Sunday, June 29, 2008


Free Agency Thoughts

Well, it's been a week of talking, speculation, and so forth. It's also been a week where I haven't had much to say. Basically, if you've been reading Tom Gulitti - and you should - then you know the score. With the July 1st Free Agency Extravaganza™ beginning in less 3 days, let's consider what we actually do know. The funny thing about trades and free agency is that even if Lou didn't get anyone, it doesn't mean he wasn't trying. I'm confident that he's most definitely trying to make some moves based on his recent appearance on XM's NHL Live. The Devils official website has direct links to this must-hear interview.

Here's what we know:
  • The Devils are interested in Bryce Salvador. This makes sense despite his past injury problems, his lack of speed, and his age (34). Salvador is a stay-at-home defenseman who can hit hard, and his experience shows in his positioning. The only other defenseman of that type that the Devils have is Colin White. So he would fill in a need of sorts. I wouldn't give him a no-movement clause; but he's still talking with Lou and it seems it should be going well.
  • Sergei Brylin still has his $1.52 million option - which he will decide to use on Monday. I think if the Devils would like to have him back. Honestly, if Brylin doesn't and goes elsewhere, I don't think it'll be the end of the world. Of the UFAs, he's the most replaceable, I think. Especially with Petr Vrana in the wings.
  • While he's primarily a defensive forward, Jay Pandolfo will command likely somewhere around $1.5 million. Of all three Devils UFAs, his loss would hurt the Devils the most as he's been a shutdown forward along with John Madden for much of this decade with New Jersey. While his replacement would almost likely be more of a two-way player, his defensive coverages could be missed against the opposition's top line. I do not know where the Devils are with Pandolfo. They've talked to him, but from this Gulitti post, it looks like he'll test the market.
  • From the NHL Live broadcast - the Devils are interested in Matthew Corrente and Tyler Eckford. Lou said they'll be pushing people for spots, so the organization is clearly high on them. For forwards, Lou states that now is the time for Barry Tallackson, Petr Vrana, and Nicklas Bergfors to see whether they can play at this level. Expect all 5 to get long looks in camp. Personally, I think this will be Vrana's time to shine depending on what Brylin wants to do.
  • Also from the broadcast, Lou admits that a number of their players underachieved last season and they'll be looking to get some back to form. Specifically, he mentions Gionta and Elias - he hasn't lost confidence in them, but it's good that he wants to improve the offense from within.
  • From Gulitti's post and comments: The cap ceiling is $56.7 million and the Devils have $37.7 tied up right now. Should the Devils keep Pandolfo, Salvador, and Brylin along with their qualifying offers for RFA's David Clarkson and Rod Pelley remaining as is, the Devils should have about $9-11 million in space. They can afford to be big players in free agency this summer.
  • The Devils' top need, I think, is another top 6 forward. Jamie Langenbrunner didn't cut this season, Travis Zajac's sophmore slump didn't help at all last season, the constant movement of Dainus Zubrus in the lineup didn't establish anything, and Brian Gionta's slump hurt as well. While I know the Devils want to see what Nicklas Bergfors can do and I know there will try to end various slumps; if the Devils can obtain a scoring forward, that would help out the offense quite a bit.
  • The Devils will sign players that would fit the team and won't cause any problems in the locker room or on and off the ice. So, I wouldn't expect Todd Bertuzzi in Devils red.
While the market is loaded of veterans (e.g. Pavol Demitra) and guys who will get larger contracts then they'll deserve (e.g. Marian Hossa - even though he'd be a good fit and the Devils have the cap space about 29 other teams will be looking at him too), I think the best option is to "rent" a player for a year. There aren't too many in-their-prime-sign-them-now scoring forwards - and no, Vincent Lecavalier won't be one of them next year, sorry IPB and, uh, Montreal. So, someone like Mats Sundin would be excellent. Despite his age, Sundin has been a consistent scorer throughout his career, mostly in spite of the players around him in Toronto. If Sundin wants to go to a contender, New Jersey can fit that role. Believe it or not, the Devils did finish last season with the league's 6th best record - at the least, Sundin will taste the playoffs again in Newark. Plus, if Sundin is signed, Elias can return to the wing and the Devils wouldn't need to mix up their forwards as much with a proven #1 center in Sundin. At worst, Sundin would be like Joe Nieuwendyk in 2002-2003 - which wasn't a bad acquisition (edit: I thought he was signed, but he was in the Arnott trade - thanks Anonymous).

As far as defense goes, while offensive defensemen are available, the Devils will probably not sign a big name defensemen if they get Salvador. The emergence of Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya helped, the return of Colin White helped, and the fact that the defense only allowed 2,257 shots on net - the 8th lowest in the league - is proof that they played much better than they looked on paper. While a point-man with a great shot would be great for a power play that sorely needs one, if you can't play defense, you're not going to be a Devil. Given that Lou wants to see what Corrente and Eckford to do and the Devils have 7 defensemen on the roster already, someone is getting traded or demoted if anyone is signed. As much as I'd like to see Wade Redden here, I doubt it at this point.

One thing I know for sure will happen on July 1. Lou will do something. On that broadcast, he (and later the host) reiterated the Devils committment to winning and he will look to do something about that. I don't think anything drastic is necessary - while the losses to the Rangers hurt, at least half the league would love to have a season like the Devils did. That said, if anyone truly knows what is best for the team, it's the guy who built them to win in the first place.

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"while the losses to the Rangers hurt, at least half the league would love to have a season like the Devils did."

They'd love to get shutout 11 times?

Without Brodeur, this team would have been exposed as a team not belonging in the playoffs.

You need to rephrase what you said above to something like this:

"while the losses to the Rangers hurt, at least half the league would love to have a goalie like Martin Brodeur."

I hope Lou isn't fooling himself like you are. Getting shutout 11 times in one season ought to raise quite a few red flags. You don't win stanley cups with those kind of results. Not even close.
Joe Nieuwendyk wasn't signed, he was a huge piece of the Arnott, McKay for Langenbrunner Niewy trade.
First Anonymous: Martin Brodeur is crucial, but he's not doing everything on the ice. Stop fooling yourself and remember that this is a team sport.

Second Anonymous: Ah, thanks for reminding me. I'll correct it to "the acquisition of Joe Nieuwendyk."
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