The 2009-10 season for the New Jersey Devils had an all too familiar tone. Enter the season with tons of promise, head into the playoffs with a team built to win the Cup, lose miserably in the first round. The only difference being that at least in 2009 the Devils looked like they deserved to win that series. So once again, we're at that point where the offseason has just begun. Playoff failure fresh in our minds, we look ahead at a long summer, wondering what exactly Lou Lamoriello will do to help us fare better in 2011. Just one day into our offseason, lots of things are already clear.
First of all, our coach isn't going anywhere. Not because he's been great, but because Lou has already gone on record that he's staying. But unfortunately, the game has passed Jacques Lemaire by. Peter Laviolette outsmarted Lemaire every step of the way in the playoffs, but far too many errors were Lemaire's own all year long. This is an incomplete list, but keeping Kovalchuk on the point, allowing Kovalchuk to carry the puck in himself, constantly changing the lines to never allow anyone to gel with anyone, sitting on 1-0 leads as if we still had the defense to do so (we don't), and just an overall lack of adjustment to match what the Flyers were doing. But all of this is neither here nor there, Lemaire will be back. It's also a safe bet that Tommy Albelin, Scott Stevens, and Chris Terreri will all return as coaches. Mario Tremblay is less of a sure thing. I remember hearing somewhere that the internal problems in the locker room were not between the players and Lemaire, but between the players and Tremblay. It sounds hard to believe because Tremblay was the good cop to Lemaire's bad cop, and was always talking to the players during games while Lemaire stood there like a statue chewing his gum. Tremblay will probably be back as well, but if there was to be any coaching change, I'd wager it was him.
So let's move on to the players. This is broken down into goaltenders, defensemen, and forwards; who will definitely be back next season--for better or worse--and who the free agents are and what we should do with them. This is only what I would do if I were Lou, I'd like to hear what other Devils fans think about all of this as well.
UFAs: Yann Danis
The Situation: This is the easiest position to asses for the Devils. Brodeur is obviously the starter, so the question becomes which young goalie will play the backup role. Danis has the advantage in NHL experience, and both will come very cheap. The only question is whether Danis, a capable goalie, will sign on for another season of being a glorified season ticket holder. If not, this seems as good a time as any to see if the Devils' ONLY goaltending prospect can perform when it counts most. As for McKenna, another year in Lowell seems like a pretty safe bet. Though capable himself, he's not really the present or the future as far as New Jersey is concerned.
What To Do: I'd keep Danis. Considering the Devils haven't even drafted another goalie since Frazee, the more seasoning he gets, the better.
The Situation: Several players are locked into no-movement clauses. So while it would absolutely be in the Devils' best interests to discard the dead weight like Colin White, the only way to do so would be to buy them out. And White's contract is way too much for that to make sense. This has put the Devils in a bind. There are several good young defensemen in our system who are going to have to wait because we're stuck with who we have.
What To Do: Definitely re-sign Fraser and Eckford, both have talent and promise to become future blueline starters. Show Skoula and Murphy the door. Try very hard to re-sign Martin without making it impossible to re-sign Parise next summer. Martin is the anchor of the blueline, and one of the few highlights of the 2010 playoff run was watching him play as a pairing with Greene.
The Situation: Once again, several bad contracts the Devils cannot get rid of will hinder their progression. Brian Rolston's contract is absolutely insane for a player of that age and ability level. The Devils have a few promising young forwards waiting in the wings, potentially including Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby as early as next training camp.
What To Do: Once again, keep the RFAs. Going young is the key to future success. By the same token, let McAmmond go, and only keep Niedermayer if we can lose Pandolfo. Make an effort to keep Kovalchuk but only within reason. It's never been our way and it shouldn't be. He's only worth keeping if we have a good team around him. Pandolfo is obviously not trusted by Lemaire, and so for his and our own sake, perhaps a buyout. There is no need to have two old penalty killers, so let's pick Pandolfo or Niedermayer and stick with it. Also, it's not a major change but get rid of Andrew Peters any way possible. Playoffs aside, Leblond did the same job better, is younger, and doesn't forget how to dress himself. Trade Peters for a 7th round pick, a bag of pucks, whatever.
Finally, although it won't happen in reality, I would take the 'C' away from Langenbrunner. Parise gets the 'C' with Elias and Clarkson getting an 'A.' Give the letter to someone who cares.
And for now, don't forget: we're 0 - 0.