The New Jersey Devils now have a head coach, they have re-signed Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg on July 1, they signed Adam Larsson to an ELC with no bonuses in it, they have re-signed most of their restricted free agents (Matt Taormina and Maxim Noreau are still pending, according to Lou via Tom Gulitti; Steven Zalewski and Nathan Perkovich have apparently re-signed), they added Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen, and now their offseason to-do list just has two major items remaining. The first is the one Devils fans are incredibly interested in: Zach Parise. The Devils have elected to take him to arbitration, which will take place on August 3 unless there is a new contract signed before then. Devils fans understandably want him re-signed before then, and I hope Tom's right in that it won't happen. The second is Mark Fraser, who has filed for arbitration and will have his hearing on August 4 - unless he and Devils agree to a contract before then. So it seems pretty simple: decide what to do for each player, negotiate a deal, and get it signed before the hearings.
As usual, it's never that simple. With the recent signings of Janssen and Boulton, along with their other RFAs re-signing, the Devils will be forced to consider some difficult decisions due to congestion on their roster and their salary cap. CapGeek has updated their roster for the Devils recently. With Taormina, Fraser, and Parise still unsigned, the Devils have 22 players on their NHL roster (Janssen is in Albany for some reason), 49 on their reserve list, and $58,327,500 committed to their cap. This currently leaves the Devils with $5,972,500 in cap space and room to add one new player to their reserve list.
I want to repeat that. As of right now, Taormina, Fraser, and Parise are unsigned and the Devils have $5,972,500 in cap space. This situation is worth discussing a little further after the jump.
If it was just Taormina and Fraser, there would be no problem. That's loads of space for guys who will be getting six-figure deals anyway. But if you believe Zach Parise's contract - negotiated or awarded by an arbitrator - is going to somehow fit under $6 million, then you either think it's going to be a big and creatively structured deal or you're undervaluing what Parise can get. Sure, the Devils can go over the salary cap by 10% in the offseason, but they have to be under the ceiling by mid-September or so. It is not a
Now, CapGeek's numbers do include Bryce Salvador, who counts as $2.9 million. Take him out of the picture through LTIR, and the Devils could feasibly re-sign Taormina and Fraser and still have some amount over $7 million in cap space to fit in a contract Parise may actually sign. That's a big risk in that it assumes Salvador cannot possibly play in 2011-12 and is eligible for LTIR once again. Even with him on the proverbial shelf, it'll still be incredibly difficult to add someone with a relatively high cap hit during the season for injury or performance purposes. Adam Larsson signing a bonus-less ELC was big for NJ, but $950,000 won't easy to fit under the cap after these three re-signing even with Salvador on LTIR. Nor are the several players in Albany on two-way deals where their NHL contract is above $800,000 (e.g. Alexander Urbom, Adam Henrique). Depending on how cut close the Devils get, even calling up Cam Janssen and his $525,000 cap hit could be problematic aside from his lack of actual hockey skill at the NHL level.
I should also point out that CapGeek's current cap number for the Devils is based on a few other assumptions. They assume Matthew Corrente ($660,000 cap hit), Vladimir Zharkov ($577,500), and Boulton ($662,500) are on New Jersey's roster. As noted, they have 22 players up with New Jersey. NHL teams can't have more than 23 players on an active roster during the season. With 3 more players left to sign contracts, some players will have to be placed elsewhere. Whether they go down to Albany or to another team, the Devils will have to make some space just for their roster - and that can provide some cap relief. This will be a subplot of sorts during training camp for the younger, cheaper players to fight for depth spots. It may not be enough just to impress Peter DeBoer, but having a more favorable cap hit would make it easier for Lou to keep him on the active roster.
Still, Parise's impending contract situation is the biggest factor in driving what the Devils do next. I believe a trade may be necessary to clear some space - both off the cap and the roster. The Devils really can't afford take too much back even in a salary dump, however. I'm being literal, they really can't because of their reserve list.
Every NHL team has contract reserve list that mandates how many contracts a team can have at one time. The limit is 50. According to CapGeek, the Devils are at 49. This list includes Fraser, Taormina, and Parise. While Alexander Vasyunov will be in the KHL, he's on the list because the Devils kept his rights by tendering him a qualifying offer. The same will be the case for Maxim Noreau if he goes to Europe for 2011-12. Adam Larsson is here too, though he won't count if his contract slides (plays less than 10 NHL games). The point is that the Devils can only add one more NHL contract right now. If Lou wants to trade a player away, he cannot get more than two NHL contracts in return - be it a prospect or a minor league player or a NHL player. This can be a problem should the Devils want to make some trade deadline deals or sign a player during the season or want to sign a player from a tryout in training camp or another player right now.
With little cap space, a congested roster, and nearly a filled 50-man contract list; the Devils really do have to make some tough decisions regarding trading or dumping players in this offseason. Essentially, it's not at all simple as signing three guys and calling it a summer. Incidentally, the Devils aren't the only team with this sort of problem. Check out this post by Eric T at Broad Street Hockey. Despite moving two substantial deals from last season's roster, the Flyers managed to put themselves back in the same difficult up-against-the-cap-ceiling situation that allows for little flexibility and a lot of prayer that there won't be too many minor injuries throughout the season. It wasn't even from offering too many big contracts, just offering too many contracts.
The Devils are in a similar spot, with the severity driven by how much those three remaining players - namely Parise - will get in 2011-12. While the Devils didn't have much space to begin with, the Boulton signing (adding Janssen to the NHL roster makes this worse), the re-signing of other RFAs, and other moves have put them into this spot. Now, they'll have to try and get out of it or somehow try to manage it as-is, which I think is incredibly unlikely. I said in this post about stats and narratives, it all matters - even the "minor" stuff. (Aside: And I really don't like the Boulton and Janssen signings even more because it helped create this mess.)
What do you think the Devils will do to get out of their current situation? Please leave your answer and other relevant thoughts about the current roster and salary cap in the comments. Thanks for reading.
MAYBE THEY'LL MAKE IT AFTER ALL UPDATE. Triumph44 in the comments actually devised a way to make this all work with a 22 man roster - provided Bryce Salvador and Matt Corrente get off the books by some way, and Parise re-signs at a cap hit of $7.25 million.