FanPost

Time to Rebuild

Dare I say the R word, which I'm sure has never crossed the mind of Lou Lamoriello in his tenure as Devils GM?  22 years ago, the Devils made the playoffs for the first time, and they haven't looked back, outside of a hiccup of a season in 95-96 - until now.

Let me be clear before the bubbly optimists disparage my love for this team and my faith in its GM and its players.  I am not saying the Devils have zero chance at making the playoffs.  I am not saying that the team needs to be completely blown up.  And I am not suggesting that we need to suffer through a few more seasons like this one.

Why the Devils Will Be Sellers at This Year's Trade Deadline

Because of their poor start, the Devils are extremely unlikely to be anything but sellers at this year's trade deadline. The deadline this year is March 2, and there are 20 games for the Devils after said trade deadline.  That means that the deadline is occurring after the 62-game mark.  26 games into this season, the Devils have 18 points.  They could play outstanding, conference-best hockey and notch 70% of the pts available from now until the trade deadline, and they would still only have 68 pts by the deadline (Pittsburgh and Washington, the conference leaders, have notched 68% of the pts available to this point).  Even after such an extended hot streak requiring an immediate reversal of the Devils' fortunes, they will need to get 65% of their pts in the remaining 20 games to get to 94 pts, which would guarantee them a playoff berth. 

To put it another way, Atlanta currently sits in the 8-spot with 31 pts in 27 games (earned 57% of possible pts).  If they continue to notch points at the same rate, they would have 71 pts by the 62-game mark.  The Devils could play conference-best hockey from here on out (again, 70%) and they still would not be in playoff position by the trade deadline.

So there's no need to explore trades that will turn this season around and reload this team for a deep playoff run.  I say let's make changes to this team that will benefit it in the future.  There's no sense in stocking up on veterans with expiring contracts this year, but there is sense in dealing veterans that don't fit in the team's long-term plans.

Who Should Go?

Let me start by classifying the players - feel free to disagree with my classifications.

Too valuable to be traded - Zach Parise, Travis Zajac

Let's see how they pan out, we outbid everyone last summer anyway - Ilya Kovalchuk, Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder

Players with an important place in team history, and they're not playing too bad either - Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Colin White

Star-potential prospects - Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, Alexander Urbom, Jon Merrill

Intriguing prospects, not untradeable - Adam Henrique, Eric Gelinas, Brandon Burlon, Nick Palmieri

Prospects that need to prove themselves as NHLers soon - Matt Corrente, Alexander Vasyunov, Vladimir Zharkov

Still waiting for him to reach his potential...but does he fit? - David Clarkson

Depends on the market price this summer... - Andy Greene

Not playing up to his contract, not playing horrifically, but easily moved - Dainius Zubrus, Bryce Salvador

Worst contract in the league - Brian Rolston

Rental players-to-be... What's that?  A no-trade clause? - Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner

The Lineup for the Next Three Years

The following is not meant to be a depiction of our line combinations.  It is my assessment of the level of talent that a player has, and where that player appropriately belongs in the scheme of things.  For example, Parise and Kovalchuk are both top-line-quality LWs.  Zajac, I feel, is not really at the talent level of 1st line centers around the league, but obviously he is more than good enough to play on a scoring line with either Parise or Kovalchuk for the foreseeable future.  Clarkson or Zubrus could certainly end up on one of the top 2 lines at any point, but again, I feel their talent level is better suited to a 3rd line.

I've excluded the 4th line because 4th lines are constantly changing from season to season and are dependent on the development of various prospects and the veteran free agents available each offseason.  I don't think we need to wring our hands over who our 4th liners will be in two years.

Italics for a prospect signifies that the player may reach/maintain that talent level in a given year.  Italics for our veterans indicates a player that might be re-signed at the end of his contract.  I'm assuming there's no way in heck that Rolston is being re-signed.  Safe assumption?  I also don't think Salvador will be re-signed given the recent Volchenkov and Tallinder signings.  Zubrus could be re-signed at a lower cap hit, depending on his play - after all, he is the all-important team mixmaster in the locker room.

Big question marks remain in the form of Langenbrunner and Greene.  Parise will require a healthy raise, and neither player has proven that they absolutely must be re-signed.  Letting go of Langenbrunner, who is still a useful player, would at least be a symbolic gesture that the team is moving on to a new era led by Parise and Kovalchuk, and not going for one last run at the Cup with an aging core.  Greene, for his part, has surely earned himself a raise and a consistent NHL roster spot, but has played inconsistently this season.  More importantly for him, he is in a position to earn significant money for the first time in his career, and I am almost certain he will at least want to test the market.  I'm going to move forward by assuming that Langenbrunner will be gone after this season, and that retaining Greene is a possibility.

2011-12

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1st            Parise/Kovalchuk                                                                       

2nd           Elias                             Zajac                       Tedenby

3rd            Rolston                        Josefson                  Clarkson/Zubrus

Defensive Dmen            Volchenkov

                                       White

                                       Salvador

                                       Corrente

Offensive Dmen             Taormina

                                       Greene

Well-rounded Dmen       Tallinder

(supposedly...)                Urbom

 

2012-13

1st            Parise/Kovalchuk

2nd           Elias                            Zajac/Josefson       Tedenby

3rd                                               Josefson/Henrique  Clarkson/Zubrus

Defensive Dmen            Volchenkov

                                       White

                                       Corrente

Offensive Dmen             Taormina

                                       Greene

Well-rounded Dmen       Tallinder

(supposedly...)                Urbom

 

2013-14

1st            Parise/Kovalchuk                                       Tedenby

2nd                                              Zajac/Josefson        Tedenby

3rd            Elias                           Josefson/Henrique  Clarkson/Zubrus

Defensive Dmen            Volchenkov

                                       White

                                       Corrente

Offensive Dmen             Taormina

                                       Merrill

                                       Burlon

                                       Greene

Well-rounded Dmen       Tallinder

(supposedly...)                Urbom

                                       Gelinas?

So What Does This Team Need?

One of the most pressing needs is for another top-line-quality forward to play with Parise or Kovalchuk, particularly at the all-important center position.  All of the current top 4 teams in each conference have a superstar-quality center except Montreal.  However, given the team's limited cap space, such a forward cannot be acquired through free agency.  He must either be drafted or be an NHL-ready prospect acquired through trade.

Another need is for a veteran offensive defenseman who can provide consistent production from the blue line as well as mentorship for prospects like Merrill, Burlon, Taormina, Urbom, and Gelinas.  There are a lot of offensive-minded D prospects in the pipeline, but our veterans are generally defense-first players.  Unfortunately, veteran offensive Dmen are expensive in free agency and rarely available on the trade market.  If the cap goes up and the team wants to play the LTIR game like they did this past season, or is willing to waive Salvador, they may be able to afford a $4M veteran defenseman and keep Andy Greene.  Alternatively, they could keep Salvador and pluck said defenseman out of free agency/trade but let go of Greene.

The team also needs a goalie to succeed Marty, but the need is less pressing and decent goalies are always available in free agency as a stopgap measure.  I just don't feel this needs to be addressed immediately, as I feel Marty may actually continue to play after the expiration of his current contract.

How Do We Get to Where We Need to Be?

The biggest asset the Devils have is not tradeable veterans, but their 1st rd draft pick.  Currently, every team not in playoff position in the East is actually in the bottom 10 of the league.  The disparity between the top teams and the bottom teams in the East is huge, but relatively small in the West.  With such a small spread in the West, more teams will be driving for a playoff spot and will continue to play with desperation.  Simply finishing out of the playoffs, even in 9th place, could still get the Devils a top-10 pick (the Rangers, 9th in the East last season, finished with the 10th worst record in the league).  More likely is that the Devils are bad, but not putrid, for the rest of the season and finish somewhere in the bottom 5-10.

The current ISS top 10 shows two centers at the top of the list, Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (RNH), and at the moment it would be hard to imagine either player falling out of the top 4.  The rest of the top 10 are mostly defensemen and wingers.  Two centers who are likely to be taken between picks 5-15 are Victor Rask, whose stock fell from #5 to #7 from Oct to Nov, and Ryan Strome, whose stock as skyrocketed from nowhere to debut in the top 30 list at #12 in November.  Time will tell where these rankings end up in June, and the Devils could certainly pick the best available player of any position without regard to the specific need at C, but I, for one, will be keeping my eye on these four players.  If the Devils play badly enough to nab Couturier or RNH, Lou would almost certainly make the cap space for them to play on the team next season.  Any other players taken in the top 10 would certainly get their shot to make the team out of training camp.

Recent trade deadline history is a mixed bag in terms of clues to what we could get in return, and that is a topic for another post.  Could the Devils acquire a NHL-ready talent with top-line potential through trade?  Not with assets like Arnott and Langenbrunner.  Could they get a player worthy of a 2nd line in the near future?  Perhaps.  They are both certainly playoff-tested veterans with tons of leadership experience.  Trading Langenbrunner or Arnott could potentially get us a young offensive defenseman with 2-3 yrs of NHL experience but lacking the potential to be more than a 2nd-pairing D.  It wouldn't be ideal by any means, but it could give our puck-moving a boost from the backend and could be cap-friendly.

My Plan

1.  Re-sign Parise immediately (revolutionary idea, I know).  He needs to be locked down, and we need to know what his cap hit will be.  Hopefully it will be in Kovalchuk's neighborhood and not much more than $7M.

2.  Wait until close to the trade deadline before trading Langenbrunner and Arnott and see where the Devils are in the standings.  Try to package Salvador, if possible, into any deal involving Langenbrunner, to give us more cap flexibility in 2011-12.

(a) If the Devils look likely to get a top-5 pick, then $3M+ in cap space next year must be saved for the player drafted.  Trade for as many draft picks as we can get.

(b) If they look like they won't finish quite so badly, then plan to go with Zajac-Josefson as our 1-2 center combo next year and hope the forward we draft competes for a job in training camp.  Trade Langenbrunner and Arnott for a forward with 2nd line potential who is not yet NHL-ready (but will be ready in about 2-3 yrs), plus whatever draft picks we can get, and save cap space for a run at a veteran offensive defenseman.

3.  Draft a forward with our likely top-10 pick.  If the pick is in the top-2, draft either Couturier or RNH.  If the pick is in the top-5, offer up a 2nd rd pick to move up to take one of them.  If no one wants to trade down, then trade down into picks 6-10 in exchange for a 2nd rd pick.  If our pick is in the top-10, draft the best available forward - hopefully it's a center. With our 2nd round pick(s), draft a gritty agitator-type winger who can fight and score the occasional goal.  Obviously we have one in Clarkson, but I would like another one.  Alternatively, a defenseman could be drafted in the 2nd round.  You can never have too many defensive prospects, and top-notch forward talent is harder to acquire in the 2nd round.

4.  Try to dump Rolston in the offseason with up to a 2nd rd pick as a sweetener. It may be possible, with just one year left on his contract.  If Rolston can be dumped, look for a veteran offensive Dman.  If not...oh well.

5.  Offer Greene $6M over 2 yrs or $7.5M over 3 yrs.  Be willing to go up to $9M over 3 yrs or $11M over 4 yrs.  Even if we land Couturier/RNH, we should just barely have the cap space to fit Greene.  If Greene refuses to settle for those amounts, then walk away and look for another veteran offensive defenseman with a $3-4M cap hit in trade or free agency.  Use Clarkson as an enticement in such a trade, offer Salvador too if they want him.  Be willing to waive Salvador to make the cap space work.

6.  Offer our RFA defensemen (Corrente, Salmela, Taormina, Fraser, Magnan) $500-750K per year x 2-3 yrs on two-way contracts.  None of them have really proven themselves as steady NHLers, but none should be abandoned just yet.  Same goes for Vasyunov and Zharkov.

7.  Don't re-sign Hedberg, save the cap space.  Bring up Frazee or sign a goalie to the league minimum.

8.  If he has not been traded already, trade Salvador at the 2012 trade deadline.  Try to get something for Rolston too.

All FanPosts and FanShots are the respective work of the author and not representative of the writers or other users of In Lou We Trust.

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