ILWT Audition: If Paul Martin returns to the New Jersey Devils, What About the Rest of the Defense?

Paul Martin is a free agent for the New Jersey Devils this summer. What could the defense on New Jersey look like if he's re-signed? Writer G Tom Stivali attempts to answer that question. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Over a week ago, I put out the call looking for new writers for In Lou We Trust to write about the New Jersey Devils. I've opened up the audition to the community at large in order to get a new perspectives and additional voices on the front page with regularity.  Since then, I've received seven entries and I thank each one of them - you know who you are - for stepping up and making an entry.

Throughout this week, I will post each one under an anonymous name so you can discuss and critique the post without regard to who actually wrote it.  I can ensure you that I did not change any of the content outside of formatting it in to the SBN platform and fixing spelling errors.  To that end, please note that I don't necessarily agree with what the posts actually say.  I'm just letting them stand on their own.  Please be constructive in any criticism and do offer your thoughts about whether you liked the post in addition to discussing it's content.

The seventh and final entrant comes from Writer G Tom "Wingfan122" Stivali, who has written a piece focusing on Paul Martin. I assure you, I had nothing to do with it.  Writer G Stivali looks at what the Devils defense could look like should Martin re-sign with the Devils, as well as the immediate future of the blueline.

As John has pointed out, Paul Martin is the most effective free agent defenseman on the market. The problem is a lot of other teams probably realize that as well. This article will touch upon Martin, his market value and what type of contract he would sign should he stay with the Devils and the implications of his new contract on the rest of the defensive corps over the next two seasons.

Martin, at under 30, will probably be one of the few defenseman who command a deal that is more than 4 or 5 years (I would also put Hamhuis and Volchenkov in this category) and depending on the length I think we can safely assume that his cap hit around 5.25-5.75MM per year. This would place him in the top 15-20 paid defensemen in the league. If Lou wants Martin back that's what it will probably take.  The only way the cap hit will be lower is if he goes the Hossa route and signs a very long term deal.  I am not a fan of these deals as they become giant albatrosses at the tail end of the contract.
 
Let's say Martin resigns, what then?

For the next two years, the Devils have Bryce Salvador and Colin White locked up for $5.9MM combined per CapGeek. Assuming they are both on the roster they will serve as our 4/5 defensemen. Martin will average $5.5 so the Devils will have almost $11MM locked up with our 1/4/5 spots filled for the next two years.
 
Andy Greene at $737,500 and becomes a FA the following year. Based on last year's performance I think we can assume he will be a serviceable 3 spot on the defense for at least one year with the probability he will be a UFA that will not re-sign in the offseason unless it is for around $3MM.   If he has another positive year like 2009-2010, I can see a team overpaying for his services (I am looking at you, Rangers).  

Options for the #6/#7 (#8?) Spots for the next year/two years:

1. Mark Fraser
2. Anssi Salmela
3. Matt Corrente
4. Tyler Eckford
5. Matt Taormina
Wild Card: Alexander Urbom

Unless he is moved or not qualified, Fraser will probably be penciled in the bottom pairing. The problem with that is you are essentially blocking Corrente. If possible there should be a 6/7 split between the two plus a rotation to give other players a breather. Fraser had a lot of positives in his game but New Jersey should to give Corrente a chance, as he brings a toughness and talent combination to the ice that we currently do not have.

While both Eckford and Taormina (more so Eckford) have proven themselves to a certain degree in Lowell, they play a similar game to Salmela; so assuming he is healthy, he will probably stay on the Devils roster.  Taormina, according to Hockey Future likes to shoot.  A lot.  I wouldn't be shocked if he broke camp with the team.  If Lou made an effort to sign him to a two-way deal late last year, maybe John MacLean saw something he liked.   Maybe he can be what New Jersey may wanted Cory Murphy to be.
 
If Salmela is not ready for the opening of the season then I would think Eckford or Taormina should get a chance.  This will give the roster a bit of flexibility and an Eckford/Taormina can work the 2nd power play unit.  In 2011-2012, unless Anssi really picks up his game Eckford or Taormina should slide into Anssi's spot in the lineup.

Salary Amounts Dedicated to Defense (Salaries from CapGeek):
 
2010-2011

1.  Paul Martin - $5.5MM
2.  FA Acquisition/Trade Deadline Pickup
3.  Andy Greene - $737,500
4.  Colin White - $3.0MM
5.  Bryce Salvador - $2.9MM
6.  Mark Fraser - $650,000
7.  Matt Corrente - $821,667
8.  Anssi Salmela - $612,500
Total Allocated to Defense (current):  $14,221,667
Percentage of Cap (based on an assumed cap ceiling of $60.8MM): 23%

2011-2012

1.  Paul Martin - $5.5MM
2.  FA Acquisition/Trade Deadline
3.  FA Acquisition/Trade Deadline
4.  Colin White - $3.0MM
5.  Bryce Salvador - $2.9MM
6.  Mark Fraser - $800,000
7.  Matt Corrente - $950,000
8.  Tyler Eckford - $900,000
Total Allocated to Defense (current):  $14,050,000
Percentage of Cap (based on an assumed cap of $62.8MM):   23%

One problem with the Devils current roster (both the NHL club and now Albany) is the glut of 2nd/3rd pairing guys that we have. From what Gulitti has posted at times and from Hockey Future's write up of Alexander Urbom, maybe he can be a second pairing guy that we stretch out to a first pairing type of player.  Otherwise if the Devils want to play hockey in June they may have to forgo getting a second line center and build up on defense in the free agent market.  It is something that Lou hasn't had to do much over the years (having Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermeyer made it easy for him) and there is currently not a great market out there on July 1st; they may have to overpay a Volchenkov or a Corvo.   A solid #2 defenseman will also take some pressure off of the rest of the defensive corps and not make the Devils rush anyone into the lineup to play big minutes before they are ready.

Spending a quarter of your salary cap or more is something all 4 conference finalists did and what many other successful clubs have been doing for a few years. The Devils have never been a big FA player with defenseman, but now is the time for them to step up if they want to be playing in June.  

Editor's Note: The above was written by Writer G Tom Stivali. Now it's your turn. What did you think of the piece? Do you think the Devils should be willing to commit more money to the blueline in addition to re-signing Martin? Do you like what the prospects could become; or is it too optimistic to think about them? Would you like to see more of this writing at ILWT? Please leave your thoughts in the comments and remember - be constructive, not destructive.

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