The New Jersey Devils signed Mark Fraser to a one-way, one-year contract valued at $550,000 for the season, as reported by Tom Gulitti yesterday evening. The only remaining restricted free agents that need to be signed are Zach Parise and defenseman Maxim Noreau. With the relatively recent signing of Matt Taormina (he signed his qualifying offer after all per Gulitti) as well as Fraser, the Devils specifically have 17 defensemen under contract. Should Noreau sign a contract with the Devils, then the team will have 18 defenders on their reserve list.
Talent aside, this means the Devils have 17 to 18 defensemen who could all play in the NHL by way of contract in 2011-12. That's a lot, to put it mildly. In order to put the quantity of defenders in the system perspective, 13 different defensemen played at least one game in New Jersey last season - and that was largely because of several injuries and replacement defensemen not playing well enough so others were called up to play. I highly doubt the Devils will get to a point where they have to play that many defensemen across another season.
Since I've opened up the idea of speculating the forward lines for the upcoming season, let's look at the defense as well. Most teams use 6 defensemen in a game, and could carry a spare defender or two on their active roster during the season. Given that 12 forwards are used, 3 defensemen would be the limit in terms of extra players. Therefore, most of these defensemen will remain in Albany. What is up for debate are the fates of those who could handle a depth defenseman role, as the Devils have multiple players who could make credible cases for that spot.
So, for today's excerise, I want to know who from the current system do you want on the Devils' blueline: your top 6 and any extra defensemen (scratches) knowing what you know now. You don't need to go into their pairings or spell out who should get the most minutes if you don't want to. You can just provide a simple list of 6 to 9 defensemen. Please list them in the comments and feel free to explain your choices if you'd like to do so. I'll offer mine after the jump.
The Easy Part of the List
The figures in parentheses are the players' respective cap hits per CapGeek. I think all four are no-brainers for whether they are on New Jersey's blueline in 2011-12. All four are being paid significant amounts of money, all four are on one-way deals, all four are experienced, and all four have played significant defensive roles in their past and last season. I don't think there's any argument that these four should and will take the majority of minutes in New Jersey next season.
The Hard Part
In The Lineup: Mark Fayne ($542,500, two-way); Matt Taormina ($550,000, two-way)
Extras (On Roster, but Not Regular): Mark Fraser ($550,000)
I chose Mark Fayne to be on the lineup since he played so well alongside Henrik Tallinder in the second half of last season. He was a pleasant surprise to stick on the New Jersey roster and held his own in the NHL in his first professional season of hockey. While I can't guarantee he'll be with Tallinder for 11-12, I would think his spot on the roster is his to lose. Especially since he has such a relatively cheap contract.
Given that this blueline has been devoid of offense, I would like to think that should give Matt Taormina an edge going into training camp. While he only played 17 games and during the John MacLean part of 2010-11, he still managed to average more shots per game than the rest of the team and averaged 3:03 of power play time per game prior to his injury. I'm not saying Taormina will be fantastic from the #6 spot or fill the need for more offense from the blueline, but he can help in both regards.
I decided to only take one extra defenseman in Mark Fraser. He's a physical player and he can rotate into the lineup for spot duty or when an upcoming game may require his services. Matthew Corrente could serve in this role, but Fraser carries the lower cap hit on a one-way deal. Since he'll be getting paid and at a lower hit than Corrente, it makes more sense to me to keep Fraser up in the NHL. Saving $110,000 may not seem like much, but given that the team could be right up against the salary cap for another season, every little bit helps.
LTIR/Albany Bound Defensemen
LTIR: Bryce Salvador ($2,900,000)
Albany Bound: Adam Larsson ($925,000), Alexander Urbom ($856,667), Eric Gelinas ($870,000), Brandon Burlon ($875,000), Matthew Corrente ($660,000), Joe Sova ($565,000), Jay Leach ($525,000), Dan Kelly ($666,666), Harry Young ($536,667)
I feel bad for thinking Bryce Salvador will be on LTIR. I truly want to see him make a reasonable comeback into hockey and succeed. However, based on what is known, he's still far away from doing so. If he is unable to play hockey by the time the season starts, then there's no other choice than to put him on long term injured reserve.
Most of the players on the Albany Bound list should be bound for Albany. Eric Gelinas, Brandon Burlon, and Joe Sova will be playing in their first season of professional hockey in 2011-12, and so they should at least start in the AHL. As far as I know, Dan Kelly and Harry Young haven't been exactly priming for a NHL spot yet so they should remain in Albany. Jay Leach needs to be in Albany if only for the blueline to have some veteran presence because it's going to be very, very young and inexperienced as-is.
There are only three players that should raise an eyebrow or two. The first is Corrente, who've I already covered. I would consider him to be the "first choice" should the Devils need to call up a defender, given his past experience. Though, the Devils could easily do so with Alexander Urbom. His entry level contract slid for two seasons so the contract begins in 2011-12 regardless of where he plays. The Devils can play him as much as they want. I think he'll benefit more being the top guy in Albany than being on the third pairing or seventh defenseman in New Jersey. But if the team needs another defender and they like what Urbom has done, then I could see Urbom leapfrog Corrente to be called up.
Then there's the 2011 first round pick Adam Larsson. Yes, he signed an entry level contract with the Devils; but I still think Skellefteå AIK is the best place for him for 2011-12. As far as I know, he could still do so with an ELC with the Devils - David Rundblad had one with Ottawa and still played for Skellefteå last season. However, I doubt Larsson signed his ELC without any performance bonuses to just go back to the SEL. He's probably expecting to play in North America in 2011-12. With a lower cap hit, the bonus-less ELC makes it (more) possible for the Devils to include Larsson in the lineup if they so choose. However, I really, really, really, really don't want the Devils to burn his entry level contract years. I would be fine with the Devils giving him no more than 9 NHL games and having play the rest of the season in Albany, which he can do even at age 18.
I do realize that I'm tabbing Albany for 9 defensemen, which would be 10 if Maxim Noreau signs with New Jersey. I'm not certain, but perhaps a few of these could be loaned out to an ECHL team? That wouldn't surprise me, and it would still have the player in New Jersey's system. I wouldn't be surprised if there was just a minor-league deal could be made to ship a defender or two to address other needs on Albany's roster, too.
But again, please notice that most of the 17 signed in the system will likely be away from the NHL roster for this coming season, short of someone breaking through or a load of injuries occurring in a relatively short time.
My list for the New Jersey Devils is Greene, Tallinder, Volchenkov, White, Fayne, and Taormina with Fraser as an extra defenseman. Now you know that, I want to know who do you want to the New Jersey Devils blueline for 2011-12? Again, please leave your lists and other comments about the Devils' defensemen in the comments. Thanks for reading.