Thursday, July 03, 2008


Who Will Pack Their Bags?

The Devils forwards as signed: Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Brian Gionta, John Madden, Travis Zajac, Jamie Langenbrunner, Dainius Zubrus, Mike Rupp, and David Clarkson. They have kept Jay Pandolfo and Rod Pelley was qualified. And now Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik have joined the fold. The top prospects (among others) within the Devils organization competing for a spot are Petr Vrana and Nicklas Bergfors (who will only be in as a top 6 forward).

On defense, the Devils have Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya, Colin White, Andy Greene, and Vitaly Vishnevski. They have re-signed Mike Mottau, Sheldon Brookbank, and Bryce Salvador. Karel Rachunek has left for Russia. The top Devils prospects competing for spots on the blueline (among others) are Matthew Corrente and Tyler Eckford.

That's 13 forwards with at least two prospects that could make the jump, and 8 defensemen with at least two prospects who could get a spot. Clearly, someone is leaving New Jersey this summer. The top guys are pretty much untouchable short of an amazing deal. Something like Zach Parise in a package for, say, Dion Phaneuf. No, it almost definitely won't happen but you never know. I never thought Jason Arnott would be traded with Randy McKay for Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk. Anyway, here's who I think are five Devils who are the most likely to be moved in my standard, quite wordy style. I think this will be much better than discussing the possible signing of Fedor Federov. (Seriously? Fedor Federov? Tell me this has Lowell written on it. Please tell me this is only for Lowell.)

#1. Brian Gionta
WHY HE MAY GO: He didn't look all that great last season despite his no-fear style of play. He was shuffled around the top two lines and failed - like the rest of the team - to really generate some consistent scoring. For $4 million a year and considering what he did to get that fat contract, 22 goals and only 8 on the power play is disappointing especially when the expectation was that he'd be a leader on the offense. I'd almost go as far as to say it's questionable as to whether he can even a level of 35 goals again. His contract ends after this season making the cap hit only in the short term for his eventual new team, and a change of scenery could spark his scoring touch again. Furthermore, it doesn't help that the Devils now have 4 potential right wingers on the top 2 lines not named Gionta. Granted, I emphasize potential but these include: Brian Rolston if Elias remains a center, Dainius Zubrus can play the right, Nicklas Bergfors if he has a good camp, and Jamie Langenbrunner if he remembers how to do that again. His spot is numbered to a degree, really.

WHY HE MAY STAY: Gionta got most of those 48 goals in '05-'06 from in front of the net. He wasn't featured in the slot for most of the last season. If Sutter gives him that opportunity, he could become more productive. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, he's in a contract year. He may "turn it up" based on that alone, and it may benefit the Devils more to reap that extra effort than to let someone else enjoy it.

#2. Travis Zajac
WHY HE MAY GO: Last season was a sophmore slump, a drop off in scoring and in overall play. He found himself on the fourth line by season's end and the concern is whether or not his overall development has taken a big step back. A drop in 8 points isn't so bad on it's face, but instead of showing he can be a second-line center who can make some plays, work well with Zach Parise, and someone who gets in good on-ice positions in general; he regressed in all aspects. Given how much he was shuffled around with seemingly no clear improvement. The Devils may want to cut their losses now and offer a forward spot to another prospect forward.

WHY HE MAY NOT GO: He is just coming off a sophmore slump. This happens to lots of rookies who have decent-to-good first seasons. Other teams figure out who he is and play against him accordingly. It'll be up to Zajac to work hard and improve in various aspects - consistency, skating, shooting, decision-making, etc. - for a strong third season. That said, the Devils drafted the guy, they signed him after two years in North Dakota, and he immediately fit on the top team. While some fans think otherwise, it doesn't make sense for the Devils organization to give up on him after one bad season in his young career. It would send a bad message to all the other prospects and young players on the team (do well or you're gone). It could also come back to haunt NJ if Zajac does turn it around and becomes a pretty good player.

#3. Vitaly Vishnevski
WHY HE MAY GO: Vishnevski's big asset to the club last season was that he's a physical defenseman. He can hit, he can hit hard, and that he works on the third pairing. Now that Brookbank and Mottau are returning and with Andy Greene still there, there's going to be an awful lot of people for two slots. What really hurts Vishnevski is that Bryce Salvador has been re-signed. While he's not a hit machine like Vishnevski, Salvador can be just as physical, only he's much better defensively. While Salvador won't likely get third-pairing minutes, the Devils can afford to rotate Brookbank, Mottau, and Greene on the third-pairing without sacrificing much physical play. Considering that Mottau and Greene got a lot of minutes last season, they will likely be the favorites for those spots. Like Asham on the fourth line, Vishnevski could likely be the odd man out. Even more so if Matthew Corrente and/or Tyler Eckford impresses in September.

WHY HE MAY NOT GO: Vishnevski can easily be the "constant" on the third pairing and if Sutter chooses to, have a real physical defense. If Martin-Oduya is split up, there could be a strong hitter on each pairing. The Devils would literally be tougher to play against on defense. Other than that, I don't know what I can say. Greene and Mottau have proven themselves (to a point) with the time he's got on the ice, and Brookbank has shown to be as good as Vishnevski for much less money. Actually....

#4 and 5. Andy Greene/Mike Mottau (the two are interchangeable in this regard)
WHY HE/THEY MAY GO: They've each played at least 19 minutes last season and didn't look terrible at it. Oh, there's been some nights where you wonder what they're doing on the ice. Don't get me wrong. But they have shown that they can handle it, they just need more experience at it. Furthermore, they are cheap. Mottau is only making $762,000 and Greene is earning a mere $600,000. Should the Devils make a package deal with Gionta, either defenseman can be thrown in to help sweeten the deal while not making it prohibitively expensive for the other team's cap. Greene may be more likely in this scenario as he has the advantage of time on his side - Greene will turn 26 this season, whereas Mottau will become 31 by season's end.

WHY HE/THEY MAY NOT GO: They've earned their spots on the line-up. Greene has averaged 19:30 in the 59 games he played, and Mottau finished the season second on the team in average time on the ice (20:03) with the most games out of all the defensemen (76). While they certainly didn't "wow" anybody, they were steady enough and a second season in this set up could see them as even better defensively. They're more familiar with what they'll have to do, what they'll have to improve, and how they will be coached. Also, should the Devils want to take on more salary in making any deals, they can provide good-enough defending for a low cost this season. Their relative bargains can go either way as a reason to keep them or to move them.

HUGE I CAN BE QUITE DAFT AS A TEAM SIGNING COMMODORE FOR $3.75 MILLION/YEAR EDIT: I completely forgot that Aaron Asham was a UFA and was not re-signed by New Jersey. I swore I looked at the Devils player numbers at NHLSCAP enough, but I completely missed it. Anyway, he's gone and, well, that makes it a little easier on the forward logjam. But there's still too many players on the roster, I still think a trade will happen at some point this offseason. Thanks to anonymous (who is legion and divided by zero and blah blah blah) and arbund972 for catching this in the comments (comment at ILWT and correct me - today!).

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asham is no longer on the team...he's a UFA that wasn't even offered a contract by Lou
John -
I'd have to agree with you about Gionta, while he might make a resurgence next season I honestly can't see him being more than a 30 goal guy again. With so many others floating around (and I'd like to get a look at this Bergfors everyone's been talking about) he seems both expendable and like someone who might get good market value. There are plenty of other teams who might expect to profit from him making a comeback.

Also, if Gionta gets traded for a D-man, which seems likely since Lou seems to want to add to that army, its gona increase the pressure to move VV or Mottau/Greene.

One other thing, I was under the impression that Asham was a UFA and we had (wisely) not resigned him.

As always, love reading the analysis, keep up the good work.
Aaron Asham isn't on the team anymore? That changes...20% of my post! I swear I've looked at the cap roster at for 15 minutes and didn't notice he wasn't there!

Well, I guess my list is now of 5 guys. Thanks for finding that egregious error!

As far as trading for a d-man; it would depend on the d-man coming back and their cap hit. Given that much of the Devils defense is pretty low-cost (now, that changes next year), the Devils may be too cap-strung to give them up. It'll depend on the offer, as usual.
Vancouver is desperate for offense with Naslund and Morrison now gone. Gionta has long been rumored there, they have plenty of cap space, and have a glut of D-men. Gionta fits in on the right side of the Sedins top line. Ohland is also an UFA next year so an even swamp might work, but if NJ wants Bieska, who is signed for a few more years, we might have to include Greene or VV, which I'd be fine with.

Heck, maybe they would take Gio, Zubrus, and Greene for Bieksa and Cory Schneider????
I like the idea of trading with Vancouver. But for Kevin Bieksa and another young goaltender who won't see time? I think the Devils should aim higher than that.
(comment at ILWT and correct me - today!).

Well OKAY! I wasn't gonna, but then you invited it!

We currently have Sheldon Brookbank, not Wade, as mentioned in the second paragraph. Also, Andy Greene is 25, though he will be 26 shortly into the next season, so that's not that big a deal.

Then, you've been correct'd.
Thanks Josh. I am amazed at the number of mistakes on a regular basis. It's like if my writing was like playing defense, I'd be Igor Ulanov.

Also, you missed one more, Mottau is actually 30 now. But I've corrected it all to make it correct. Thank you for finding them.
No sweat John, the only reason I knew Andy Greene's age was because I have a friend who's obsessed with the man because they shame the same birthday, 10/30/82.
Since Ash and Cam are gone who will be the Devils enforcer this year?

It really shouldn't be David Clarkson or Mike Rupp. Rupp showed promise as a power forward NOT fighter, and Clarkson is game but a bit small.

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