Lou - PLEASE keep Paul Martin (L). Mike Mottau (R) - eh, I could go either way. Ennis? No, he's not a free agent. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Over the past week or so, I've looked at the basic defensemen stats, the power play, the penalty kill, and the team's scoring and shooting percentage. I've even taken a closer look at the impact Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk had in terms of Corsi% in a with or without you (WOWY) analysis.
Also, and even more relevant to this post, I explained why Devils fans should expect Brian Rolston, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Colin White among other Devils with no-trade or no-movement clauses to be on the team for 2010-11. It's highly unlikely that they are going anywhere - I wouldn't even consider the quite low possibility at this juncture. Throw in the fact that Jay Pandolfo will need surgery and so he would be ineligible to have his contract bought out this summer, and you could very well see all six Devils with no-trade clauses still in New Jersey.
With the playoff loss suffered by the New Jersey Devils now over a week old and all that in mind, I think it's time to look at the complete free agency picture for the 2010 offseason. I will be using CapGeek for the contract information for each player, recording their team (NJ or Lowell), their 2010-11 cap hit, special status (e.g. NTC, two-way), and how long the deal will run through (e.g. through 2012 means the contract ends after 2011-12). per their team chart listed for posterity's sake.
I will also list the free agents with their 2009-10 salary without bonuses (which is why Tyler Eckford had a $984k NHL cap hit but only $650k NHL salary - both didn't kick in for more than a few days as he was in Lowell). Do keep in mind that for many of the Lowell players, they were/are on two-way contracts so they earned less than what their NHL salaries were. I still put down their NHL cap hit as a point of reference, especially for those wondering what could happen should the Devils really go for a youth movement. For those players, assume they are on two-way deals unless otherwise specified.
Beyond the jump, I break down the signed players, unrestricted free agents (UFA), and restricted free agents (RFA) by position and offer some brief, gut-instinct opinion about each. More detailed posts about other free agents will come later and I reserve the right to change my opinion, of course.
Technically, the New Jersey Devils have already begun signing players in this offseason. CapGeek reported three new contracts for the Devils recently: Windsor Spitfires captain defenseman Harry Young, now-graduated Colgate center David McIntyre, and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies forward Jean-Sebastien Berube. All were signed to two-way entry level deals. Berube and McIntyre were assigned to Lowell and played a little in the playoffs. Young is still with Windsor in the OHL Championship Finals and will be for a little while longer. He and fellow Devils prospect Adam Henrique will likely go to the Memorial Cup provided Windsor doesn't botch a 3-0 series lead against Barrie. Incidentally, Game 4 is tonight.
All the more reason to look at the other free agents in my opinion.
Salary Cap Summary
I am going to assume that the salary cap for 2010-11 will be flat. Therefore, the maximum is $56.8 million.
Number of Devils Under Contract for 2010-11: 15 (10 F, 4 D, 1 G)
Current Cap Hit: $41,100,00 (+$240,000 for bonuses - if activated)
Current Cap Room: $15,940,000 - Can go above by 10% before training camp, must be under by then.
Signed in NHL (1): Martin Brodeur (NJ, NTC, $5.2 million through 2012)
Unrestricted Free Agent (1 from NHL): Yann Danis (Last Season: NJ, $500k salary)
|2009-10 - Yann Danis||12||467||3||2||16||2.06||207||191||.923||0|
A Quick Opinion: Danis didn't play all that much, but he was serviceable when he came in for relief or in spot duty as a starter. If he sticks around, I wouldn't mind. Incidentally, if the Maven's to believed, the #2 goalie in New Jersey may get more starts and minutes in 2010-11 (my take: We'll see about that.) Maybe that'll convince Danis to stay? Either way, the Devils shouldn't have to spend so much money for a backup.
Signed AHLers/Prospects (5): Alexander Urbom (Prospect, entry level, $900k through 2012); Matt Corrente (Lowell, entry level, $821.6k through 2011); Harry Young (Prospect, entry level, $536.6k through 2013); Matt Taormina (Lowell, entry level, $510k through 2011); Rob Davison (Lowell, one way, $500k through 2011)
Unrestricted Free Agents (3 from NHL): Paul Martin (Last Season: NJ, $4.5 million salary); Mike Mottau (Last Season: NJ, $762.5k); Martin Skoula (Last Season: NJ, $575k); Cory Murphy (Last Season: Lowell, two-way, $500k)
|2009-10 - Paul Martin||22||2||9||11||10||2||1||0||0||0||21||9.5|
|2009-10 - Mike Mottau||79||2||16||18||4||41||0||0||0||0||74||2.7|
|2009-10 - Martin Skoula||52||3||8||11||3||10||1||0||0||0||34||8.8|
Restricted Free Agents (1 from NHL): Tyler Eckford (Last Season: Lowell, two-way, $986k salary); Mark Fraser (Last Season: NJ, two-way, $500k); Olivier Magnan-Grenier (Last Season: Lowell, two-way, $515k salary)
|2009-10 - Mark Fraser||61||3||3||6||3||36||0||0||0||0||24||12.5|
Quick Opinions on the Free Agent Defensemen: A quick look at the UFA defensemen for summer of 2010 shows that Paul Martin could very well be the only player on the market who can lead a defense who isn't over 30. Yeah, Paul Martin's going to get paid this summer. Combine that with the fact that the Devils have only Andy Greene as a two-way defenseman, and keeping Martin is almost a must for New Jersey in my view. I thought Andy Greene was great in this past season, but I'd feel a lot more comfortable with Martin as the #1 instead of hoping Greene can repeat his 09-10 season.
I think Mike Mottau's better than some give him credit for. Well, he's been more effective than some give him credit for. He'll likely get a well-deserved raise. But his lack of offense as well as the thought of whether he could follow up on his 2009-10 season means that I'm ambivalent. I don't think the Devils can easily plug in a rookie into his spot. Into Martin Skoula's spot, sure, but that spot may already be penciled in for Mark Fraser or Anssi Salmela I feel that if the Devils want to go out and get a defensemen, replacing either Mottau or Skoula (or both) is a lot more reasonable than replacing Martin.
The Cory Murphy experiment didn't work out in New Jersey but it did in Lowell. If he wants to stick around, fine, but I doubt he'll get another shot at New Jersey. If his goal is the NHL, then he may have to do it elsewhere.
The three RFAs will all be re-signed. Eckford and Magnan will likely get two-way deals; and Fraser is all but a regular at this juncture. September's training camp is going to be filled with defensemen wanting to make their mark like Corrente, Eckford, Taormina, and Urbom along with the other prospects. It'll be a huge camp for Eckford or Corrente to determine whether they have a real future in New Jersey. Plus, Fraser and Salmela battling each other for a spot on the team.
And that doesn't include any new defensemen signed in the summer. The blueline is potentially crowded as-is. If the Devils do decide to let Mottau and Skoula go - which would be OK as it would open up another spot on the blueline for Fraser, Salmela, etc. - then the Devils should sign a two-way/offensive defenseman to fill in Mottau's minutes. I don't want a specialist like Marc-Andre Bergeron where his defense can be a liability, he'll need to be a #3/#4 caliber player. But I do want someone who's got a decent long shot and has good puck movement skills.
All the same, I'm hoping Paul Martin will lead the group.
Signed in NHL (9): Patrik Elias (NJ, NMC, $6 million through 2013); Brian Rolston (NJ, 35+, NTC, $5.0625 million through 2012); Dainius Zubrus (NJ, $3.4 million through 2013); Zach Parise (NJ, $3.125 million through 2011); Jamie Langenbrunner (NJ, NTC, $2.8 million through 2011); Jay Pandolfo (NJ, NTC, $2.5 million through 2011); Vladimir Zharkov (NJ, entry level, two-way, $850k through 2011 - $610k if $240k bonus doesn't get activated); Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (NJ, two-way, $525k through 2012); Andrew Peters (NJ, $500k through 2011)
Signed AHLers/Prospects (7): Matt Halischuk (Lowell, entry level, $875k through 2011); Alexander Vasyunov (Lowell, entry level, $850k through 2011); Nick Palmieri (Lowell, entry level, $801.6k through 2012); Jean-Sebastien Berube (Prospect, entry level, $531.6k through 2013); Kory Nagy (Lowell/Trenton, entry level, $528.3k through 2012); Nathan Perkovich (Lowell, entry level, $515k through 2011); Kevin Cormier (Lowell, $500k through 2011)
Unrestricted Free Agents (1 from NHL): Ilya Kovalchuk (Last Season: NJ, $6.3893 million salary); Ilkka Pikkarainen (Last Season: NJ, $500k - transferred to CSKA Moscow during season)
|2009-10 - Ilya Kovalchuk||76||41||44||85||10||53||12||0||4||0||290||14.1|
Restricted Free Agents (2 from NHL): David Clarkson (Last Season: NJ, $850k salary); Rod Pelley (Last Season: NJ, two-way, $575k); Brad Snetsinger (Last Season: Lowell, two-way, $550k); Patrick Davis (Last Season: Lowell, two-way, $522.5k); Myles Stoesz (Last Season: Lowell, two-way, $500k)
|2009-10 - David Clarkson||46||11||13||24||3||85||3||0||2||0||106||10.4|
|2009-10 - Rod Pelley||63||2||8||10||-4||40||0||0||0||0||74||2.7|
Quick Opinions on the Free Agent Wingers: Trading for Ilya Kovalchuk was the right call in my opinion. He brings a lot of positives to the Devils, and he's an excellent scorer who plays against top competition. He also boosts the profile of the team as an established star in the game today. Guys like Kovalchuk are rare. However, given the cap situation and the fact that Kovalchuk plays the same position as Parise and Elias, is it wise for the Devils to commit a ton of money to three left wingers? Initially, I think not. Kovalchuk and Martin being UFAs both require a post of their own in the future. I'll go into detail there.
I've included Elias and Zubrus on the list of wingers. Even though they've been used as centers, they've largely played in New Jersey as wingers and I feel that's where they play their best hockey. Even if you consider them to be centers instead, the Devils are still fairly stacked at the wing position. If there's a positional need, it's not here.
Rod Pelley showed quite a bit as an energy winger and I suspect he'll be re-signed to continue in that role. That's fine, I think he's better at it than Leblond and Peters.
David Clarkson is going to get a nice raise and we'll see if a full, healthy season will lead to him contributing more on the scoresheet. Would I want Lou to give him $2.5 million? No. As a gut-reaction, $2 million or a little less may be appropriate for the gritty third line winger. How much he'll get will certainly be interesting.
As far as guys from the minors, Davis was the only RFA to get a brief call up to New Jersey and show what he could do. I think he'll get a two-way deal and be in Albany next season. On that basis, him and Nick Palmieri could have an inside track on other wingers looking to prove themselves in training camp. Halischuk and Vasyunov would rate behind those two, with Halischuk having an advantage due to his starting in New Jersey and his projection out to a bottom six forward. There will be a lot of wingers in New Jersey again and it's nigh impossible to break through to the top two lines like Nicklas Bergfors did last season - even if Kovalchuk doesn't sign with the Devils.
Signed in NHL (1): Travis Zajac (NJ, $3.8775 million through 2013)
Signed AHLers/Prospects (3): Adam Henrique (Prospect, entry level, $875k through 2012); David McIntyre (Prospect, entry level, $597.5k through 2012); Brad Mills (Lowell, $505k through 2011)
Unrestricted Free Agents (2 from NHL): Rob Niedermayer (Last Season: NJ, $1 million salary); Dean McAmmond (Last Season: NJ, two-way, $500k); Ben Walter (Last Season: Lowell, two-way, $500k); Tim Sestito (Last Season: Lowell, two-way, $500k)
|2009-10 - Rob Niedermayer||71||10||12||22||3||45||0||1||0||0||93||10.8|
|2009-10 - Dean McAmmond||62||8||9||17||-1||40||1||1||2||0||87||9.2|
Quick Opinions about the Free Agent Centers: Your eyes are not deceiving you. The Devils have only one true center under contract for New Jersey, two signed in the system and are long shots, and four unrestricted. The Devils are very weak in terms of quantity (Only 1 in the NHL) and quality (after Zajac it's a bunch of long shot prospects) at center. Lou must absolutely address the center position through free agency this summer. After dealing with the Martin/Kovalchuk decision, this is the most pressing area of need.
The Devils got by great with the late signings of Niedermayer and McAmmond. For their salaries, they've played their roles fairly well. Do I want them back? Niedermayer is 35 and McAmmond is 37. I wouldn't wager on them playing as well in another season. Maybe one of them as depth, but not both.
I don't believe the answer is to go out and hand a ton of money to Patrick Marleau or Tomas Plekanec. Just going out and getting a decent second line and third line center would mostly suffice. Ideally, I'd like three centers signed if only so Zubrus and Elias can play at their best positions. As for Lowell and call-up purposes, keeping Walter and/or Sestito around wouldn't be a bad idea at all. I doubt McIntyre and Henrique and step right in and make an immediate impact anyway.
I cannot say it enough: The Devils need centers. Centers. Not wingers who can play center. Centers. Guys who can win faceoffs, play well in the middle of the ice at both ends, and contribute some more offense than Niedermayer and McAmmond. Centers.
The Coaching Factor
So this is the entire free agency situation that Lou Lamoriello and his staff will face. On top of this, they'll need a new head coach as Jacques Lemaire retired. Who the new head coach will be will undoubtedly factor into how the team will be organized in 2010-11.
With free agency kicking off in early July (I think it's the 1st but I'm not positive), the Devils have time to get a new head coach, understand what his strategies and tendencies (e.g. will he be defensive or offense, does he forecheck aggressively, does he play lots of youth, etc.) and then make personnel decisions with that in mind in addition to the team's positional and skill needs.
Now, I leave it to you to speculate. Who do you want signed in New Jersey and why? Don't make this into some sort of fantasy where guys with NTCs can be traded and there's no salary cap. Assume that free agents will look for raises, that Devils with NTCs/NMCs will stay, and consider the positional needs of the team (e.g. center, a back up goaltender). There's $15.94 million available to sign players. I think the Devils should keep some space open to allow for call-ups for injuries and trades during 2010-11; but if you want to go right up to the max, that's fine.
If you're wondering who is a pending UFA for this summer, I highly recommend CapGeek's UFA Finder. It lists who the free agents are by position and can be sorted by several basic and real-time super-stats statistics. You can easily and quickly learn that Mottau led all pending UFAs in average even strength time on ice in 09-10. Yes, more than Scott Niedermayer, Nicklas Lidstrom, Willie Mitchell, and Dan Hamhuis.
Initially, I think all of the RFAs will be re-signed, with Clarkson, Pelley, and Fraser being the only ones getting one-way deals. I think the Devils will need to retain Danis or get another goaltender; they should try to keep Martin over Kovalchuk; sign a two-way/offensive defenseman; and at least two centers to fill out the roster.
Again, I will go into more depth about some of the Devils' free agents as well as some of the more popular free agents in future posts. Who you suggest here as signings will likely end up being the guys I do some sort of analysis on throughout May and June. Thanks for reading.