There has been a longstanding debate at ILWT ever since Kovalchuk got signed for the first time in July - we've all narrowed down the possibilities and we have been saying that one of Brian Rolston or Dainius Zubrus should be somehow disposed of. The problems with Brian Rolston are well-documented - he has a no-trade, and his contract is for far too much money. That is all true - however, I have been arguing for a re-entry waiving of Brian Rolston. Undertaking this procedure would leave the Devils with 2.53 million dollars in additional dead cap space for the next two seasons. This, plus moving Bryce Salvador, would enable the Devils to get under the cap and ice essentially any team they wish with the players they currently possess. I'll save everyone the CapGeek paste - just rest assured that it's more than possible.
The reason I think Dainius Zubrus should be kept, at least for now, is his versatility. There's a lot of claims that players like Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, or Mattias Tedenby can pick up the slack for any potential departed players, but as Derek Zona showed over at Copper and Blue, forwards this age aren't particularly successful. Rather than expose these players to the difficulties of NHL play, I think all three should be given significant time in the AHL to develop. The Devils have enough injury-prone players (Zubrus, Arnott, Elias, and Langenbrunner have all tended to miss parts of seasons) where getting these players NHL ice time, should they merit it, will not be a problem.
The Devils have a number of forwards on the cusp of the NHL; these include, in addition to the above-listed players, Alex Vasyunov, Nick Palmieri, David McIntyre, and perhaps Nathan Perkovich. I am not saying that all of these players will make the NHL. However, I think it likely that at least two of Josefson, Henrique, McIntyre, Palmieri, Tedenby, Vasyunov, and Perkovich will be ready for the NHL in 2011-12. I am not sure that any of them will be ready for NHL play this coming season. Thus we could use this lineup in 2010-11:
What if one of Henrique or Josefson impresses enough to stay at center in the NHL this season? Then the Devils can move Zubrus to left wing, and bump Zharkov down to the 4th line - injuries would soon crop up that put Zharkov in the top 9. Zubrus himself would be an adequate injury fill in for anyone in the top six as well, saving a rookie that possible duty.
Next season, however, things look different; Parise needs a new contract, and both Arnott and Langenbrunner are UFA. If we ditch Zubrus there, after hopefully inflating his value a tad with a season at center, we get this:
Assuming a lineup with Andy Greene signed at 3.5 million a season, and Zach Parise at 8.5 million a season (what I think is both player's absolute top end for new contracts), and Vladimir Zharkov signed for 1 million, this team with 11 forwards, 4 defenseman, and 1 goalie, costs 54.6 million dollars. This is plenty of room for the additional 2 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a backup goaltender needed to fill out a roster, especially when many of these players should be from our own farm system and should therefore be quite inexpensive. We could even add one of Arnott or Langenbrunner back if they were willing to stay for a significant discount from their current prices, which given that both players are older than 35, shouldn't be too difficult.
In short, I think the first lineup is far superior to a lineup with Rolston and without Zubrus. We would likely have to protect a Henrique or Josefson line if we had one this season, hurting the team overall, and there's no guarantees that even if those rookies maintained their play for much of the season, that they could maintain it in the playoffs. Having a line that was at a significant disadvantage territorially this past season was a giant Achilles' heel that only got worse as the season progressed - I do not want to see a repeat of that debacle this season.