Adam Larsson & Goons Feature in Recent New Jersey Devils Offseason Signings

Today signified two deadlines for the New Jersey Devils.  It was the final day to sign Adam Larsson before needing to pay a $100,000 fee to Skellefteå for any contract this season prior to August 15.  It was also the final day for qualified restricted free agents to accept their qualifying offers. If they don't accept it, they're still restricted free agents but can sign for a different salary.   With the Devils having so many restricted free agents on top of the Larsson question, the recent transactions by New Jersey would complete mostly everything they needed to do this offseason.

Within the last 48 hours, Lou Lamoriello demonstrated why he is one of the best general managers in hockey.  His first praise-worthy move was in finding someone to take enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and get something in return.  Namely, Calgary's fifth-round pick in 2012.  Given that Leblond does little beyond punching people, this was great for NJ.  The second came earlier today in signing Adam Larsson to an entry level contract with no performance bonuses. This keeps Larsson's cap hit at $925,000; which is excellent for both him and the team.  I'll explain further beyond the jump why I love this move.

At the same time, amid qualified RFAs signing their qualifying offers, Lou made two signings that really don't make much sense: Thursday's signing of Cam Janssen and today's signing of Eric Boulton.   As with the Larsson contract, I'll go into more detail at the jump as to why I don't like either signing for New Jersey or in general.   It is impressive that excellent moves were followed up by some minor head-scratchers, all the same.

Let's Love the Larsson Signing (Now Don't Burn His ELC)

As Tom noted in this post, the Devils signed Larsson to the maximum salary allowed for a rookie but with no bonuses, keeping his NHL cap hit below $1 million.  However, the signing was also significant in what was said along with the announcement.  I'm confident that the plan for Larsson to play in North America played a big role in having him agree to a bonus-less ELC.  I don't think he would go along with this if he were to go back to Skellefteå.

Personally, I still think he should get big minutes there and let him develop at his own pace.  While Larsson will have a much smaller cap hit to justify, the long term peril of accelerating his free agency along with his general development remains. Albany is still a very crowded blueline.  That said, I have no problems with him playing no more than 9 games in the NHL and then spending the rest of the 2011-12 in Albany.   I just don't want to see the Devils forced to pay big dollars for Larsson earlier than they have to, especially if he becomes the player we think he might be.

Still, I'm really impressed by this move. The smaller cap hit will make it more feasible to include Larsson in New Jersey, should he prove himself worthy of a roster spot within the next three seasons.  That benefits Larsson, since his stated goal is to play in the NHL.  The lower cap hit is a big benefit for the Devils, which is obvious.   There's also the ancillary benefit of Larsson willing to take a less attractive ELC to play for New Jersey, which certainly endears him to the fans.

I think the only people who may not like this contract are draft picks looking to sign an ELC.  Now every other GM in the league can legitimately say, "I don't see why you need an A-bonus, the #4 pick in 2011 didn't get one and he was fine with it."  I may be reaching though.  I'm sure some general managers will ignore this and just unnecessarily  Of course, that won't be a problem for the Devils since Lou hasn't given them out before and probably won't give them out in the future.

Goons Should Stay on Message Boards

Many Devils fans were very pleased with the trade of Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.  He got unceremoniously dumped into Albany after some Federal League nonsense in the second game of the 2010-11 season. There, he put up 8 goals, 5 assists, and 334 PIM in 68 games.  Not only was he not missed in New Jersey, I'm sure some Albany fans wished he wouldn't be in the box so much through their season.

Per HockeyDB, Leblond has never been a scorer at any level of the game; he's been a penalty machine.  While he wasn't a bad skater, what he gives a team on the ice are hits and fights.  While hitting can be useful, often in Leblond's case, it wasn't.  Even then, he spent most of his time picking up fighting majors.   In short, he was a goon - and they don't help teams win hockey games.

Therefore, I was quite pleased the Devils got a draft pick for him.  Yes, it's a low draft pick. Yes, it's highly likely the fifth rounder doesn't become anyone.  But it's an asset for a guy who doesn't provide much that's positive on the ice.  A guy who was on a one-way deal, so the Devils had to pay him $550,000 regardless of whether he was in the AHL or NHL.  By saving $550,000 in salary, this trade quite literally was addition by subtraction.

Then Lou goes ahead and thwarts this move by signing another goon in Cam Janssen.  You may remember him as the guy St. Louis took for Bryce Salvador, a defenseman who actually is a hockey player.  I understand some fans really like Janssen, but there's not much difference between him and Leblond.   Well, there is the fact that he stayed up with the NHL team all season and played in 54 games for the Blues.   However, per NHL.com Janssen averaged 4:52 of ice time per game in a season where he scored one (1) goal, made 3 assists, and put up 161 penalties.  Per Behind the Net, he took 9 penalties while drawing 2, which doesn't seem so bad until you consider his ice time was so limited by the 17 fighting majors he took.  Anyway, what do you call some one who gets very limited ice time, incredibly protected minutes, and lack of any contribution to anything that actually contributes to winning hockey games?   A goon!  This after trading away Leblond, this makes no sense.

Oh, and to make this even more bewildering, Janssen has played 260 NHL games and 108 AHL games.  While he's on a two-way contract, this makes keeping him down in Albany a bit of a problem. According to the "development player" guidelines Tom referenced in this post about the Albany Devils' depth chart, Janssen would fill that final "veteran" spot., wherein he can dress and do very little but "enforce" on the ice.

Now, what makes this worse is that the Devils went out and signed Eric Boulton, a 34 year old goon!  At least he's not 35 or older.  But Boulton, like Janssen, isn't good at hockey.  Yes, he had a hat trick in a blowout win over the Devils last season - which was 50% of his goal production for the season.  Don't just take my word for it, take Benjamin Wendorf's at Arctic Ice Hockey when he reviewed each player on what was then Winnipeg's roster.  It should be no surprised Ben gave him a big, fat "F."  In addition to highlight Boulton's poor basic and advanced stats, he also sums up why I have such disdain for this type of player.

For one, whether their fights actually pump anybody up is debatable (people tend to focus on the times when something good happens after a fight, rather than all the times nothing or something bad happens afterward).  For two, they take a roster spot and can only be trusted with less than 10 minutes of ice time per game; heaven help you if you need him to take an injured player's place.  For three, they take the roster spot of more talented players or ones with potential that needs developing.  For four, they get matched up against weak competition (usually, an opposing line with a fighter on it), competition that could be exploited had you decided to not take the bait and force them to play hockey.

Lou just got two of these players.  Great.

Here's the sad part.  According to Gulitti, it's a two-year, one-way deal! And he's old enough (34) that he would take up a veteran spot Janssen would, so it's not likely that both can be buried in Albany. Well, there goes whatever small savings came from dealing away Leblond.  Lou basically has repeated what he Andrew Peters just after signing a goon in Janssen!  Why do I feel like I'm going to be writing about buying him out next year?

The only positive you can come away with both signings is that the Devils got "tougher," which is code for "they may fight more."  As if that was an actual problem with the Devils last season or in any other season.  Even if you feel they get pushed around, nothing Janssen or Boulton will do will really stop it and in the cases where they do play in NJ, you're basically telling the wingers ahead of them to get ready to be double-shifted.

Simply, neither signing makes much sense to me and the fact that Lou signed both was dumb.   Incredible given the two brilliant moves he made earlier.

What's Next

There aren't that many more contracts that need to be signed.  Gulitti reported on Thursday that Vladimir Zharkov ($577,500) and Matthew Corrente ($660,000) signed their qualifying offers. On Friday, Gulitti reported that the Devils extended the deadline for Matt Taormina for his qualifying offer, but are in negotiations for a different deal.   For Albany, the Devils re-signed Chad Wiseman and Jeff Frazee.  As of this writing, it's unclear whether Maxim Noreau, Steve Zalewski, and Nathan Perkovich signed their qualifying offers; though Lou indicated on Thursday that he expected that they will.   All of these are/would be on two-way deals, so New Jersey has some flexibility with their roster and their cap to prepare for the players they have left to sign.

Who's left? The Devils essentially have until August 2 to sign Zach Parise (his hearing is on August 3), until  August 3 to sign Mark Fraser (his hearing is on August 4), and at some point this summer, they'll have to hire a head coach.   I suspect that once all of the other RFAs are signed, Lou will know how much space he has to clear and/or what he can offer in attempting to re-sign Parise.   Therefore, if there's going to be a trade, then it's reasonable to think it would happen sometime before then.

There's one significant cap hit elephant in the room: Bryce Salvador.  Should he be unable to return due to medical reasons, then his $2.9 million can go on LTIR and that gives the Devils quite a bit of space to work with.  However, that's a risky thing to count on.  Also, since Salvador wants to make a legit comeback into hockey, I would like to think the Devils would give him every opportunity to do so.  I hope he makes it, regardless of the size of his contract.  Still, that $2.9 million cap hit has to be accounted for rather than assumed to be a non-factor.  Hence, I think some trades should be coming in this offseason unless Parise and Fraser collectively come cheaply (which is highly unlikely at least in Parise's case).

Your Take

What do you make of the recent signings by the New Jersey Devils? Do you love the entry level contract Larsson signed?  Were you glad that Leblond was traded for a fifth round pick? Were you disappointed by the Devils following that move by signing Janssen and then Boulton today?  Who do you think stands to get moved from this roster, should the Devils need to do to make cap space?  Who among the RFAs do you think will be in New Jersey to start 2011-12?  Please leave all of your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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