2009 NHL Free Agency Day 1: New Jersey Devils Recap (Updated Twice Now)

Today was the first day NHL teams can sign unrestricted and restricted free agents.  Normally, there's a lot of action on the first day and while it's Wednesday evening, there are still plenty of talented players available so action continues.

The New Jersey Devils were fairly quiet today, only announcing the re-signing of Andy Greene.  As I mentioned as it happened, this - along with the re-signing of Oduya - means the Devils' top 6 from most of last season will return.  There are no updates on Travis Zajac.

Two Three Four Devils will definitely not return for next season. As reported by Gulitti (with quotes from Rupp and Clemmensen), Mike Rupp has signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins for 2 year deal costing $825,000 to their cap; and Scott Clemmensen has signed a 3 year deal with the Florida Panthers, costing an average of $1.2 million.   Both will be missed to some degree.  Rupp did score one of the Devils' most important goals in franchise history, the game winner in Game 7 against Anaheim in 2003.  Moreover, Rupp's physical play and energy were welcomed.  Clemmensen stepped in when Brodeur was injured and emerged as the starting goaltender, playing well above expectations and just very well in general. 

However, they are and will be replaceable.  I felt Rupp wasn't going to return when the Devils signed Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond about a month ago.  While he's not 6'5", 220 lbs., Leblond is 6'2", 220 and can do many of the same things Rupp can on the fourth line: skate, hit, and perhaps fight with energy.   As far as Clemmensen goes, I'm glad to see him get a contract elsewhere. He proved that he can definitely be a goalie at the NHL level last season.  While Gulitti's report on Clemmensen revealed that most offers were for backup roles, he should be able to see much more time backing up Tomas Vokoun than he would in New Jersey.   The Devils can sign one of the many other free agent goaltenders available as a back-up.

I wish both of them well in their new endeavors with their new teams.  Of course, not when they are playing against New Jersey.

UPDATE: As I just posted this story, Brian Gionta has signed with Montreal for $25 million over 5 years.  Gionta was important in that he proved that smaller players can not only play in the NHL, but play huge.  He had no fear of physical play, did his best work in front of the net, and zipped around offensive zone.  His best year came in 2005-06 with Scott Gomez at center and Patrik Elias playing a lights-out second half of the season recovering from Hepatitis A, where he set a new Devils' single-season goal scoring record with 48 goals.  Gionta blossommed into the Devils' top right winger, but his goal production dipped since that 2005-06 season.  His assists grew and he still played the infectious style of hockey Devils fans liked to see - but the goals weren't there.  Perhaps reuniting with Gomez in Montreal will re-ignite his goal scoring ways.  Hopefully, not against New Jersey, of course.  All the same, best of luck to Gionta in Montreal.

UPDATE #2: About an hour later, from Gulitti, John Madden has signed with Chicago for one year, $2.75 million.  I and many will miss Madden's fire on the ice.  He was a checking center par excellence, not only making stops, but adept at taking that puck and moving it in the opposite direction.  A former high scoring player in college and in the AHL, he morphed into a defensive center who turned out to be nearly perfect for the transition game in New Jersey.  Truth be told, he's not as good now as he was a few years ago; but he definitely has plenty left  in the proverbial tank and should benefit the Blackhawks.

I can sympathize with some of the frustration at the Devils not announcing any other deals.  This is the first day of free agency, you see other teams making headlines, and other teams signing "name" players.  But I think caution makes sense. The Devils only really need an offensive/two-way defenseman to bolster the top 4 of the blueline,  a back-up goalie, and an improvement at the second line center position.  Should John Madden not return, then the Devils will also need a checking center (UPDATE: Well, now they do!)  Even then, there are players available to fit all these needs.

This is much better than the four moves Montreal made: trading for Scott Gomez and his mammoth contract, signing Jaroslav Spacek for more money than Johnny Oduya (seriously) and Hal Gill over a number of other defenders, and signing Mike Cammalleri for a $30 million deal.  Only the last one looks good; but if Cammalleri doesn't perform, these can all be big failures in short order.  UPDATE: Make it 4 out of 5 not-so-good looking deals: Brian Gionta signed with Montreal for $25 million over 5 years - at least a $1 million/year too much, in my opinion.

Or as a better example: the Rangers taking that cap space saved from Gomez and spending it on Marian Gaborik. For five years.  After extensive back and hip injuries. 

Yes, all those moves made headlines - that doesn't make them a good idea.  I'm telling you, waiting is looking good at this point.  More as it happens.

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