Richard Matvichuk is getting healthy and for about, say, 2-3 months last season played very well. Of course this was after the return of Elias, as beforehand it wasn't be too incorrect to call
him Matvi-suck (see what I did there? I R e-witty, rite?). Anyway, he's getting healthy and he would be an improvement over, say, Brad Lukowich on defense. He's practicing now, but before he joins the team, the Devils need to clear some cap space, as Gulitti notes. According to Hockey Analysis' numbers, the Devils are about $600k or so under the cap including Matvichuk and Jason Weimer being on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR). Someone needs to go and I have some ideas.
1. Trade Scott Gomez for a center and picks
I know what you're thinking. John F, what the Glenn Hall are you thinking? A young #1 playmaking center who just developed a shot last season? TRADE HIM? Now, now, he signed for $5 million dollars this season after arbitration. I still remember Bobby Holik's arbitration for $4.5 million back a few years. He played well for NJ and totally tested the Unrestricted Free Agents waters he was eligible for in the next year. He promptly signed with the Rangers for a whopping $9 million and fortunately gave them nothing resembling their money. I say fortunately not just because he sucked for the Rangers (who also suck), but because it was not a huge loss to the Devils. They still went on to win a Stanley Cup in 2003. What does this have to do with Gomez? If Scott Gomez has no intention of remaining a Devil after this season, he will effectively go to another team and the Devils will get nothing for it - which is especially costly if (when?) Gomez performs well for his new team.
Because he is a young, skilled #1 center, now is a fantastic time to trade for Scott Gomez. He can command another center coming NJ's way to fill in his spot. It can also provide some major cap relief. As it is, NJ is playing real close to the limit and a stroke of injuries can seriously hurt the Devils. Lou has never been shy in trading good young players such as Bill Guerin, Brendan Morrisson, and Steve Sullivan for the right deal. The problem is that giving up Gomez without a similar (obviously lesser, who trades away a better player?) offensive center in return would really hurt the Devils' offense and ultimately the team's fortunes as a whole (not that they have been around recently). The other problem is whether the right deal is out there? As good as Gomez is, who is available to take on another $5 million in salary? Then again, San Jose did eat Vladamir Malakhov's contract, so who knows? Personally, I don't think this will happen; but I wouldn't be surprised if the thought crossed Lou's mind.
2) Trade Brad Lukowich and Jim Fahey (or a player with a similar salary)
Quality-wise, I don't think it will hurt the team much. I don't despise Lukowich like some people
, I think he's an acceptable #5/#6 defenseman. But Matvichuk is a better defenseman than Lukowich, more stable in back. Fahey is in Lowell right now, so moving him will clear up some of the logjam down there. Enough salary should be cleared for Matvichuk to be able to play. Depth-wise, this isn't a good move. It would make NJ even closer to barely under the salary cap and any injuries requiring call-ups could seriously cause bigger problems the Devils aside from the injuries.
3) Trade one Devil that isn't Gomez who makes more than $1.358 million/year to make room for Matvichuk.
It's far more advantageous to trade a player whose cap hit is larger than Matvichuk's cap hit. Depth will be available and depending on who the Devil is, more cap room can be available. Unfortunately, there's only two players who fit this the best. Lou will NOT trade (or be able to) Langenbrunner, Elias, Gionta, White, Madden, or Rafalski - nor should he. Those guys make up the majority of the core in NJ. From what I see, this leaves Paul Martin and Sergei Brylin.
Martin is a young defenseman who is already a top 4 defenseman. He's averaging 25:11 a game, good for 16th most in the NHL right now (not including tonight's games). OK, his performance on some nights leaves something to be desired, but he's young, he's talented, he'll be fine. He would definitely command a sweet deal as young d-men who can play 23-25 minutes a night are likely in demand. Which is probably why he won't be moved as Martin is a better player in the long haul than Matvichuk. I'd say he's more valuable that Matvichuk right now.
Sarge has been on the team since he came into the NHL. I'm pretty sure that at some point, he's played every position at forward on the Devils. It wouldn't surprise me if played on defense one game or something like that. First line, fourth line, wing, center, Brylin has done it fairly well. Full of heart and character, he's the type of player Lou really values highly. Unfortunately, and it pains me to type this, he's the most likely to be traded. He makes about $200k more than Matvichuk and he can go without causing much of a detriment to the team's offense or defense at forward. Rasmussen can take his spot on the third line with Janssen, Dowd, and Rupp at fourth. His heart, character, and versatility are invaluable; but he may be the odd man out. So naturally I have a fourth solution.
4) Trade Matvichuk.
What? Trade a guy who hasn't seen a second of ice time yet this season? Lou did trade Vladamir Malakhov's contract without any hitches (unless you're calling Jim Fahey a hitch on defense, but whatever). So it's certainly possible. His cap is relatively small and there are plenty of teams that could use a stay-at-home defenseman. Who? Why not Columbus? They do have the cap room and they do have Ken Hitchcock as head coach. Hitchcock (seemingly) had no problem with Derian Hatcher in Philadelphia, I can't see him balking at Richard Matvichuk. The current defenseman pairings are suitable for the Devils.
Personally, I'd try to move Matvichuk to solve this issue. I have no problem with a six of Rafalski, Oduya, White, Martin, Hale, and Lukowich. Brooks and Fahey are acceptable #7 defensemen. So while he would be an upgrade, I don't think it's vital. Regardless, I think we can trust Lou to make the right decision here. This isn't the first time the salary cap has been an issue this season, and the Devils are still the Devils after all.