Left: Gone. Middle: Stayed with a bad contract. Right: Re-signed to a great deal. - Bruce Bennett
While the New Jersey Devils technically haven't left the 2012 offseason, now is a good time as any to look back at who they signed, who left the team, and conclude the real possibility that the Devils didn't come out of it as a better team.
It's been several months since the Free Agency Frenzy of July 2012. The New Jersey Devils didn't do anything big except see one of their biggest names go elsewhere. They haven't done anything so far since there hasn't been anything to do so far. The owners have locked out the players in what should be known as The Incredibly Stupid Lockout of 2012; and there's currently little reason to be hopeful about a season starting anytime soon. Nevertheless, I wanted to revisit what happened with the Devils back in the summer. I wanted to recall what they did and determine whether they made good decisions with the benefit of time. Plus, this would be a good piece to remind everyone what the team has done if, you know, the Incredibly Stupid Lockout of 2012 ends and we actually have a season to watch and discuss.
Provided I didn't make any big mistakes and excluding minor signings (e.g. Harri Pesonen, AHL deals) and personnel signings (Out: Larry Robinson, Adam Oates; In: Scott Stevens, Matt Shaw), here's who came in and who left as per CapGeek:
RFAs RE-SIGNED: Mark Fayne
It wasn't the best of offseason signings for the New Jersey Devils to put it nicely. I felt underwhelmed at best then and I feel that way now. Essentially, the Devils retained as much of the 2011-12 roster as they could. Yes, this was a team that went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. It's also a team that had a lot go right for them last season. Now everyone's a year older and with some particular departures, the team isn't as strong - at least on paper.
Some of the signings were all well and good. The decision to re-sign the fourth line from the playoffs and Peter Harrold. They were cheap signings for depth purposes. Harrold proved he can do that on defense as a capable #6/#7 guy. I think at least two thirds of the playoff-based trio of Carter, Bernier, and Gionta were NHL-capable anyway and I would prefer to see them together than, say, a line with a player and two goons. Acquiring Bobby Butler after he was bought out by Ottawa was a good, low-risk move. Even though he's still trying to find his game again in Albany, he at least provides depth at a thin position for New Jersey. The decision to keep Mark Fayne was a no-brainer. While his contract takes him to UFA at the young age of 27, few can complain about the cost: $1.3 million per year for two years. No Devils fan should be unhappy at retaining a top-four defenseman for such a cheap deal.
However, the other signings really suck the air of the room. First, there are the goalies. I can understand re-signing Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg for two years each for a total cap hit of $5.9 million. The goaltending market was really weak. The Moose possibly have been replaced by someone from that group (whether said backup would be better is unclear), but there definitely wasn't a capable starter out there unless you're Brian Burke and don't know how to evaluate goalies. It remains unknown as to whether Keith Kinkaid is ready for a step up to the next level (he may be soon). Plus, the Devils not being able to keep their legendary goaltender after he tested free agency just would have looked incredibly bad. That all said, the Devils are rolling with two goalies on the wrong side of 39. Historically, goalies that old don't fare so well in the NHL. While the Moose had his moments and Marty had his playoffs, I fear that relatively low save percentages are going to come and hurt the team. Again, I get why they were re-signed and that there weren't really any good options out there. It's still a point of concern.
But at least those two contracts have a defense. I'm still trying to figure one out for Bryce Salvador getting three years and $9.5 million. I know Salvador played the market to get his value. I couldn't tell you what market thinks a 36-going-on-37 year old defensive defenseman who's getting slower, who tends to take dumb penalties out of anger, who has a history of injury, and doesn't even shut down top competition is worth more than, say, Andy Greene. If Lou wanted to keep him, it should have been for a short, relatively cheap deal. He's not going to get better as a player; he's on the tail end of his career, turning 40 in the final year of the contract. His playoff scoring definitely will not carry over as he doesn't have any real offensive skills. It's not that I don't like Salvador or that I think he's useless. But there's no need to lock him up for three years for this much money. I absolutely dislike this contract. I doubt there are many Devils fans who feel otherwise.
I'm also trying to figure out the movements involving goons. Lou correctly identified Eric Boulton as a useless player and bought him out. That's good. Then he decided to hand a two-way deal to Cam Janssen, who wasn't much better than Boulton unless we're counting being terrible via radio interviews. That's not a big deal (well, the interview was - thanks for hurting the business) but it's a bit of a head-scratcher given that a similarly styled Boulton was dumped. Then Krys Barch got signed to a two-year, one-way deal, similar to the contract Boulton originally had. Barch is better than Boulton in the sense that a car with three flat tires is better than a car with four flats. What makes these two moves more baffling is that a trio of Carter, Gionta, and Bernier showed that a fourth line not stacked with "enforcers" can actually be useful in spots. I may be lamenting these two signings for little reason. After all, these are guys who won't see the ice in important games and minimal time in any other games they're dressed in. Though that raises the question: why sign them at all if we all know they won't contribute in important spots? More specifically, why sign Barch after retaining Janssen and getting rid of Boulton? I don't get it.
Lastly, we come to the departing players who weren't bought out. They weren't many, but one was important. I can understand Alexei Ponikarovsky going elsewhere. I would have preferred he stayed; he was a useful third-line winger who could see some time on the second line in spots. He didn't sign with Winnipeg for much, so I don't think it would have been difficult to re-sign him. It's not a huge loss, but it's another spot in the lineup to fill in. Petr Sykora remains on the market. He was a very pleasant surprise last year. He was part of a line with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus that Peter DeBoer used against tough competition and he didn't get totally destroyed. He also contributed 20 goals. However, he faded as the season went on and his play suffered to a point where he was a healthy scratch in the playoffs. That no one has signed him so far is rather telling. Maybe it'll happen later, possibly with the Devils, but would we want that? I have my doubts; I would prefer to let him walk as I doubt he can be as productive going forward.
Of course, those two aren't the big departures from New Jersey back in the summer. It's all about Zach Parise. Arguably the biggest name in free agency in this past summer went to July 1 to test the market and chose Minnesota on July 4. Incidentally, he did so hours after I wrote about how loyalty defined Lou's choices in free agency in this summer, ending with some hope that perhaps Parise would follow suit. Shows you how much I know. It's hard to blame him for taking the deal. He wanted a fat signing bonus on top of a massive deal and he got one from the Wild for 13 years and $98 million (including a $25 million signing bonus). He also gets to play with his apparent best friend, Ryan Suter per Michael Russo's report on the dual-signing. Regardless how you felt (and the feelings here ran the gamut) as the Devils' third best forward from 2011-12 signed elsewhere for a ludicrously lucrative deal, it's a big loss that he will no longer suit up in the red, white, and black. Replacing a 30+ goal-scoring, assist-contributing, hard-working, constantly-moving, two-way winger like Parise with someone else is tough to do, to put it lightly. The loss of his production alone will be a big deal as the Devils aren't exactly loaded with offensive players. Filling in all the roles he took on the roster will also be a challenge, though filling in the minutes may be more easily met. How it will be filled with the current roster and whether it will work, I couldn't tell you. That remains an unanswered question and the answer could possibly make or break the Devils in the short term.
That Parise went up and elsewhere for piles of money is pretty much the story of the Devils' offseason. It makes sense. He was a top player, the deal was massive, and the spot he leaves behind is massive. Here, at least, it was taken fairly well. But he will be missed even if we were/are not happy about it. That Lou went with keeping as much of the 2011-12 roster together as he did may turn out to be a bigger problem. Some moves were fine, but keeping Salvador, throwing that much money at the goalies, and keeping four fourth line forwards while obtaining a fifth just strike me as disappointing.
I fear it'll blow up in the Devils' collective face though as their weaknesses prior to the offseason remain as weaknesses. The blueline remains without an offensive punch. Much of the scoring is going to be reliant on Ilya Kovalchuk, hoping Patrik Elias still has plenty of metaphorical gas in his metaphorical tank, and that the rest of the forwards can chip in enough goals to stay in games. The goaltending is going to have to be strong but there's little statistical evidence from last season and historically to believe that it'll be good. If all of this wasn't enough, the ownership situation remains a gigantic question mark, which will add further difficulty to future moves. One could even argue a lack of available funds is a bigger problem than Parise going elsewhere. The larger point remains that the Devils still have plenty of flaws and the team's actions back in the summer to keep as many guys from the 2012 playoff run around as possible really doesn't address them. It wasn't all bad, but I can't say it was good. I fear it will make the upcoming season - be it a shortened 2012-13 season or (gulp) a full 2013-14 season - more difficult in my eyes. Here's to hoping that the loyal approach proves me wrong when there are actual games.
Now that we're several months removed from the summer's activities, what do you think of the Devils' performance in this past offseason? How do you feel about Parise signing elsewhere now? If the Devils have somehow kept him, would that have made up for plenty of these other signings? What did you think they should have done instead? How do you think the Devils would do given this post-summer roster if we had a season? Can you explain to me why Krys Barch was signed? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about what the Devils did this past summer in the comments. Thank you for reading.