After a little over two weeks of training camp and preseason, which consisted of practices, video sessions, off-ice training, scrimmages, and games, NHL teams now have what could be the most difficult task left: cutting their roster down to 20 - 23 players and staying within the requirements of the salary cap. While the first or second set cuts tend to come in groups, the actual process isn't simple. Players with the potential have to be informed what they need to do to make the team. Veteran hopefuls may need to be told that being placed on waivers is what's best for them. It's easy for you and I to make the cuts, but the ones actually making the decision have to deal with the human factor.
The New Jersey Devils made several of these cuts today. As reported by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice and Rich Chere at NJ.com, the Devils have played eight players on waivers and already sent another three down to Albany of the AHL.
No Signing After Try Out - RW Steve Bernier
On top of that, Lou has already came out and said that Steve Bernier won't be given a contract. Some of this round of cuts won't surprise many Devils fans. Others will, especially considering who's left in New Jersey right now. I feel that it's worth touching on each player in a little more detail as well as briefly looking at who's left.
The Unsurprising Cuts
Keith Kinkaid - Given that he was just signed out of college earlier this year and the Devils already have two veteran NHL-calibur goaltenders, Kinkaid had no chance to make the team. That's fine. All he had to do was show off what he could do, work with the coaches, and get prepared for professional hockey. Let's see how he does in the AHL.
Jay Leach - Albany is bereft of veteran defensemen and Leach has never stuck around in the NHL before. I don't think anyone was expecting that he'd be in the NHL outside of some spot duty. Given the number of defenseman in the system, I doubt he'll even get that.
Tim Sestito - We saw plenty of Sestito last season. He wasn't very quick, he didn't provide much defense, and he certainly doesn't provide much offense. I don't think he was really in the running for making this team, especially with the number of fourth-line caliber forwards in camp.
Alexander Urbom - This is only unsurprising because it was clear that he wasn't getting a real shot at making this team from the get-go. Gulitti's post on Urbom last week spelled it all out. He only got the last two preseason games, and he only got into the final one because Peter DeBoer to keep Bryce Salvador from turning his minor soreness into a more serious injury. This isn't totally bad news, though. He's 20, he'll get prime minutes in the AHL, and he'll still develop. He looked pretty good in those two preseason games, after all. I think he'll be in New Jersey sooner rather than later.
Peter Harrold - I wasn't aware he was even signed until it was about time for training camp. In his preview of the defensemen, Kevin summed it up the best: Harrold is really nothing more than a #7 defenseman at best. He did little in preseason to show that he wanted it.
Stephane Veilleux - Way back in August, I called the Veilleux signing a "wild card" for the fourth line. He had NHL experience, he didn't get destroyed by weak competition, and he presumably would have something to prove. Yet, from what I saw in preseason, I saw a player that was trying too hard to be the "energy" guy instead of providing actual energy. He tried to agitate players, but didn't really succeed. Outside of that, he didn't do much with and without the puck. The wild card turned out to be a dud. In retrospect, he probably should have been just brought in on a try-out.
The Unimpressive Players that were Cut
Matt Taormina - It wasn't a great camp for Taormina. He didn't really stand out in preseason. He didn't show that he could provide significant offense from the blueline. He also was unfortunate to suffer an injury near the end of preseason (via Tom Gulitti) so he couldn't have one last chance to prove himself. Taormina will be turning 25 later this month. Short of lighting it up in the AHL, I'm not confident in his future.
In this post by Tom Gulitti, Lou was rather complimentary about Corrente. Lou said that he was caught up in a numbers game among the improvement of Larsson, Fayne, and Taormina. Well, Taormina didn't make the team, Larsson played his way onto the team in preseason, and Fayne was a NHL player last season. Corrente really didn't do much in preseason and it was clear that he didn't do much to change anyone's mind about getting more chances. Not unlike Taormina, I keep asking myself: "If he's not going to show he's a NHL player now, then when he will be?" Maybe being on waivers is the best thing for him.-
Mark Fraser - I would say that Mark Fraser had a decent chance at being a spare defenseman on this team, if not the #6 guy. He's been on the team before. He's a physical defenseman who can play limited minutes. On the other hand, he has rarely shown he could be a regular defenseman in this league. His physical play tends to get him too hot-headed, which can get him into penalty trouble or out of position. Fraser was very much on the bubble. He did little in preseason, and presumably also in camp, to show he was ready for that next step. Despite having a one-way contract, the Devils have made their message loud and clear on waivers.
- Bernier was brought in on a try out basis in the hopes he could provide some answer at right wing. Generally, I don't have a lot of hope put into players coming in on a try out because if they were really able to contribute, then they would have been offered a contract during the offseason. The Devils gave Bernier plenty of chances in preseason, but he didn't necessarily stand out. He threw some hits, he didn't look too out of place, but he also didn't contribute all that much in the run of play. Given that the Devils are lacking quality at right wing but not quantity, I think Bernier needed to be impressive. He really wasn't.
That's only just my opinion, man. Gulitti reported that the Devils did offer him a two-way deal with the intent to start him in Albany, but he declined it. Therefore, New Jersey won't sign him at all. I'm not sure why Bernier declined given that he went through the summer without any one-way contract offers. Good luck to him in his future endeavors all the same.
The Somewhat Surprising Cuts
Rod Pelley - Back in August, I wrote that Pelley would be on the bubble in the upcoming training camp. With David Steckel on the roster, Pelley wasn't guaranteed a fourth line center spot. With multiple fourth-line wingers, Pelley would have to compete for a spot on this team. Like Fraser, Bernier, Corrente, and Taormina, Pelley really didn't impress in preseason. What makes this a surprising cut is that he was put on waivers instead of Cam Janssen or Eric Boulton. In Gulitti's post, Lou named those two specifically as to why he's not in New Jersey. I think Pelley can contribute about the same as Boulton and definitely more than Janssen. Yet, when the GM says he could have an opportunity elsewhere, it seems to me his future as a Devil is in doubt - be it now or when his contract ends in 2012.
Vladimir Zharkov - Talk about a player who didn't get a fair shake in preseason. Based on Lou's comments in Gulitti's post, it seems he didn't do very well in training camp, which meant he didn't get into preseason action. When he did, he wasn't particularly impressive. I'll admit that I may be the only one surprised by this, I am a Zharkov fan. He brings more to the table to a fourth line. While that may not be much, it's certainly more effective than hitting guys with your body or fists (Boulton, Janssen). I'm hopeful that Zharkov turns this negative into a positive in Albany, perform well enough the AHL to grab the New Jersey Devils' attention, and ends up staying with the NHL for at least a half-season again.
The Surprises Left on the Roster
I'm particularly surprised that with all of the defensemen available, Anton Stralman remains on the roster. I didn't think he did well at all in preseason. I know he has NHL experience and he had good season two seasons ago, but he showed very little on offense and his defensive work left a lot to be desired. In my view, that he got tossed with the 'B' team on the penultimate preseason game was a sign that he will not remain in New Jersey. I really hope he doesn't get a contract. If the Devils want a seventh defenseman on the roster, they have plenty of other options in the system.
Another surprise is that Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen are both still on the roster. While Janssen wasn't a black hole in preseason and Boulton kept the nonsense down (but not completely), I don't see how either will contribute much more than beefiness at the NHL level. I will admit, I wasn't happy when either player was signed, and I don't think either will perform better than Adam Mair did last season. I've resigned myself to thinking that one will stay on the active roster. I just don't think both need to be on the team either. Especially over Zharkov and Pelley.
Adam Henrique and Brad Mills also survived these group of cuts. Mills notably took some dumb penalties while trying to be tough in preseason. But I guess he provided enough energy to have him around. Henrique showed some nice flashes of skill in preseason, but I'm concerned that he would only get limited ice time in New Jersey when he could be better served by a larger responsibility in Albany. I don't think either of the two are safe, though. While the Devils are down to 23 players, they don't have to assign anyone who cleared waivers down to Albany, and they have until 3 PM on Wednesday to set their roster.
Let's end this on a happy note: Welcome to the NHL, Adam Larsson. Good luck in your next 9 games be fruitful (and please no more than that.)
Now that the Devils have cut 12 players from their preseason roster and are closer to setting their lineup for opening night, I want to know your take. Which of these cuts surprised you the most? Do you think all of the players on waivers will clear them? If not, who do you think will get claimed? What will the Devils do before Wednesday beyond making decisions about Stralman and Petr Sykora? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about these roster decisions in the comments. Thanks to Elektrostal_kid for first bringing it up here and here. Thank you for reading.