In Defense of Brian Rolston: Why Trading Him Would be a Bad Idea

Okay, so over the last few months, with the current Devils agenda of signing Adam Larsson to an entry level contract, hiring a new head coach (which apparently will be "Soon) and re-signing Zach Parise. Of these three, the latter happens to be the most important for the team- as losing Parise would hurt the team in the long run. However, because of the Limited amount of cap space the Devils have, fans are looking for some way to dump salary. The name that comes up the most is Brian Rolston, because of his massive cap hit. Another candidate is Colin White, as many fans feel he's overpaid and a bad defenseman. Of course, while it would be nice to rid the team of Brian Rolston's cap hit, there are some downsides to trading Brian Rolston that some people just want to ignore.

The Process of Replacement

So now that you've gotten your albatross contract off the team, you have to look at who will replace him. From an internal standpoint, the only option is Adam Henrique- who has one game of NHL experience, which was more or less a game against the Bruins, one for which the opposition didn't really have any motivation to win seeing as it wouldn't have affected their seeding. Outside of Henrique, there's very few legitimate replacements for Rolston on the team in terms of tough minute forwards internally and scoring. David Clarkson might be able to replace his scoring, but Clarkson's inability to face tough competition makes it harder for him to find his way into the top 9. As for other prospects, it might be a stretch that Mike Hoeffel or Steve Zalewski makes the team, and it's definitely a stretch that they can replace Rolston on the team.

As for Free agents, they aren't exactly better. Guys like Cory Stillman, Vinny Prospal and Sergei Samsonov could replace Rolston's offensive ability, just not his defensive ability. Guys like Chris Drury, Mike Grier and John Madden can replace Rolston's defensive ability, but not his offensive ability. One of the best candidates to replace Rolston, Antti Miettinen ended up signing with the KHL. Pretty much there's no good replacement on the open market.

The Devils could also get someone in a trade for Rolston, like how they recieved David Steckel with the Caps 2012 2nd rounder in the Jason Arnott trade. However, i'd envision a trade similar to the Brian Campbell trade, where the Devils recieve another team's problems (Rusty Olesz). Take for example, if the Detroit Red Wings wanted to trade for Rolston, they'd likely send Jiri Hudler in return for Rolston. The Devils end up taking on a player who has some attitude issues and seems like a smaller, Czech version of Alex Kovalev in exchange for removing a useful player who just has a bad cap hit. Of course, none of the guys the Devils would get back are probably going to be as good defensively- or even offensively as Rolston. Realistically, it's not worth it, as despite the amount of $$ the Devils save, they get a player who doesn't fit in their system for removing a massive cap hit.

The Cost

Realistically, there are two scenarios with Rolston- one is where the Devils move him and take back little to no salary in return. The other is that they have to move a prospect to entice a team to take on his contract. The former scenario seems very unrealistic. Sure, there have been recent trades where teams have received little to nothing for bad contracts, but those have been special cases. Ryan Smyth wanted a trade to Edmonton and the Oilers were willing to take him back with open arms, Rolston doesn't have the same Ryan Smyth-esque relationship with a team to be willing to take him back with open arms. Rolston's underperformed in all three years of his contract. Smyth was highly paid, but he was able to put up points. Rolston was highly paid and it took the Devils a long time before they found a role he excelled with.

The Devils don't need to Clear $5 million of cap space

After the re-signing of Vladimir Zharkov, the Devils have 20 players (ignoring Jay Leach) under contract and $7.295 M of cap space to re-sign Zach Parise. if Bryce Salvador is going to go on LTIR as expected, the Devils have $10.1 M of cap space to re-sign Parise and a replacement defenseman (Taormina, Urbom, Burlon). I have to ask you- what does moving Rolston's $5 million of cap space do anyways? A bit of extra leeway in negotiations, but unnecessary leeway. Most of us have Parise's cap hit pegged around $6.7 M-$7.5 M. Additionally, the team benefits from the offseason cap, which gives them about $6.4 M in extra cap space until the season starts- giving them time to move David Clarkson enough salary (or just demote someone to fit under the cap) to fit Parise under the cap. Of course, moving Rolston seems a bit too unneccessary- what are the Devils going to use the extra $3 or 4 million freed up from moving him for? Signing Alex Kovalev to replace Rolston? Bringing in Adam Larsson to play 12 sheltered minutes a game, when he'd be better off playing with Skelleftea? The Devils don't have a dire need for cap space.

Expiring contract

As an additional point to my previous point, Rolston's contract expires after the 2011-2012 season. What exactly does moving Rolston's contract do right now? Is it really worth moving Eric Gelinas or taking a bad contract to rid the team of a one year problem? I'd be willing to part with Gelinas or move a pick to rid the team of Dainius Zubrus, who's has two years remaining on his contract, as opposed to the 1 year on Rolston's contract. Plus, the contract year might also make Rolston consider improving his performance- considering there has been successful teams who have had a veteran forward contributing to their success (i.e. Guerin, Recchi), Rolston might want to up his performance so he can get a contract from another team and a chance to win the cup elsewhere.

Conclusions

I get that Rolston is overpaid, but really, that's the only argument for trading him. There's really not a lot of demand for Rolston and his age and cap hit make him virtually untradeable. Because of the offseason cap, it's much easier to re-sign Parise, and then work from there and move/demote whoever rather than trying to trade Rolston and either giving up an asset or take on a problem to rid the team of someone who won't be wearing a Devils jersey past July 1st, 2012. Additionally, keeping Rolston would make the team better in the short term, as he could take on tougher competition so Kovalchuk and the other top 6 forwards will have to face weaker competition. He makes a lot of money and has a massive cap hit, but the team doesn't NEED the extra $3 or $4 million they're going to get from moving Rolston at the moment.

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