Wednesday, May 09, 2007


The Offseason: The Lockers Are Empty Now

Rich Chere and Colin Stephenson of the Star Ledger both report that the Devils cleaned out their lockers at the Continental Airlines Arena yesterday. OK, that's not really news. Talking to Scott Gomez about his future situation is of note, however. Gomez will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and reading this makes you wonder whether or not he'll even leave:
"I've grown up in this organization and with the people around New Jersey," Gomez said. "I love it here. I'm not leaning toward anywhere right now. People are going to speculate about the West Coast, but I love this area. I consider this place home. The thing is, we've gone this far, it would be foolish not to see it through. I think both sides know that."

Though his agent - not his dad, as in an actual agent - has a more interesting quote.

"There have been no meetings or discussions with me so far. There's the possibility that could happen," Pulver said. "Right now, Scott is open to anything. Time will tell. He hasn't ruled out anything. He hasn't ruled out returning to New Jersey. Lots of different factors will go into the final decision as to whether Scott Gomez remains a Devil. Team success, location and finances are all factors that will go into his decision."
(Emphasis is my own) Presumably from this, Gomez doesn't just want to get paid to be anyone's #1 center. I would imagine he would want to go to a team that is a contender or about to become one very soon. Team success and location being factors helps New Jersey, should they look to keep him, I would guess.

Regardless of the factors, I hope Gomez makes a decision prior to July 1. When Scott Neidermayer was a UFA back before 2005, he waited to make a decision on whether he would stay a Devil or go to Anaheim. He went to Anaheim, but while he was deciding, other defensemen on the market were being snatched up by other teams. The Devils ultimately had to fill the hole Neidermayer left with free agents Vladamir Malakhov and Dan McGillis. Needless to say, these signings were not successful. I don't want to see a repeat of that at center for the Devils. Patricia at 2 Man Advantage isn't confident that Scott Gomez will remain in New Jersey, I can't really disagree - especially if Gomez is asking for more than $5 million a year. More so when there is an Associated Press article at TSN stating that Gomez intends to "test the waters" of free agency.

Rich Chere's other article in the Star Ledger was more enlightening, delving in deeper into the other issues raised by Patricia's post at 2 Man Advantage. John MacLean is definitely interested in becoming the head coach of the New Jersey Devils. Given that he was an assistant coach last season with Larry Robinson and Lou Lamoriello, not to mention this season with Claude Julien and Lou, I have to think he's got to be a candidate for the position. I think Pat Burns would be the best fit, a no-nonsense coach who already understands how the Devils operate given his time with the team back in 2003. I certainly hope his health will allow him to coach anywhere, though.

This article also states that unrestricted free agent defenseman Brian Rafalski wants to return to the Devils. So does Brad Lukowich and Jim Dowd, something that I'm sure Patricia will be happy about. Erik Rasmussen is a possible returning Devil; and Paul Martin wants a deal before training camp.

As far as free agency as it stands, all the restricted free agents need to be signed first. They include Zach Parise, Martin, and Johnny Oduya. Those three in particular have done very well and will likely make up the core of the Devils for years to come (OK, maybe not Oduya but definitely Martin and Parise). They need to be signed long-term and kept happy. Afterwards, the decision should be made as to whether to keep Gomez or Rafalski. If Gomez is intent on going into free agency, I say let's cut any losses and get a cheaper option to center the first line while using that money saved to sign Rafalski and get any other upgrades at defense. I wouldn't re-sign Lukowich in that case. I also would not re-sign Rasmussen or Rupp, giving those roster spots to David Clarkson and another young winger from Lowell. I wouldn't mind Dowd remaining on the team. But again, this is just what I would do; I think Lou Lamoriello truly knows best.

If you don't believe me, check out this video from MSG on YouTube. It is clear that Lou knows exactly what he's doing and is maintaining the proper perspective. The offseason is on, the lockers are empty, and nothing is for sure just yet.

ALSO: If you need a hard-hitting review of the past Devils' season, look no further from Pookie at Interchangeable Parts. Sorry that I didn't get to linking this sooner, Pookie.

ALSO AGAIN: Tom Lycan has a good post on the offseason wherein he notes that you can get work with the Devils and gives some good reasons why Rafalski perhaps should not be re-signed. It's true that Rafalski isn't getting any younger and commands a fairly high salary. However, there are only so many true #1 defensemen in the entire NHL and even fewer (if any) that will become free agents and not cost as much as Rafalski. I need to take a closer look at eventual free agent defensemen to see if there are players who would contribute more to the Devils than Rafalski. If not (and if Lou doesn't think so), then re-signing Rafalski will be likely, in my opinion.

Gomer is a malcontent. Dust him. He shakes us down for more cash than he's worth every year.

Rafalski will only be good under a hard nosed, no BS coach in the Pat Burns mold. Johnny MacLean is not that guy. He's a players' coach. We saw what happened to accountability under Mr. Feelgood Julien. Johnny Mac would be more of the same.

Accountability requires that the boss is not your buddy. Johnny Mac is everybody's best friend. He was a great player, and he might even be a great teacher of the game a' la Larry Robinson, but he is not a great motivator. He would best serve the team in his current capacity.

The type of coach we wind up with will determine if Rafalski is worth keeping. If we get another buddy, we need to dump Rafalski, who doesn't seem to be able to maintain his defensive zone discipline without a boot in his ass.

To replace Gomer, I'd suggest one of many players who will be unrestricted this year - Drury, Briere, Robert Lang and Ryan Smyth all come to mind, and all except Briere are natural centers, just like Gomer. They all bring more offensive pop than Gomer does too.

Tampa Bay will not be able to keep all three of their stand out forwards. St. Louis or Brad Richards will have to go. Either would be an offensive upgrade for us, though we probably couldn't afford them.

There are plenty of UFAs on the D-side too. Teppo Numminen, Glen Wesley and Tom Preissing stand out for me. Mathieu Schneider in Detroit is also unrestricted, as is Craig Rivet. And we know how much Lou loves re-treds. Whay about Sheldon Souray?

The most important thing to me is not to let Gomer and Raffi dangle us until all the good talent is taken.
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