A Seemingly Quiet Offseason Awaits the New Jersey Devils

Tomorrow at noon marks the official opening of free agency.  Teams can offer contracts to unrestricted free agents, who will undoubtedly go out and sign them.  With a market that isn't exactly filled with top class players, those "good but not great" players and also-rans could stand to make big money.  Especially from teams that either need to make the salary cap floor or want to splash the cash.   It's referred to as "Free Agency Frenzy" in that contracts that will be on the books for years and have a significant impact get settled rather quickly on July 1.   Throw in the factor that it's all up to the players more so than the teams, since they're the ones who can decide who to sign with and for what price.  Fans may be angry at a GM for letting a player walk, but ultimately, a player leaving is entirely up to the player - sometimes no one can convince them to stay and/or that decision comes on July 1 when they'd rather stay at home on June 30.

Anyway, this summer looks to be fairly quiet for the New Jersey Devils on paper.  I'll summarize the Devils' current situation as they head into the first day of free agency after the jump, including some of my own speculation that maybe this summer won't be as quiet as it seems for New Jersey.

The Devils don't have a lot to worry about when it comes to unrestricted free agency. Most of their free agents were restricted, and they dealt with them for the most part.  The Devils elected to take Zach Parise to arbitration to protect him from other teams giving him an offer sheet, and they qualified nine other RFAs earlier this week.  The New Jersey roster only had a handful of players who will become unrestricted free agents tomorrow to begin with: Adam Mair, Jay Leach, Johan Hedberg, and Andy Greene. Since he wasn't tendered a qualifying offer, you can add Anssi Salmela to this short list. Leach was re-signed so he's not a concern; as Tom Gulitti recently posted at Fire & Ice, the Devils have been talking with Hedberg and Greene and hasn't ruled out Mair (yes, really); and Lou hasn't ruled out Salmela completely per this Gulitti post.  Greene's really the only big name UFA who could go elsewhere, and it's up in the air as to whether the Devils could replace him from within or what his worth could be. He plays a lot of minutes, but he didn't particularly stand out from the rest of the defensemen who were about to enter the market or will enter the market tomorrow. Earlier this offseason, I explained why I think they could, but it'd be difficult. With the increased cap, retaining him in the short term for the right price may be a better option; though the Devils aren't teeming with space. CapGeek has the Devils with $12,122,500 in cap space as of this writing with plenty of RFAs to sign, including one potentially big deal with an ace winger.

Basically, all the New Jersey Devils have to do for their roster is re-sign their RFAs - especially Zach Parise before the arbitration hearing, get a backup goaltender (it could very well be Hedberg given the market for UFA goalies and how he did last season), and figure out what they will do in Greene's absence if he doesn't sign in NJ. They'll have more than enough players to fill out a roster and the $64.3 million salary cap ceiling definitely helps them out in meeting these goals.  They won't be able to jump into the UFA market and make a big signing, but perhaps that's a good thing given how many of the "top names" have signed elsewhere or aren't all that great to justify throwing a lot of cash at their person.

Of course, there's matter of hiring a head coach and potentially any assistants to come with him.  In this tweet by Tom Gulitti, Lou says not having a coach in place hasn't hurt him in the past so I wouldn't worry about that position being filled in mid-July.  Incidentally, Rich Chere reports that John MacLean will not be involved with coaching in this organization in 2010-11, so you don't need to worry about him - for now.

Compared to last summer, where the Devils made some significant signings on July 1 and the whole NHL-driven Ilya Kovalchuk fiasco, this summer will be a lot quieter.  It doesn't make for a lot of excitement and discussion, but there's a benefit to not having so much drama and uncertainty.   At the same time, I can't help but feel that the Devils may have something else planned.  

The first buyout period has already passed with the Devils doing nothing on that front. I'm thinking that there might be a trade.  They have way too many defensemen on their roster between those signed and qualified in New Jersey and Albany.  The fight for the third pairing in New Jersey is going to be difficult - especially if Greene's retained. While they have the bodies, team still has a need for another two-way defenseman; and I don't think Adam Larsson is the man for that job as of right now. Plus, it would be to the Devils advantage to clear off a bad contract or two (e.g. David Clarkson) in addition to roster space just to make more space for this coming season and beyond.  Unless I'm missing something, a trade could very well be the only way for the Devils to clear some space to address that positional need, clear off some defenders, and/or clear some space in general. Of course, a deal can't happen without two parties and we'll never know what is really discussed with respect to interest from other teams and potential offers.   Teams may be far more concerned with getting players to sign rather than discuss this kind of transaction tomorrow anyway.

I guess what I'm saying is that the quiet could easily be calm before a storm as it could be just a calm.  I could be over-thinking this, but I just can't shake the notion that the Devils would have all of these defenders under contract and/or keep their rights going into training camp. Either way, what the rest of the league will do tomorrow will be quite interesting after the past few days of trading of impending UFA rights and subsequent signings (e.g. Christian Ehrhoff getting $40 million over 10 seasons from Buffalo after the Sabres got his rights) on top of other re-signings (e.g. Edmonton overpaying Ladislav Smid by giving him $2.25 million for each of the next two seasons).

What do you think will the Devils do tomorrow, if anything at all? Will this summer be a muted one for the Devils, or do you think the Devils will something significant this summer?  What do you expect to happen tomorrow in general?  Please leave your thoughts on what you think the Devils will do as free agency opens, kicking off the offseason in the comments.  We'll have an open thread for general offseason discussion tomorrow, so please save that for then.

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