2011-12 New Jersey Devils Roster Questions: Who Will Backup Martin Brodeur?

Recently John has written a number of articles about Johan Hedberg's performance, specifically writing evaluations of Hedberg's goals allowed by calendar month which will eventuallly show how stellar Hedberg played during the Devils amazing second half run. John also makes the case that Hedberg should be re-signed as the backup to Martin Brodeur for next season. Because of his Devils performance and the lack of a suitable alternative in the UFA market I fully agree that re-signing Hedberg should be the prefered option for next season. However, while the Devils do want him back, it may not be possible due to both the teams cap constraints and Hedberg's desire to play and/or live closer to his family in Atlanta. Consequently I think it is unlikely that Hedberg returns to the Devils (although I hope I am wrong).

With Hedberg's departure there is an important hole to be filled on the Devils 2011-2012 roster: Backup Goaltender.

Even with the organizational depth the Devils now have at goalie the three young goaltenders in the organization (Keith Kinkaid, Maxime Clermont, and Scott Wedgewood) won't be ready to be the primary backup to Brodeur next year. Is 2007 2nd Round Pick Jeff Frazee ready to ascend to the NHL? Is there a UFA option out there that can help bridge the gap as a backup until Frazee or one of the younger goalies step up? After the jump I look at the internal options available and a dark horse UFA candidate for the backup goaltending duties  I will also speculate on the organizational depth at the goaltending position and where I think each goalie will spend his time next year. 

There are a few different options the Devils can take to address the backup goaltender position.  I see those options as:

1. Promote from Within

2. Sign an experienced UFA Goaltender

3. Trade

4. Sign a UFA to compete for #2 job/#1 job at Albany

Option 1:  Promote from Within

This option would be saying 'We think Frazee is ready to be the backup at the NHL level'.  Kinkaid or Clermont won't be ready for this type of role (althought Kinkaid's college schedule-2 or 3 games a week- would potentially fit well with being a backup to Broduer) just yet and you can argue that while he hasn't put up spectacular numbers in the AHL that Frazee has been good enough to get a chance and that it's really a now or never opportunity for him.

Jf_medium

While his numbers over the past three years don't exactly generate loads of confidence in Frazee, it's important to remember that he has been plagued by minor injuries and major ones (cut to the throat) that may not have allowed him to play at his top level.  Plus, he has a very, very young defense in front of him.  The Albany defensive unit had three to four rookies along with one to two AHL veterans playing at a given time (with some ECHL/AHL types to help fill in).  As you can see below it's not a stellar list of defenders. 

Young_d_medium

Quality of temmates aside you could look at the Albany goaltending stats of Mike McKenna (3.61 GAA, .886 GAA) or Dave Caruso (3.57 GAA, .880 GAA) from last year and say that Frazee played very well compared to anyone else who could have been in net.  In the games that I watched Frazee he was maddingly inconsistent.   At one moment he would look brilliant, the next he would let in a soft goal.

Now the question is...do the Devils trust him at the NHL level in a backup role?  If they don't do they even tender him a contract?

Option 2: Sign an Experienced UFA Goaltender

As John wrote here there isn't much out there that looks appealing.  I would prefer to overpay for Hedberg rather than see a Mike Smith or Ty Conklin in red and black next year.  A guy like Jose Theodore would probably be the only guy I would give premium money to, but even he might be too pricey for the Devils. 

Option 3: Trade

This is a possibility to me if and only if the goalie acquired only costs a conditional pick or a player of equitable value.  I don't want to overpay for a goaltender like Tuukka Rask or Jonathan Bernier. Goalies are too hard topredict as it is, so no trading any premium assets for one.  Plus, with the the investments made in the young goaltenders in the system, trading for a goalie wouldn't seem like very smart planning to me. Maybe someone like Dan Ellis from Anaheim as a one year stop gap. Anaheim has six goalies under contract for next year (and that doesn't include a RFA and Ray Emery) and might part with him for a low return.

Option 4: Sign a UFA to compete for #2 job at NHL level/#1 job at Albany

As I was viewing the UFA goaltenders list via Capgeek.com the other day I happened across a name that I had never seen before.  His name is Mark Dekanich (Dex to the Nashville fans) and he is 25 years old, a Nashville Predator and a UFA for 2011-2012.  A 5th round selection in the 2006 draft, Dekanich played out his college eligibility at Clarkson University before joining Milwaukee of the AHL.  Below I have listed the stats for Dekanich over the past three AHL seasons and they compare favorably to the numbers that Jeff Frazee has put up in that same time period.

Md_medium

Dekanich, ranked 22nd by the Goalie Guild in their top goaltending prospect listing and the 11th best Nashville prospect by HockeysFuture is stuck in limbo behind Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback.  With the depth at the NHL level and with other Nashville goalie prospects signed through next season, it would be surprising to see Nashville retain Dekanich or that he would not want to take his talents elsewhere so that he could get playing time.  This is where New Jersey comes in.   With Dekanich a proven AHL goaltender, why not bring him in to compete with Frazee for the backup goaltender spot behind Brodeur, giving them both two way contracts for next season?   Neither will be subject to waivers next season (unless they eclipse 60 games played, an unlikely event) and 'the best man' can be the backup at the NHL level. 

But will Dekanich even hit unrestriced free agency? 

Interestingly enough OnTheForecheck.com posted a Predator Free Agent Outlook yesterday and Dirk Hoag had this to say about Dekanich:

Mark Dekanich has proven pretty much all you can at the AHL level, and I have to wonder if the best thing for all sides involved here is for the Preds to trade his rights in order to regain some value at this summer's NHL Entry Draft.. 

Hoag goes on to suggest that the Preds put Dekanich and the Devils second round pick (acquired by Nashville in the Arnott trade)  to jump back into the first round via trade.  While I am not sure it Dekanich has this much value, perhaps the Devils could swap another player's rights (Matt Corrente?) for Dekanich.  Considering the picks they have traded and been penalized, I am not sure if I would trade any picks for a goaltender's rights.  If Dekanich hits UFA on July 1st I would hope that the Devils will give his agent a call.  It might be a great opportunity to pick up a quality backup for less than $1,000,000 per year.

2011-2012 Devils Goaltenders:  Where will they be next year?

Mike McKenna:  N/A. Not re-signed by the Devils.

Johan Hedberg:  N/A. Not re-signed by the Devils.

Martin Brodeur:  No brainer here.  #1 Goalie that will play as many games as he can.  Nagging injuries are a concern.

Keith Kinkaid: PPer this recent article from Rich Chereit seems Kinkaid has been told he will play with Albany next year.  Considering that he will need to log big minutes to further his development it would seem likely that he is paired with a Dave Caruso type of goalie.

Maxime Clermont: Eligible to join the team after his current junior season expires I expect Clermont to get plenty of time between the pipes next year, although I expect it to be at Trenton.

Scott Wedgewood:  Will play out his last year of eligibility in the OHL for the Plymouth Whalers.

Jeff Frazee:  If forced to guess let's slot him in as Brodeur's backup.  I would prefer a goalie like Dekanich be brought in but that might not make a lot of sense considering goalies in the system that would better benefit from that playing time.

 

So, put your GM hat on for a second...which option would you choose?  Am I missing someone in the UFA market that the Devils should consider?  Feel like making a 'case' for trading for a Rask or Bernier?  Any thoughts on Dekanich? Is Frazee ready?  Thanks for reading and sound off below.

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