New Signings & Roster Cuts - What Does it Mean for 09-10 New Jersey Devils?

Yesterday, prior to the preseason game against Philadelphia, the team announced 10 players to be cut from the roster. 7 were returned to Lowell, 3 back to their respective junior teams.   Last night, after the 2-1 overtime loss to Philadelphia, head coach Jacques Lemaire said he'll need another game before making another set of cuts. Today, as reported by Gulitti, the Devils have come to terms with Andrew Peters for a one-way, two-year, $1 million contract.  This afternoon, posted here by Lepore and first reported on by Gulitti and Chere, Rob Niedermayer has signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the team.  Details have yet to be determined, but I can't imagine it's for much.

With the regular season less than a week away, what does this all mean for the New Jersey Devils?  There's quite a lot to discuss, so be warned that it's a heavy read after the jump.

 

First, let's start with who was cut.   Goaltender Gerald Coleman, defensemen Matthew Corrente and Tyler Eckford, and forwards Patrick Davis, Michael Swift, Alexander Vasyunov, and Nick Palmieri were all re-assigned to Lowell.  Patrice Cormier has been sent back to the Rimouski Oceanic; Alexander Urbom will head to the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings; and Eric Gelinas will once again represent the Lewiston MAINEiacs.

Overall, I feel those who were cut were done so largely as part of a numbers game.  Matthew Corrente and Tyler Eckford, two defensemen from Lowell, I thought were going to get closer looks in camp now that they’ve had a year of professional hockey.  In retrospect, perhaps it’s not so surprising given that the Devils signed 2 defensemen in the off-season, returned their top 6 from last season, and Fraser and Leach have had past call-ups with the team.  That’s a lot of players to be behind in some views and so it’s not as if they had a terrible camp because they didn’t surpass them all.  They’ll have more of a chance next season as Martin, Mottau,  Leach, and Murphy all are UFAs and both will be more experienced from another season of AHL hockey.  I don't think either are busts, but next year's camp will likely be as important to them as this year's was for Nicklas Bergfors.

In goal, Gerald Coleman going back to Lowell shouldn’t surprise many – Danis has had most of the preseason work, Brodeur played all of last night, and Frazee has yet to see a minute. Given that Coleman is behind Frazee in the depth chart, there’s not much to do other than practice.

At forward, Nick Palmieri and Alexander Vasyunov are behind other wingers like Nicklas Bergfors, Matt Halischuk, and Vladimir Zharkov. Their chances of getting a preseason game were slim as a result. Their fate, in retrospect, was sealed when Lemaire moved a defenseman, Olivier Magnan-Grenier up to left wing for a game instead of considering either of them to play against the Islanders.  Palmieri will play his first season of pro hockey and Vasyunov can use this second year to grow into the North American game and make an impact with Lowell.   Patrick Davis didn’t get much consideration; but I was surprised to see Michael Swift sent down now. I thought his practicing with the veterans after performing well in Lowell’s preseason games was a sign that he’d get a look, like Patrice Cormier.  Especially since the Devils were quite thin at center until today.  Yet, I suppose he wasn’t impressive enough after the first set of cuts; so he’ll get a chance to make his mark with Lowell. 

Speaking of Cormier, apparently, the Devils decided that he would benefit more from a full season in Rimouski instead of keeping him here for a few games and moving him back.  I thought he’d be kept longer, again, due to the Devils’ lack of depth at center.  Understandable, in terms of his development, he’ll get plenty of time and responsibility in the Q than he would in centering, say, the fourth line.   With the Devils’ defensive logjam (see above – it’s still a logjam after the cuts), sending Alexander Urbom and Eric Gelinas to junior makes sense as well.  It’ll be interesting to follow Urbom in particular, as he’s coming straight from the SEL to play in the WHL.  He has potential, but the first test for him will be to adapt to a new style of hockey – if he can accomplish that, then I think we’ll see a lot more of him in next year’s camp.

Gulitti was able to get comments from Lou himself about Corrente, Eckford, Cormier, and Urbom this afternoon.  They reinforce the notion that it really was a numbers game for Corrente and Eckford, and that the notion that the juniors need experience.

To all those who have been cut, I wish you all the best of luck in your development and in your team’s upcoming season.

Now, the Devils signed Andrew Peters to a 2-year, $1 million one-way deal.  My initial reaction when I read this earlier today was, "Then why in the world did the Devils sign Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond for 3 years?" The salary is at the minimum and I'm not doubting that Peters is a tough guy who isn't absolutely useless at everything else. I'm happy that he earned a contract with New Jersey.    It would be senseless to send Peters down to Lowell, risk waivers, and then risk re-entry waivers as a result; so Peters is up with New Jersey for the most part. 

Still, I now don't understand why Leblond was kept because, guess what, Leblond is nothing more than a tough guy who isn't absolutely useless at everything else - not to mention he's smaller than Peters. I know they didn't anticipate Peters being unsigned in September, but that they were interested in him isn't a vote of confidence in Leblond in my opinion.  I (and the commenters here) expected Leblond to be an enforcer and Peters is, well, a more experienced and bigger enforcer. If Peters works hard and does well, Leblond is unnecessary, in my opinion.

Per CapGeek's chart on the Devils, Peters' contract becomes the 12th one-way contract among all the Devils' forwards, incidentally. Yes, Leblond and Ilkka Pikkarainen are both on one-way deals.  Will the Devils risk either to waivers? Will someone get traded in a minor deal?  If you want to see a prospect make the team and actually stick there, some room will have to be made. 

Especially now that the Devils also added another forward with a $1 million, one-way contract, Rob Niedermayer.  This was a move for depth, and it is only for one year.  I'm of two minds on this signing. 

First, here is what I see as the positives behind this signing.  The biggest one is that Niedermayer brings experience to a bottom six set of forwards that consists of only one "true" defensive forward, Jay Pandolfo.   A quick check at Behind the Net shows that Anaheim's goals against per 60 and shots against per 60 did rise when he was on the ice in even strength situations last year. This is true. But - and this is a crucial "but" - Rob Niedermayer was facing the highest relative quality of competition and with the lowest relative quality of teammates on his team.  And not by a small amount, but by a significant amount.  He faced the best of opponents with the weakest of his teammates on a regular basis.  Niedermayer knows how to handle tough matchups and his experience as a checking forward is invaluable.

Second, and Lou's comments that Gulitti reported on hinted at this, is that Niedermayer provides cover at center.  Rod Pelley, an inexperienced center at the NHL level, does not have to be thrown into the fire right away.  Niedermayer can fill in at the third or fourth line.  This will allow Pelley to develop and earn the experience without getting dominated.  That would make the team better by itself.  If only so the Devils aren't forced to have two relatively inexperienced centers start the season the third and fourth lines.

Third, Niedermayer gives a lot of flexibility to rosters as he's able to play both center and wing.  Should Elias return and do well at center, Niedermayer can slide over to a winger position without issue.  If not, he can stay at center.   Likewise, if Elias doesn't do well at center or Zubrus isn't doing well at center, either one can be moved to a wing and Niedermayer can kept at center.  There are many, many options now available with the inclusion of Rob Niedermayer. On paper, the Devils are much stronger at center with Zajac-Elias-Niedermayer-Pelley, Zajac-Elias-Zubrus-Niedermayer, or Zajac-Zubrus-Niedermayer-Pelley compared to Zajac-Zubrus-Pelley-Sestito.

The big negative behind this signing is this uncomfortable fact.  Not only is Rob Niedermayer not good at faceoffs, there's reason to believe he hasn't lined up center in a long time.  For proof, here's his career faceoff stats from NHL.com.

Season

97-98

(33 GP)

98-99 99-00 00-01 01-02

02-03

(CGY)

02-03

(ANA)

03-04 05-06 06-07 07-08 08-09
Total Faceoffs 670 1895 1632 997 777 139 14 45 447 76 69 68
FO Win% 49.8 47.1 47.9 45.0 48.4 51.0 42.9 64.4 45.6 40.8 33.3 38.2

Now, it's my understanding that Niedermayer was on the same line as defensive pivot Sammy Pahlsson in Anaheim, so of course Niedermayer would be moved to wing.  Still, unless Pahlsson took all those faceoffs and the two switched positions in the run of play, it seems to me that Rob Niedermayer has been a winger for the much of the last 5 seasons.  And now we have to hope he can get in shape quickly enough before the season, learn the systems, and, oh yeah, get used to being a center again.  That is a lot to ask, if you ask me.  How effective he would be as a third-line center is a big question.   If he's just used on the fourth-line, then it's not as big of a deal due to the limited minutes; but this is a big question mark, in my opinion, surrounding this signing.

The other problem I have with this signing is that it will shut yet another Devils prospect out of another possible spot with the team.   Again, I can see this being a low-risk, medium-reward signing in the end.  Yet, it is a bit disappointing that after a summer and most of September thinking this will be the season of a "youth movement," such a movement has been postponed at least a season for a lot of these guys.   Tim Sestito and Ben Walter are definitely not making this team unless Rod Pelley gets hurt or plays incredibly poorly in the next two games. The rest aren't centers, but this signing in conjunction with the Peters signing and the rest of the one-way contracts, hurts their chances as well.  Due to a roster limit of 23 during the season, Lemaire may not be able to keep even two prospects up with New Jersey.  And that's a shame as a Bergfors, Halischuk, and Zharkov have all done so well, in my opinion.  They've done what has been asked of them, and Lowell may be in their futures regardless.   Bergfors may be the sole survivor beyond Pelley to make this team, and that's assuming he continues to perform in preseason. Not the end of the world or a season-killing move, but it's still a disappointing reality.

Overall, the signing isn't something I particularly like, but I don't dislike it either.  It gives the team more flexibility at forward, but that's assuming he can get ready and quick. It is only effective this season, so if it doesn't work out, it's not an albatross on the Devils' salary cap.

So what does it all come down to?  This is my view: Given the number of players on the total roster, I can't help but think there could be a trade; but it's entirely possible the Devils' roster could be set at forward with these two signings. Your lines could easily end up as the following example, and this is without Elias, mind you:

Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston-Dainius Zubrus-David Clarkson
Jay Pandolfo-Rob Niedermayer-Brendan Shanahan
Andrew Peters-Rod Pelley-Ilkka Pikkarainen

Extras: Nicklas Bergfors, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

Adding Elias makes this a stronger group overall, but leaves even less room for someone to breakthrough without filling in for an injury.

As for defense, the blueline roster already is pretty much set except for the #6 spot, which is mainly between Cory Murphy and Andy Greene.  There, I expect the Devils to keep a seventh defenseman; and so that's 5 defensemen in camp competing for essentially 2 spots - and 2 of those 5 have the inside track on both spots.

Tomorrow's game against Philadelphia will be incredibly important and could be the last chance for these prospects to make their case for a roster spot this season.

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