Free Agent Devils: Take 1

The team had it's break up yesterday and Chere and Gulitti were able to get plenty of information and quotes from the departing players, coach Brent Sutter, and Lou. The offseason has truly started for the Devils as the focus is now on free agency.  Chere has a great summation of the current roster and a quick thought as to their status.

Now, according to Gulitti, he got this from Lou regarding his plans for the offseason yesterday:

 

Lamoriello admitted that he won't be able to re-sign all of the team's unrestricted free agents, though.

"We have a lot of unrestricted free agents," Lamoriello said. "I would be impossible for us to have all of our unrestricted free agents back whether we wanted to or didn't want to. That's the only way I can answer that question."

Lamoriello said he wants to re-sign all of the team's restricted free agents -- Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.

It is a bit too soon to discuss how much the Devils should commit to each player when the final cap number has yet to be announced.   Even then, the Devils really shouldn't go to the maximum point anyway.  They'll need some space to allow for injury call-ups and any potential trades during the season. More importantly, Paul Martin's and David Clarkson's contracts end after next season, and the Devils need to hold onto both players. 

The Devils have, based on Chere's list, have $40.45 million signed to 1 goalie, 5 defensemen, and 7 forwards.  There's 4 players who are restricted free agents and will be expected to be qualified: Zajac, Greene, Leblond, and Petr Vrana.  The salary cap truly does make it really impossible to keep everyone unless a lot of players are willing to take paycuts.

So of course, not every one can be re-signed.  In fact, not everyone should be re-signed.  Let's have a go at who should stay and who should go.

Let's start with the restricted free agents.  Lou wants to sign all of them.  Not a bad idea. 

Travis Zajac is a must-sign. He had a terrific third season in the NHL and he established himself as the team's top center.  Given that Zach Parise has a contract averaging $3 million/year, I would think Zajac will get a deal averaging $2-$2.5 million/year.   I emphasize the contract average as that A) it will be a cap hit and B) like what the Devils did with Parise, expect Zajac's salary to increase from season to season.

While he didn't set the world on fire, Andy Greene is a serviceable third pairing defenseman.  Will he breakout and become a important cog in the Devils' blueline? I don't think so.  He does have has his moments and while will get a nice raise, he can be kept fairly cheaply.   I would be really surprised if he got too much over $1 million, and even then I don't think he'll get paid that much.  I'm thinking of something like Mottau-like salary of $775,000.

If you want the Devils to go younger, then keeping Petr Vrana and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond makes sense.  PLLL is an energy player who may be more of a goon.  Should Mike Rupp go, Leblond can step in and fairly inexpensively.  I also think there will definitely be more spots going into training camp in September, so the time is really now for Vrana.   The Devils will sign him to see if he'll take the opportunity and run with it.  Both will be paid under a million.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

REMEMBER:  UFAs make their own decisions.  Lou can offer them anything he wants, but all decisions are up to the players (and their agents). Keep that in mind.

BRIAN GIONTA, 30, RW 2008-09 Salary: $4 million


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Brian Gionta 81 20 40 60 12 32 3 3 1 0 248 8.1

A RELEVANT QUOTE FROM GULITTI:

Does he want to return?

"Yeah. It's a great organization. The guys are great in this room, a lot of great friends and it's a great place to play."

So Gionta wants to stay.  Though, assuming he's around all the players when asked that question, I don't think he would say otherwise.  Still, Gionta's numbers would be more favorable if A) he didn't get that fat $4 million/year contract after scoring 48 goals and B) see A.   Gionta spent the 2008-09 on a scoring line where he often got into good positions but couldn't necessarily finish them.  40 assists in a career high and it's not like he sucked.  He was signed with the idea and hope that he's become a sniper.  Yet with every season since 2005-06, we're learning that's not the case going from 25, 22, and now 20 goals.  Yes, his assists has risen; but he got the money to be a goalscorer and he honestly isn't that player.

I don't want him on the Devils if he's going to continue to be paid $4 million.  $3 million, OK, I can live with it.  I can also live with him being on another team.  I  wouldn't expect his agent or Gionta to take a big discount when there's likely a NHL team out there that's willing to overpay for Little G.   Plus, with Brian Rolston on the team who would actually fit in better if he was on a scoring line, it's not as if the Devils don't have a replacement ready.

JOHN MADDEN, 36, C  2008-09 Season: $2.9 million


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - John Madden 76 7 16 23 -7 26 0 1 2 0 132 5.3

A RELEVANT QUOTE FROM GULITTI:

Center John Madden is scheduled to become unrestricted on July 1. When I asked him if he would be willing to listen to offers before that date, he said, "I guess it basically comes down to I want to go where I'm wanted and that's it. Obviously, if I'm wanted here, most likely I'll be here. But if I'm not wanted here, then I'l find other employment."

When asked if he feels wanted by the Devils, Madden replied, "Yeah.

But when asked if he was sure of that all season, he said, "No."

Asked if he thinks he'll be back, Madden said, "I don't know. Who knows? Your one question raises so many other questions, so it's not that easy."

Checking centers are always a bit difficult to evaluate.  They aren't being paid necessarily to score, you need them to play hard and get the big stops on defense and during penalty kills.  Still, Madden didn't start off the 2008-09 all that well.  The ending was fine, Madden showed that he still has "game" in my view. 

Yet, this doesn't sound like a man who definitely wants to stay as a Devil!  If you allow me to read in between the lines, Madden's likely realizing that he's nearing the end of his career.  He can't go out to the market now, say "I'm John Madden, give me an offer," and get a ton of them.  I think the concern is whether the Devils organization would actually give him one.  Because he didn't have a great year like 2007-08, his performance was up-and-down, he may feel New Jersey may not want him around after that.

I think Madden still has something to bring to the table as a Devil.  Will he be a Selke candidate ever again?  No.  But he has the character, the heart, and the desire to still play.  He still has the skillset to be a shutdown center, just not as one of the best in the league.  The Devils really don't have a player like Madden just ready to step in and do what he does - unless you happen to love Rod Pelley.  I think Lou will give him an offer.

As far as an offer goes, I would be very surprised if his salary stays around $3 million.  I can't imagine any team giving him that much, really.  Given the age and his role on the ice, any deal he'll get will likely be for $2.5 million at most and be for 2 years at most.

JOHNNY ODUYA, 27 D, 2008-09 SALARY: $600,000


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Johnny Oduya 82 7 22 29 21 30 1 1 4 0 108 6.5

A RELEVANT QUOTE FROM GULITTI:

On his season and whether he has set himself up for a big raise from his $600,000 salary this season:

"I feel I had a solid year, but the free agent market depends on who needs what. I can't speculate about that. It's tough. I had a fairly good year. There are things I can do better also. For me, the way it ended, I haven't had too much time to think about the future."

No one will confuse Oduya with an offensive defenseman, but those are career highs on offense (and only 30 PIM!) in his third season with the Devils and in NHL.  He has grown considerbly as a player with the Devils since signing with them back in 2006-07.  Oduya is usually paired with Paul Martin and the two definitely work well with each other.  Oduya is definitely a top-4 defenseman who can handle the first pairing, as he does for the Devils.  He's definitely a must-sign, the only one among all the UFAs.  Other than Colin White, I don't think there isn't a defenseman here who can step up into Oduya's role for a whole season.

Which is why it's going to be really difficult to keep him.  He's still in the prime of his career and he's improved in every season with the Devils.  The rest of the league knows this and most teams will make some very tempting offers.  Lou, if you're reading this, thanks.  But seriously, do not lowball Oduya.  Don't even let him have a chance to dwell over his future in New Jersey. Give him a Colin White-esque deal ($3 million/year, 5+ years) if necessary! 

SCOTT CLEMMENSEN, 31, G, 2008-09 SALARY: $500,000


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Scott Clemmensen 40 2356 25 13 1 5 94 2.39 1138 1044 .917 2

A RELEVANT QUOTE FROM GULITTI:

"I'm going into two scenarios. One, I'm very familiar with having played my whole career on one-year contracts basically, going into a summer not knowing where I'm going to be the next year. That's not something new for me. But I do believe that this summer, as opposed to the rest, I think I will have the most amount of opportunities presented. That's what I'm anticipating anyway. There's two sides to the coin. One I'm very familiar with. So, you kind of put those two things together and I feel pretty good about it.

Scott Clemmensen had to fill in the mighty void left by Martin Brodeur when Brodeur went down to injury and he did a great job.  Many tout his 25 wins (ASIDE: funny, when Brodeur wins a lot of games, it's a team stat and not a big deal; but when Clemmensen did it...) namely as proof that Clemmensen, in fact, can be a starting goaltender in the NHL.  While he wasn't always confidence inspiring, the results speak for themselves. It was greatly beneficial for the team and for Clemmensen's career. 

Just read that quote: he's expecting to get offers and he should be!   There has to be some NHL GMs looking for a capable goaltender that won't break their budgets.  I'd be absolutely shocked if no other team makes him an offer to make him a regular goaltender this summer.  He's going to be a #1/#1a goalie somewhere else and I wish him the best of luck with the rest of his career.

KEVIN WEEKES, 34, G, 2008-09 SALARY: $700,000


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Kevin Weekes 16 795 7 5 0 1 32 2.42 399 367 .920 0

A RELEVANT QUOTE FROM GULITTI:

Does Weekes think he will be back with the Devils next season?

"That's a great question," he said. "Obviously, you never know how things are going to work out with free agency and you never want to take anything for granted one way or the other. There's just so many unknowns and so many variables. As far as my time here, I really enjoyed my time here. There's a lot that I really like about this organization, We were able to accomplish some pretty unique things, although we didn't ultimately go as far as we wanted to. But it was certainly nice to be a contributer and be a part of that.

"Looking forward now, my main priority is to make sure my knee is 100 percent and just assessing all options from there later on in the summer."

Weekes signed on with the Devils two seasons ago knowing full well he'll be backing up Martin Brodeur.   That he stated that he enjoyed his time here can be interpreted two ways.  The first is that he's looking to go elsewhere, given that it appears that he's already talking about "his time as a Devil" with some nostalgia.  the second is that he's being complimentary and would like to stay.

Honestly I'm not sure what Weekes could get on the open market.  In his past few years, he's been a backup goaltender.  He's talented, but he didn't do anything where teams will think he can be a starter again. Remember that it was Clemmensen who established himself as a de facto starter after Weekes initially started when Brodeur went down to injury.   Unless Lou wants to grab a backup goaltender on the market, keeping Weekes would be a good idea.  He knows what to expect and he's not disgruntled about being behind Martin Brodeur.  He hasn't in two seasons.

MIKE RUPP, LW/C, 29, 2008-09 SALARY: $500,000


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Mike Rupp 72 3 6 9 -2 136 0 0 0 0 76 3.9

A RELEVANT QUOTE FROM GULITTI:

Is he looking for an increased role or ice time?

"That's obviously always a factor. You just want to be somewhere where you are wanted and that will be left to be seen."

Did he feel wanted here this season?

"At times."

And the other times?

"I guess that would be the opposite of feeling like you're wanted. It is what it is. As I said, I don' t want to say too much about it until I know what the plans would be ahead for this team."

Rupp was very terse with his words with Gulitti.  He definitely wasn't happy that he was benched for some stretches of the season, despite playing through the playoffs.  While it's understandable, I think it's contributing to his need for being "wanted."  Rupp doesn't play a whole lot of minutes, he does the dirty, gritty, and enforcing thing while showing that he can play some hockey.   It's a role he's played in his second go-around with New Jersey and he has done it well. 

Yet, one can't honestly say Mike Rupp was critical to the team's success.  In the games that he did play in, this is a role Pierre-Luc Latourneau-Leblond could handle.  Given that Lou has said he wants to resign all the RFAs, which includes Leblond, it may be the end of the Mike Rupp Experience in New Jersey.

NICLAS HAVELID, 36, D, 2008-09 SALARY: $2.9 million


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Niclas Havelid 78 2 17 19 2 48 0 1 0 0 56 3.6

While most Devils will curse Havelid for the Game 7 equalizer, even if the Devils went on to do great things, I don't think Havelid will stay.  He's 36, he got paid quite a bit to do what Bryce Salvador already does for the team.  Havelid wasn't bad on the Devils, but I feel he didn't really stick out well enough like Salvador did last season.  Unless Havelid really loves the area and wants to take a significant pay cut, I don't think he'll remain a Devil.

BOBBY HOLIK, 38, C/RW, 2008-09 SALARY: $2.5 million


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Bobby Holik 62 4 5 9 -2 66 0 0 1 0 79 5.1

BRENDAN SHANAHAN, 39, RW, 2008-09 SALARY: $800,000 (pro-rated)


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Brendan Shanahan 34 6 8 14 -2 29 2 0 1 0 77 7.8

Gulitti put his quotes from Bobby Holik and Brendan Shanahan separately from others and it's worth a full read.  It's almost like night and day.  Shanahan sounds he wants to keep playing, whereas Holik sounds a bit bitter about how his season ended: on the bench.

From a performance perspective, Holik did OK to start as a secondary checking center.  He threw hits, he won faceoffs, and didn't look too bad doing it. As the season went on, he picked up a deserved reputation for contributing stupid penalties.  It became his main contribution as the season wore down and Holik really has no one to blame but himself for mostly being on the bench during the Carolina series.

Shanahan, on the other hand, did very well all things considered.  He jumped into the middle of the season, he joined the Devils' power play and penalty kill units, and contributed pretty nicely given that he didn't get a lot of minutes on the fourth line.  I said my expectations for him back in January were to contribute a little and boost the special teams and I feel he did just that.

Assuming Shanahan wants to keep playing hockey, I really have no problem if Lou signs him for a full season at $800,000.  He showed he can still contribute to a point and if he doesn't, it's only $800k and a fourth line spot. I wouldn't mind if Shanahan remains as a Devil.  Holik, on the other hand, I really don't want to see him in Devils red - even if he takes a big pay cut to stay relevant.

SO WHAT DO THE DEVILS NEED

The Devils will need to fill in quite a few forward spots if all the guys that I think will leave do, in fact, leave.  The Devils have a few prospects in Lowell - Vrana, Bergfors, Halischuk, Pelley - that could fill in these spots.  Most of the spots are on the bottom two lines.  Like I said earlier, Gionta's departure can easily be filled in by Rolston.   In terms of roles, no disrespect to Dainius Zubrus, but a #2 center would be a good option.

On defense, expect Jay Leach or perhaps Matt Corrente to make the jump as a #7 defenseman.  The team really could use an offensive defenseman, someone who could perhaps score 10 goals from the blueline. The Devils don't have anyone like that in the system that can come up right away.  Of course, the Devils may have to get rid of someone to do that.  It shouldn't be at the cost of losing Oduya, of course.

In goal, a backup goaltender if both Weekes and Clemmensen goes - preferbly an experienced netminder since they'll know what they are getting into.  It makes no sense to have Jeff Frazee sit on a bench when he can continue to get minutes in Lowell.

 

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