, Gionta. It was clear they wanted to reunite the two and hope to bring back the magic, but at what cost?

There's no guarantee whatsoever that they'll perform at an elite level, especially since Gionta has only done it once in his career. The season after the 48-goal outburst, Gionta was still playing alongside Gomez, but fell far short of the previous season's stats.

The Canadiens took on two long, bad contracts with no guarantee of results. Meanwhile, thanks to the new players, the Candiens have let go of Alexei Kovalev and longtime captain Saku Koivu.

The Blackhawks have taken on a lot of new players, and are now over the cap, despite not having signed Calder Trophy candidate Kris Versteeg. For all their moves, they're extremely cap-strapped, and will lose a significant young player in the process.

Meanwhile, the Devils will remain well under the cap, and will replace their losses with a youth movement. This strategy has worked well for the Devils in the past, but that's no guarantee it will work now.

But Lamoriello doesn't only have this year to consider. The NHL will play again next season, and the salary cap is expected to drop significantly. With so many teams so close to the cap, many tough decisions will have to be made, and bad contracts will do severe damage to many teams. Lamoriello will have none of that.

It's an interesting strategy, and I think Lamoriello is making the right decision. While it's frustrating to watch players leave and none come in, it would be downright awful to be trapped under bad contracts. So many teams have, and will have, this trouble, and the Devils won't. That's a good thing.

And it's not like they've sat back and lazily watched everyone move. They've looked at players who they felt would be affordable, only to see them sign elsewhere.

Scott Niedermayer was pursued by his former team, but he re-upped with the Ducks without any hesitation. Saku Koivu was also recruited, but he ultimately also signed with the Ducks.

While Koivu's one-year, $3.25 million deal looks so attainable from a Devils' fan's standpoint, keep in mind that this probably wasn't available to the Devils. Koivu was offered more money to play in Chicago, but turned it down because he wasn't offered a fourth year.

He's taking a pay cut and a short contract to play where he thinks he can win NOW, like Karl Malone and Gary Payton did with the Lakers. He also wanted to play with Teemu Selanne, who is retiring after the year.

The Devils would have had to do better than the Blackhawks to bring him in, and that wasn't happening, especially since Koivu is 34 years old.

There are still free agents available and I'm sure a move will be made. Perhaps Derek Morris can be had for very cheap now. He'd be a top-four defenseman on this team.

And while Jason Williams isn't an ideal player, he could be an affordable option at center. Lou could supplement his roster with cheap players that would improve the team without costing it too much, and it would be the best way to go.

I think the Madden move was a mistake, I wish we could have brought back Gionta, and if Koivu could have been acquired for that kind of contract, we should have taken him.

But overall, the offseason has been an odd success for the Devils, even if the results won't be seen until later.


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