ILWT Audition 2012: Plans C, D, & E: Internal options and Analysis of a Couple Free Agents Not Yet Discussed

Earlier this month, I put out the call looking for new writers for In Lou We Trust to write about the New Jersey Devils. I've opened up the audition to the community at large in order to get some new perspectives and additional voices on the front page with regularity. Since then, I've received eleven entries. Regardless of how they're received, I thank the writers of each and every one of them - you know who you are - for stepping up and submitting an entry.

Throughout the next two weeks, I will post each one under an anonymous name so you can discuss and critique the post without regard to who actually wrote it. I can ensure you that I did not change any of the content outside of formatting it in to the SBN platform. To that end, please note that I don't necessarily agree with what the posts actually say. I'm just letting them stand on their own. Please be constructive in any criticism and do offer your thoughts about whether you liked (or disliked) the post in addition to discussing it's content. Don't be mean, but be fair.

This seventh entry comes from Writer G Jerry Tierney, who made their submission on July 18. This submission focuses on other free agents who were then on the market. The larger issue is still valid with Zach Parise and, more recently, Alexander Semin off the market. The New Jersey Devils may need to go beyond Plan B assuming it's no longer an option. Writer G Jerry has suggestions as what those plans could be after the jump. By the way, as you read this, I understand some of these options are no longer valid; but that's not Writer G Jerry's fault - they were valid then when this was submitted.

The Devils have already lost their top line and third line left wings from the 2011-2012 team through free agency, with Alex Ponikarovsky signing in Winnipeg and the departure of he who shall not be named. The other left wing, Petr Sykora, remains unsigned yet available. As of now it is unclear if he will be back. At this moment, the Devils are missing their top 3 left wings from last season's team. While there are still at least 6 weeks until the start of camp, this situation is disconcerting, at the least. I will discuss a few of the options available to potentially address the gaping hole that is the Devils left wing depth for this upcoming season.

First, There could be several internal options to bolster the left wing depth from within the organization.

Mattias Tedenby
Everyone expects Mattias Tedenby to get another shot during camp, and hopefully he rises to the occasion this time around. He was largely disappointing last year after a promising start to the 2010- 2011 season. If he can prove he is an NHL caliber forward, whether it is in a top-6 or top-9 capacity, that would be a huge boost to the Devils. He showed flashes in 2010 during the Devils second half run while paired with David Clarkson and Jacob Josefson. Perhaps this unit can produce once again if given the chance?

Patrik Elias
Elias played virtually his entire career on the left side before switching to center two seasons ago due to a lack of depth down the middle. Now, with the return of a healthy Travis Zajac and the emergence of Adam Henrique, if Jacob Josefson can remain healthy the Devils can consider shifting Elias back to left wing. He could form a pretty formidable top line with Zajac and Kovalchuk.

For arguments sake, lets say both scenarios mentioned above work out well. Tedenby fills one spot and the centers all remain healthy allowing Elias to slide over to the left (two fairly big ifs). Even if both these scenarios are a success, the Devils are still short a left wing.

For this reason, it seems they have to add at least one more person to the top 9. Petr Sykora could easily fill that role once again, as he exceeded expectations this past season. And, as Kevin demonstrated in his post from yesterday, Sykora would probably do just fine even if separated from Patrik Elias. No need to discuss that topic any further, please refer back to Kevin's post for more details on Sykora.

Here I would like to discuss several remaining options out there , as there are not too many.
Andrei Kostitsyn
One name which we have not discussed in any amount of detail is Andrei Kostitsyn. Kostitsyn is a 6'00" 205 lb right shooting left wing. He made headlines during the playoffs for his late night antics, breaking curfew with KHL superstar Alex Radulov while on the road in Phoenix. When he was actually playing hockey, Kostitsyn scored 3 goals in 8 games and assisted on another for a total of 4 points.

During the regular season, Kostitsyn spent 53 games in Montreal and 19 in Nashville. He scored a total of 36 points on the season (12 G, 12 A in Montreal; 4 G, 8 A in Nashville). His advanced numbers, (Corsi ON -3.66, Corsi REL -0.6, Corsi Rel QoC 0.377) are unspectacular. However, while his overall possession numbers for the season are very average, they deserve a little more attention due to his splitting time between two clubs.

While in Montreal , Kostitsyn's most common linemates were Travis Moen and Lars Eller. Moen and Eller are two players who played against reasonably tough competition, as they were 4th and 7th respectively on their team in terms of Corsi Rel QoC. Both players, however, came out behind in their matchups, and didn't fare much better with or without Kostitsyn. In fact, Kostitsyn had less than 50% of Corsi events in his favor with all of his common linemates in Montreal. Montreal was not a very good possession team, with only 27.6 SF / 60 and 29.8 SA /60 at 5v5.

After Andrei was traded to Nashville, his possession numbers improved drastically. Granted he was only there for 19 regular season games, or roughly ¼ of the season, but he seemed to mesh very well with David Legwand and Patrice Hornqvist. While Nashville is a surprisingly (at least to me) poor possession team overall (27.4 SF / 60 and 30.5 SA / 60 ), Legwand and Hornqvist are two of their top possession players. Hornqvist was 1st on the team in both Corsi On and Corsi Rel, and Legwand was 4th in both categories. Not surprisingly, they fared well together. They had roughly a 53% rate of positive corsi events overall while paired together. When Legwand and Hornqvist were with Kostitsyn, these number rise even more dramatically - to 56.2 % and 56.3 % respectively. Both Legwand and Hornqvist fared worse without Kostitsyn, Legwand more significantly so. Certainly Andrei reaped the benefits of playing with strong possession players, but it doesn't seem like his linemates carried him, or that he held them back in any way. If anything, he made them better. Although its a small sample size, Kostitsyn seemed to add to his line's success

With a salary of 3.25 million dollars last season, it is a little unclear what sort of salary Kostitsyn will command for his next contract. He had a pretty disappointing time leading up to his departure from Montreal. Then, he seemed to find his game in Nashville. Any benefit to his value was probably mitigated to some extent by his off the ice issues, since they came up at the tail end of the season.

If he does sign for less, it probably wouldn't be much less than 2.5m - 3m per season. This would make him roughly Alex Ponikarovsky for twice the price. Not quite as strong in possession, possibly more offensive upside, but maybe not. This makes the decision to not re-sign Ponikarovsky all the more puzzling in my mind.

Would you want Kostitsyn on the Devils next year? Potential off ice issues aside, (if you feel the incident with Radulov even is an issue), what if Kostitsyn could be signed for, say, around 2.5 million per year? I wouldn't be running through the streets overjoyed, but I also wouldn't think it a terrible move. Kostitsyn fared well in possession when paired with good possession players in Nashville. I would expect he could probably help drive play forward in Peter DeBoer's puck possession system if paired with the correct linemates. He also could probably chip in about 20 goals. That being said, I don't think spending close to 3mil per year on a left wing for the third, or at best second line is in the Devils plans. Kostitsyn does, however, seem like a reasonable but slightly overpriced option on paper and a potential fit in the system.

Andrew Brunette
Brunette is a 6'1" 215 lb left shooting left wing who played the 2011- 2012 season in Chicago. It turned out to be a disappointing one for Brunette, and he will not be returning to the Blackhawks. Apparently he battled through a foot injury for a part of the season, which certainly could have lead to some of his struggles. Brunette will also turn 39 in August, and he is still undecided if he wants to play again this upcoming season.

Although he is at the tail end of his career, Brunette remains a highly durable player. He has missed no more than 5 games in any of the past 13 seasons. Brunette put up only 12 goals and 15 assists in the 2011-2012 season, by far his worst offensive output of recent memory. He scored 25 goals as recently as 2 seasons ago in Minnesota, putting up a total of 61 points that season. Can he return to that form, given that he will be 39 years old before this season begins? It is certainly a reasonable question.

Chicago was a strong possession team overall (31.2 SF/60 vs 27.8 SA / 60) but Brunette did not come out ahead in his matchups. In fact, he was near the bottom of players who played at least 30 games, finishing 16th out of 21 in Corsi ON (-0.75) and 17 / 21 in Corsi Rel (-8.6). This was while facing slightly above average competition overall (Corsi Rel Qoc 0.191).

The WOWY numbers seem to indicate that Brunette got plenty of time with quality linemates who dominated possession. Yet Brunette still came out slightly behind. His most common linemates were Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews. All three of these players fared somewhat better to varying degrees without Brunette than with (Hossa 52.2 % with vs 53.8 % without; Kane 48.5% with, 56.6% without, and Toews 55.6% with, 58.2 % without). These numbers seem to show Brunette struggled with top linemates this past season. In fact, he struggled with all linemates, as just about everyone Brunette played alongside was better off without him that with.

Lets look at Brunette's previous season in Minnesota to see if he fared any better. Minnesota was a very weak possession team in 2010 - 2011 and also in 2009 - 2010. For 2010 - 2011, Brunette was 8th / 20 players who played at least 30 games in Corsi On at -6.92 (all players on the Wild finished negative in Corsi On that season), 9th/ 20 in Corsi Rel at 4.5, and 10th / 20 in Corsi Rel Qoc at .323. Pretty much exactly middle of the pack on a terrible possession team. 2009 - 2010 was a very different story for Brunette. The Wild were still a terrible possession team, but Brunette was near the top. He finished 2nd / 20 in Corsi On at 4.67, 2 / 20 in Corsi Rel at 12.8, and 6/20 in Corsi Rel Qoc at 0.367. So these numbers were achieved against good competition. Without going into details, his possession numbers were reasonably good for 2008 - 2009 as well.

So , what do we have with Brunette? He has been a consistent scorer throughout his career , usually coming through with around 20 - 25 goals and 50 - 65 points. As recently as 2 years ago, he was a decent to strong possession player. His numbers in both possession and point totals have declined each year since, which is not totally surprising, given his age.

If Brunette decides to play this upcoming season, I would imagine it would be on a 1 year contract. He probably could be signed for less than the 2 million tag of his previous contract.. If I had to guess, probably more in the range of 1.25 million / per year. If these were the terms, how would you feel about a 39 year old Andrew Brunette on the Devils for 1 season as a 3rd line left winger? He is a physical player who can bring moderate offensive production, certainly adequate for a third line, provided he is in form. The question is, can he return to form? It is possible his injury added to his struggles last year and now he is past that. If so, maybe he can put up a 50 point season again. It's not an unreasonable thought. It's also possible he has lost a step and at 39 is no longer capable of producing at that level.

In my mind, it would make much more sense to bring Sykora back, and I wouldn't want both Sykora and Brunette on the team this year, even though they bring slightly different skill sets to the table. Brunette's physical game could fill more of a 3rd line grinder type role than Sykora. Regardless, if the Devils choose to re-sign Sykora, I would say I would say definitely pass on Brunette. If the Devils decide not to re-sign Sykora, Brunette could be a decent fall-back option for left wing depth if he decides to play one more year.

I want to mention one more name in passing which has come up before - Daniel Winnik. A steady but unspectacular option, John discussed the pros and cons of signing Winnik in this post before free agency started. You can refer back to that post for the details on Winnik. The reason I bring him up now is the Devils just announced the signing of Matt Shaw as an assistant coach for this upcoming season. Matt Shaw was an assistant in San Jose the last several years and would have a relationship with Winnik from their time there. If Shaw feels that Winnik would be an asset, perhaps the Devils become more likely to acquire him now.

Now I'm interested to hear what everyone else thinks on these different discussion points. Would you be in favor of Patrik Elias shifting back to left wing? Do you think Mattias Tedenby will break out this season? Regarding the free agents, would you enjoy seeing Kostitsyn or Brunette in the Red and Black this season? And, will the signing of Shaw as an assistant coach have any impact on bringing Winnik to New Jersey? Thanks for reading and please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Now that you read Writer G Jerry's post discussing the other free agents that are/were available, I want to know what you think. What do you think of the options Writer G Jerry has presented? What plan would you recommend for the Devils right now? Should they go after these players, other players, or none at all? What did you think of how Writer G Jerry wrote this post? Based on how it was written and what was it about, is this the kind of post you would want to see regularly at In Lou We Trust? Please leave your answers and other comments about this post in the comments. Thanks go to Writer G Jerry for the submission and thank you for reading.

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