So, Rod Pelley, how is it going to feel being without a consistent winger on one side for this month? (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Yesterday, the New Jersey Devils demoted Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, Matthew Corrente, and Rob Davison to bring their active roster down to 22 signed players. In response to the news, I gave my reasoning that the team would have to make more moves to create cap space. Bryce Salvador and Anssi Salmela can be placed on long term injured reserve (LTIR) to get the Devils just under the salary cap upper limit, but they cannot sign anyone else - not even Adam Mair, who is still practicing with the team. Surely, I did not expect the Devils to begin the 2010-11 season with 11 forwards, 7 defensemen (Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina survived all of the cuts), and 2 goaltenders with less than $100k in cap space.
Well, I may be proven wrong in short order. The Devils are apparently fine with just putting Salvador and Salmela on LTIR and running with just 20 on the active roster, according to this report from Tom Gulitti today. This later post from Gulitti has quotes from some of the players expressing relief that no one has been shipped out. Actions speak louder than words, and the inaction by New Jersey is the basis for this logic. The Devils didn't place anyone on waivers today (Dainius Zubrus definitely didn't - and won't); and there are no indications of any loans or trades. Though, one can never really predict a trade from Lou Lamoriello, it's just as unlikely he'll pull one off in less than 24 hours. But again, the Devils would be under the cap and they may be content with that to start the season.
It's necessary to put Salvador and Salmela on LTIR at this point. I fully understand this plan, while not a good one, does accomplish the critical goal of being cap compliant tomorrow afternoon. I also understand that it's possible that perhaps there was no favorable deal available, ownership wouldn't support burying millions in salary in Albany, and loans are out of the question. I accept that possibility. Rationalizations aside, I still don't think it is a smart decision for the Devils to just move players to LTIR for four reasons.
The first is the obvious. All this does is buy New Jersey time. A player on LTIR has to remain there for at least 10 games and 24 days minimum. By putting Salvador and Salmela on LTIR tomorrow, they'll be out for the entire month at a minimum. 24 days from October 6 would make it October 30, and the Devils don't play on that day or the final day of the month. If the player isn't healthy after then, then he can remain on LTIR - but can be activated when he's cleared to play. Either Salvador or Salmela becoming active will force the Devils to make some serious moves, so the team's got the rest of the month to figure it out. It would be in the team's best interest to make that move before they are ready to go off LTIR to sign or call up replacements.
The second is more intangible. Here's Jamie Langenbrunner's quote regarding the apparent situation:
"It looks like this is what it’s going to be going forward for a while," Langenbrunner said. "Everyone will have to fend for their health, but for now the focus is on Friday. All of us in this business know that there’s never going to be relief any time, so I don’t think it’s that’s big of a deal for us. (But) we knew something was going to happen or we thought something would, so there’s a little bit of relief."
Any stress resulting from worrying about their future as a Devil is going to impact a player's performance. Players are people too, and this can be a distraction. Langenbrunner doesn't refer to this as a "little bit of relief" if it wasn't. It's one thing for this stress to take place in training camp and preseason; it's another when it's during the season where the games count. Remember, it's not an easy month of competition; and I don't want certain Devils players not fully focused on the next game because they could be trade/waiver/loan targets again by the end of the month. It can certainly affect their on-ice performance. The relief from this concern, like the Devils' cap relief, is temporary.
The third reason are minor injuries, believe it or not. Like most sports, injuries are a part of the game and they can't be controlled. The Devils have the bare minimum of 20 players on their active roster. The Devils would have a difficult choice to make if a player just needs a night off to rest up or is day-to-day with an ailment whilst Salvador and Salmela are on LTIR. They could play with a shortened roster, which makes the game more difficult for the rest of the squad. They can hope the player can play through the injury, risking further injury as well as poorer performance. Or they can take that player out for 10 games and 24 days by putting them on LTIR to get the space for a replacement - not ideal if the player is crucial to the team's success. Generally with injuries, a team can only worry about that when it happens; but the Devils don't have a lot of options due to their own cap issues.
The fourth, final, and most important reason is the make up of the team itself. Yes, keeping Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina allows the Devils to have more offensive defenders in the lineup. That's all well and good, but the team only has 11 forwards. Presumably, Rod Pelley and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond are short a linemate. Whereas most teams would shorten their bench in the third period, the Devils are doing it right from the opening faceoff. The Devils do have forwards who can take extra minutes, but they'll be double-shifting guys all night long - for the first 10 games. This can overwork players early in the season and create match-up problems. Plus, if a forward or a line is getting beaten on, then MacLean is more limited into what he changes he can make about it.
A fourth line may not be called on to do much, but the 10-12 minutes they spell the other three lines does matter. Especially if they can outplay the opposition's bottom line. But that's undercut by the fact that the Devils don't even have a full fourth line right now.
Granted, the Devils can address this easily by going to 6 defensemen. They can send Alexander Urbom down to Albany, call up Vladimir Zharkov (among other options cheaper than $870k), and have a fourth line of Leblond-Pelley-Zharkov. The Devils would save $20,000; have 12 forwards; and fourth line that even played with each other last season. They can also do this by replacing Matt Taormina with Tim Sestito, Patrick Davis, or Chad Wiseman (all min. salary players). However, I don't think the Devils will do either in the next few days. According to Gulitti, Urbom and Taormina have been told they're in NJ for the time being.
Of course, if the Devils make a permanent move for cap space before 3 PM tomorrow, then these reasons are entirely moot. Until then, they'll remain as reasons for concern until such a transaction is made. What that transaction will be, that's up to Lou and the rest of the Devils management.
What do you think of the Devils' apparent plan? Are you concerned about this as I am? Are you satisified with the Devils going a month with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen. Perhaps you feel differently. Please let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks for reading.