Expect the New Jersey Devils with No-Trade Clauses to Stay Devils for Now

You may not like their contracts. You may not like the players. But get used to seeing Brian Rolston and Jamie Langenbrunner as Devils in 2010-11. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

A number of the more recent posts discussing potential issues for the New Jersey Devils - like the power play, for example - were written in advance of discussions about the Devils' offseason and transacations.   Today, I'd like to discuss the five New Jersey Devils who have no-trade clauses (NTCs): Jay Pandolfo, Jamie Langenbrunner, Colin White, Brian Rolston, Martin Brodeur as well as a little bit

In lieu of the Devils' elimination of this year's playoffs, there's increasing disgruntlement over Jamie Langenbrunner (I sympathize) in addition to repeating of concerns over Brian Rolston's contract, Colin White being in New Jersey, and Jay Pandolfo's situation.  Whenever I bring up that a player's NTC means that a player isn't being traded, I sometimes get a response about how a NTC can be waived somehow.

This is not something that I'd like Lou to force players to do, if even possible.  Yes, some players do have the right to waive their NTC and do so for various reasons.  However, I think requesting NTCs or NMCs to be waived ultimately hurts the Devils organization.   Moreover, I don't think most of the deals that can be bought out will or even should be bought out by the Devils.  After the jump, I explain the situation with the six Devils with NTCs or NMCs, the purposes of those clauses, why I don't think they will or should get waived, and the potential buyout situation.  From that, the conclusion in the headline should be clear.

The Devils' NTC and NMC Situation

The New Jersey Devils have six players who have a no-trade clause (NTC) or a no-movement clause (NMC).  The NTC prevents the player from being traded, whereas the NMC forces the player to stay in New Jersey - he can't be sent down to the minors or put on waivers.  I've kept a list of these players on the right side of the front page, but here it is again with the final season of their current contract and their cap hit in parentheses. Numbers come from CapGeek.

  1. Jay Pandolfo - No Trade Clause - UFA after 2010-11 ($2.5 million)
  2. Jamie Langenbrunner - No Trade Clause - UFA after 2010-11 ($2.8 million)
  3. Martin Brodeur- No Trade Clause - UFA after 2011-12 ($5.2 million)
  4. Brian Rolston - No Trade Clause - UFA after 2011-12 ($5.0625 million)
  5. Colin White - No Trade Clause - UFA after 2011-12 ($3.0 million)
  6. Patrik Elias - No Movement Clause - UFA after 2012-13 ($6.0 million)

I don't think anyone minds Brodeur's NTC or Elias' NMC - and if someone does, well, why?  Brodeur remains Brodeur, and there's no reason to believe that Elias should be anywhere but in New Jersey.  Reason to hope he's healthy, sure; but I'd be shocked if anyone seriously argues he shouldn't be a Devil in the future.  For intents and purposes, Brodeur and Elias will definitely be Devils for the remainder of their contracts, and possibly for their careers.

Now, I fully understand why there's unhappiness with Jamie Langenbrunner for his disappearing act in the 2010 playoffs.  I sympathize as to why Jay Pandolfo's contract looks miserable since he got surpassed in terms of role and position as the 2009-10 season goes on.  I agree that Brian Rolston's deal looks worse and worse by the season.   I don't understand why people don't like Colin White, but there's that too.

Yet, they aren't going to go anywhere with the possible exception of Jay Pandolfo's contract being bought out (If Rich Chere brought it up just after the playoffs, then it's not exactly unlikely that it may happen).

Thoughts on What a NTC/NMC Represents

A NTC or NMC is often viewed as some kind of special tag for a player; that Player X is so important to our team as a talent and by his performances that we as an organization will not consider trading or moving him.  That's great, but what it really comes into player are in contract offers.

Pretty much every team in any sport with free agency can offer money to convince a player to sign with them - but some teams also add in clauses like a NTC or a NMC to make their offer stick out.  A team offering a NTC or NMC is offering stability and security for the player on top of guaranteed salary, bonuses, and the opportunity to be with their team for a set period of time. The player - and his agent - sees that as an additional commitment by the suitor; the player can keep their family in a set location for a set period of time with a NTC or NMC; the player does not have to be concerned about receiving a call at some point in the day and learn his whole career just went to another city; an so forth.  Should an organization want a player badly enough, they'll make this commitment; and should a player really want the security more/in addition to the salary, they'll demand one.

Let's go back to July 1, 2008, when Brian Rolston signed with the New Jersey Devils.  Per Tom Gulitti, Rolston's agent was fielding 17 offers for his client's services. Do I know what those other offers were? No, but it's safe to assume that Rolston and his representation felt New Jersey made the best offer.  I'm sure the success of the Devils organization played a role in deciding to go back to New Jersey.  I'm sure Lou's offer of $5 million made it worth Rolston's while, but what put it over the top?  I'd be very surprised if it wasn't the NTC.  

Again, it's an extra commitment that the organization can offer to a free agent in a contract negotiation.

Why NTCs and NMCs Should Be Respected

Assuming the option is there, if a player waived their NTC or NMC, then there must be some sort of internal problem. The player is unhappy enough that he doesn't want to be on a team that he was willing to commit to for a set period of time at the time of signing.   Perhaps the team isn't performing as well as he'd hoped.  Perhaps there is friction between the player and the organization, coach, players, etc.  Perhaps a trade offer to a different team comes along and the player would rather be there instead of whom he signed with.  Basically, I don't see it as a good thing if a player waives his NTC or NMC.

It's even worse if it's made upon request.  Since I believe NTCs and NMCs play their role in contract negotiations, it would be terrible for Lou and the Devils organization if they just start demanding that those clauses are waived.  It would devalue what a NTC or NMC means to the New Jersey organization.  If not from within, then definitely by the outside market. 

Should a contract offer comes, a player and their agents would have every reason to second-guess any offer made by New Jersey that comes with a NTC or NMC.  They wouldn't see it as a commitment, they would see it as just words in a deal.  After all, if it happened to Player X then how is Free Agent Y supposed to believe that the Devils would honor such a clause should something go wrong with Free Agent Y's performance?   This question would be valid even if the Devils just asked a player  To put it succinctly, Lou would be shooting himself in the foot if he goes up to Rolston, White, Pandolfo, or whoever and asks them to waive their various clauses in their contracts.

Nevermind the fact that there's no real reason for any of the six players to waive their NTC or NMC clauses.  What's the benefit for the player to waive their NTC or NMC? Why would any of these players leave an organization where the playoffs have been constant, regular season success has been nearly regular, where their families are settled in northern New Jersey, and, oh yeah, where their money is guaranteed?  If I were in their shoes, I may not be happy about the lack of recent playoff success; but it's not at all a bad place to be in.  Should the Devils want to sell that to potential players to sign, players waiving their NTCs or NMCs would just undercut that, in my opinion.

Ultimately, I don't see the overall benefit of players waiving their NTCs or NMCs - especially by request - outside of that their contracts would get off New Jersey's salary cap.

Update: ILWT user Space Weed raised one additional point that is important regarding NTCs or NMCs that I forgot to initially mention so I'm adding it here:

If there’s a counterpoint to NTCs and NMCs, they can be problematic if the player requests a trade. [For example:] There was the whole Dany Heatley saga where the Sens had a deal in place with Edmonton for Penner, Cogliano and Smid. Instead, Heatley nixed that tradeand went to San Jose, with Ottawa recieving Michalek (and his bad knee), Jonathan Cheechoo and a 2nd round pick (which they traded to the Isles for Andy Sutton). Obviously, it’s not like any of the players will want out of a successful team, and most of the players with NTC/NMCs are long tenured players (Brodeur, Elias, Pandolfo, White, Langs, Rolston kinda counts)

The Buyout Situation

You may be wondering, "OK, John, it's a bad idea for the Devils to request NTCs/NMCs to be waived and highly unlikely that the player would do it on their own.  Can't the Devils just buyout their contracts?"  Well, they could do so for four of the six, but

Among all six of those players, only two of them can't be bought out since they are over 35: Brodeur and Rolston. I don't think anyone wants to see Brodeur bought out, and even if Rolston was under 35, the cap hit after the bought-out years would be significant.  When a player is bought out, there's initial savings on the player's remaining years; but there's a cap hit - a sunk cost - on the same number of years that were bought out after the deal would have normally ended.

CapGeek has a buyout calculator where you can see how a potential buyout would affect the Devils' salary cap.  Immediately, we can see that buying out Colin White or Patrik Elias would leave at least a cap hit of at least million dollars for multiple seasons after their contracts would normally end.  Maybe White would be a better target for a buyout next season, but why throw an extra million away?

Pandolfo (age 35) and Langenbrunner (age 34) are more attractive options for a buyout since they only have one more season on their contracts and the additional cap hit in the second season would be less than a million dollars.  The Devils would free up at least $1.66 million for this offseason should they go through with either buyout.

I highly doubt that Lou would buy out Langenbrunner for what amounts to a bad playoffs - outside of April, he had a very good season.  If he does buy him out, some other NHL team will immediately swoop in, sign him, and Langenbrunner would have the motivation to prove the Devils' made a mistake every time he laces up his skates.  That would be a substantial mistake to make, in my opinion. 

Pandolfo, on the other hand, he's nearly at the end of his career anyway.  He saw less and less penalty killing time as the season went on and when he did get a few games near the end of the season, he didn't make enough of a mark to convince anyone that he deserved more ice time.  Even if another team picks him up, it's not as if he's going to burn the Devils or anyone else for goals, assists, hits, etc.  The Devils have succeeded this season regardless of Pandolfo and so I don't believe he would hurt the Devils were he gone.  If there's going to be anyone bought out, his contract only reasonable option.    By the way, Pandolfo would be able to be bought out since his deal was signed prior to him turning 35. 

For the Most Part, Expect the 5 out of the 6 to Return

At the end of the day, however, there's no good reason for Lou to demand players to waive their NTCs or NMCs as it would weaken the Devils in contract negotiations; I would hope no player is so unhappy that they are willing to waive it to go elsewhere; and among all the contracts, the only one that could be bought out without the player haunting New Jersey in future seasons would be Jay Pandolfo.  Even then, it's not a guarantee that Lou will buy out Pandolfo. There's one more season on his deal anyway, the Devils could just wait it out or dump him to Albany.

I understand you may not be happy with Rolston, Langenbrunner, Pandolfo, or White at this point, but there's no reason to believe that they will waive their clauses or all get bought out or magically disappear.  It's a long offseason for New Jersey and there's plenty to discuss.  However, any serious discussion on what the Devils should do in free agency should be made with the assumption that, at a minimum, Rolston, Langenbrunner, White, Brodeur, and Elias are going to be wearing Devils red in 2010-11.  You may not like it, but that's the reality of the situation.

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