Monday, July 02, 2007


July 1 Aftermath

Yesterday was the opening of free agency, allowing teams to sign all kinds of free agents. The first day usually has quite a lot of action, with players often moving to brand new teams. Patricia Greuter of 2 Man Advantage thankfully "live-capped" the whole day - resulting in a very useful list of where free agents have ended up.

Needless to say, things did not go well for the Devils as Brian Rafalski took a $30 million for 5 year contract from Detroit and Scott Gomez went to the New York Rangers of all teams in a $51.5 million/7 year contract. Rich Chere has an extensive article detailing the deals and the initial impact of these signings in today's Star Ledger. I highly recommend you read it, it'll tell you everything you need to know. This is fairly big news, especially the signing of Gomez. The Devils forum on was featured on the home page for in response to the Gomez signing when I checked it this morning. The front page of the Star Ledger had the signing on the very top of the front page. Pookie at Interchangeable Parts has a summary of how she feels about the signings which is bit more...measured (for lack of a better word) than what I've seen at HFBoards, NJDevs, and other places.

Now, I'd be lying if I said these moves does not hurt the Devils. The team's #1 center and their top playmaker is now the #1 center (well, maybe) for their biggest rivals; and the team's de factor #1 defenseman is now on Detroit's top 4. Those are two big holes that are not easy to fill. All the potential #1 centers in free agency were taken in day 1 and they all went to the Atlantic Division (Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Gomez). The defensemen free agency pool is stronger, but the only top end defensemen remaining is Sheldon Souray (who is terrible on defense) and Brad Stuart (who likely cannot replace Rafalski's offensive contribution as he is a defensive defenseman). For a list of who is remaining, James Mirtle's blog has a comprehensive list of remaining players.

At least the Devils signed Johnny Oduya. Therefore, the Devils have two priorities (three, since there is no head coach right now): a center who can play first-line minutes and a defenseman who can give 24-26 minutes of solid defense a night. The latter is easier to fix than the former. Paul Martin's average ice time last season was only 16 seconds under Rafalski's average of 25:29. Martin has improved over the course of last season on both defense and on the point; it is not inconceivable to expect him to step up his game for next season. Of course, if the Devils do that then they still need a defenseman - just not a top end player to replace Martin's spot. Then again, Oduya or Greene could take that spot leaving the Devils only needing a defenseman for depth and would not need a top player. That all said, if the Devils go and sign a top 4 capable defenseman, it would give them a lot more flexibility on how they want to set up their pairings - not to mention what to do when injuries occur.

So the Devils do not need to break the bank for a defenseman. For a center, though, the prospects are pretty dim. At the end of the Chere article, Lou Lamoriello does state that he will look for a player in free agency; but if he doesn't see anyone he likes then he will consider a trade. A trade may be required for the center position. Going down the list of available centers, it seems that the Devils would have to put a #2/borderline-#1 center on the first line and hope he does well. But going down that list you have inconsistent guys (Alexei Yashin, Mike Comrie, Michel Handzus), guys who are not getting any younger (Peter Forsberg, Robert Lang, Michael Nylander), and the unknown (Dainius Zubrus). While I wouldn't be opposed to Lang (Forsberg is too injury prone), the best guys for the Devils may be Zubrus and Nylander. With Buffalo losing Drury and Briere, I fully expect the Sabres to move heaven and earth to keep Zubrus. Nylander leaves a first line position with the Rangers; it begs the question of whether he is really a solid playmaker or whether he's the product of playing with Jaromir Jagr. The fact his two most productive seasons came with centering Jagr's line does not induce confidence. Now that I think about it, Zubrus would be a great fellow to get. Since the first line center will likely be centering Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta (two players whom I'm sure will be more productive in this coming season), the center can be a playmaker and set those two up (while at the same time not being afraid to shoot, unlike Gomez).

Between the two, signing a center is more important in my opinion. The Devils do not have the depth currently to fill that first line position. Shifting Elias or Zach Parise to center after many successful seasons at left wing make no sense. Those two do their best on the wing, let them play there. Not to mention the requisite question of who would play left wing in such a scenario. Sergei Brylin definitely does not have the talent to be the first line center for a season, no one in Lowell can step up to be the first line center right away (and it wouldn't be fair to expect any of them to do so), and Travis Zajac is entering the second year of his career - forcing him to take a larger role could stunt his already-promising development.

While it's clear that the Devils got the shaft on July 1, there are some positives to all this. The first is history. When Bobby Holik signed with the Rangers for an astonishing $9 million per year contract, the thought was "oh no, the Devils are teh doomed." Clearly, this did not happen. When Scott Neidermayer signed with Anaheim, leaving Lou to get whoever was left on defense and force the Devils right up to the salary cap ceiling, the thought that the Devils would no longer be dominant. Two Atlantic Division titles in the last two seasons argue against that. My point is to take any reports of the Devils demise with a grain of salt - wait until January 2008 before lamenting. The second is cap space. Vladamir Malakhov (OK, Alexander Korolyuk), Alexander Mogilny, Gomez, and Rafalski are all off the books. I'm just guesstimating here, but that's at least $10 million in cap space the Devils are free to use. Free to sign Parise and Martin to long term deals and free to sign whoever they want (or whoever is left, rather) for almost any amount. The Devils could just sign an older center in the short term and in the near future have plenty of cap space to get a higher caliber player.

Contrast this with the Red Wings and the Rangers (especially the Rangers when you also consider Drury), who both over paid for each of these players. OK, Rafalski may be worth the money in the short term but he's 34. The deal is for five years, by the time he's 37 (and 38 and 39) will he still be worth that much? I have my doubts. Gomez is getting a hell of a lot of money for a guy who has had only one season with more than 80 points (and that year was the only one where he had more than 20 goals). Rangers fans should hope he meshes well with Jagr, otherwise he'll be a large liability to the team if only for the extensively large cap space he takes up.

Lastly, I just want to say the following: Rafalski and Gomez were unrestricted free agents. As much as you want to talk about lowballing or Lou not making a deal; ultimately it does not do any good to state what deal Lou should have offered. The unrestricted free agent ultimately makes the call as to where he wants to go. Both players got, in my opinion, some incredibly large contracts which are incredibly hard to pass up. Rafalski gets to play for the team he presumably liked when he was growing up in Michigan for a whole lot of money. Gomez gets far more money - which still shocks me considering how poor he was this last season - and does not have to move. If you need to "blame" someone for these moves, you might as well blame the players themselves - if you really can blame them.

That said, I fully expect and demand loud chorus of boos for Gomez during the 8 games they will play New Jersey next season. Unless he's playing poorly, then I want laughter.


I believe Lou has finally gotten it right. $50 million for Scott Gomez, of 1 mighty +20 goal season. Any Devil who watches the games knows 2 things about Gomez, he does not play hard every night and he cannot score.

As for Rafalski, sorry to see him go but at 32-33 years of age, I will not miss his occasional, but not infrequent, give-aways in front of the net.

Time to rebuild behind Parise, Elias, Gionta, and Zajac.
John, you get a huge standing ovation from me for this post. Eloquent, well-reasoned and right on-point, as always.

And yes, it hurts to lose Gomer and Raffie, no doubt, but those contracts are going to be millstones around the necks of their new teams, regardless of their production. It's going to be nice to see what Lou can do now that he's finally not handcuffed by the salary cap, and it's really true to consider that, for all that things look a little bleak right now, the Cup isn't won on July 1.

Thanks for a great assessment of a very emotionally challenging day for Devils fans!
You forget, Parise is a natural center. My bet is that they move him up there in Gomer's spot. I think he will wind up being a better player in the long run.
Thanks for the above comments. I was remarkably calm about the Gomez signing because the minute my brother told me he was a Ranger he also asked if $51.5 million over 7 years was too much. At that point, I smiled.

I know Parise was drafted as a center; but if I recall correctly he hasn't played that position in the NHL at all. If he switches over without a problem fine; but that means the Devils will need to get a left winger through free agency since the prospect pipeline doesn't seem to have any capable left wingers.

Since Parise has done so well at left wing, I think it may be better to just get a center.
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