Lou (left) thinks: "I will re-sign those who want to stay." Sather (right) thinks: "Maybe I won't spend so much of Mr. Dolan's money this summer." (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
While the biggest free agent from the New Jersey Devils has yet to make his decision on who to sign with, the New Jersey Devils decided that to make some decisions of their own. After a quiet first day of free agency, the Devils re-signed goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg on Monday. On the following day, they re-signed defenseman Bryce Salvador. In combination with their other signings prior to July 1, the Devils have only seen two players go from last season's roster: Alexei Ponikarovsky and Eric Boulton, who was bought out by the team.
You may have noticed by now that the Devils have not gone outside of the organization to sign anyone with the exception of Harri Pesonen from JYP. While that can still change in coming days, the majority of the Devils' actions in free agency was to re-sign players who were Devils last season. I can't say whether this is the right course of action; I'm not certain the team is any better for it.
However, the underlying theme in all of these moves so far is loyalty. That's something Lou Lamoriello clearly values. Just look up at the #3 banner up in the rafters at the Rock for a wonderful example of how loyalty is rewarded in this organization. There's something to be said about an organization that has players and/or coaches stick around or even come back later in their careers. Yet, I fear that some of the signings this season have shown Lou can be loyal to a fault.
The decision to bring all of these players back is curious to say the least. I can understand bringing the entire fourth line from the playoffs back. They showed in the playoffs they can play hockey; and Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier played enough in the NHL in the 2011-12 regular season to show they belong. Plus, they're on relatively cheap contracts. I'm fine with those signings. I'm just as fine as Peter Harrold returning to act as a #6/7 defenseman on a league minimum contract. While I can't say I love their contracts, I even understand bringing both Brodeur and Hedberg back as the goaltending market in free agency was thin. I can't say the Devils have done a terrible job in free agency this year.
I can't say the Devils have done very well or made their team significantly better, either. The three year contract given to Bryce Salvador was shocking. The Devils already had six defensemen signed, they'll have a seventh when the qualified Mark Fayne gets a new deal, and there's even a few prospects in Albany who might make some noise in training camp. The team did not need to sign a defenseman. Somehow, Lou thought it best to give a slow defensive defenseman who's now 36 years old, who was the worst defenseman in possession on the team among regular defensemen last season, who didn't play against tough competition at even strength, and has a temper that leads him into taking bad calls three years and $9.5 million. The blueline is even more crowded, the contract's binding as Salvador's older than 35, and it raises the possibility that a younger, better defenseman will be traded. Yes, he scored a bunch of points in the playoffs. He also got picked on by the opposition in the postseason, especially by the Kings. I have to question whether he'll be worth as much as he got since he's not going to get any younger. I don't think he's garbage, but I have to question why he was re-signed such a significant contract.
Goaltending is locked up with two guys on the wrong side of 38, with each one getting two year deals. Hedberg's $1.4 million/season isn't so bad, but it means Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood, and Maxime Clermont are definitely minor-league bound in the meantime. Anyone who wanted to see a younger goaltender given a shot at the NHL I find it dubious that Brodeur is getting $9 million over two years. Yes, he was great in the postseason and good after the All Star break, but for that much money, I'd like to see a goalie play well over the whole season. Historically, that doesn't happen for most goalies over 39 according to Hockey-Reference. The Devils betting against history with both goalies. That may not bode well for New Jersey. Again, the lack of a viable replacement on the market necessitated these signings to a degree, but it's still an overpay. They'll be on the books until both are past 41 and thy each have no trade clauses, too. I hope you like the Marty & Moose tandem because they're going to be around for a while longer.
I doubt Lou brings these guys and Cam Janssen back if it weren't for the fact they were Devils before and rather well thought of. For example, Bryce Salvador said the Devils were a "my first priority" and let Lou know about what he was offered according to this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. Yet, that can be costly in this salary cap era where every signing is important. A colder analysis could have save the Devils on term and/or salary. It may have even shown the Devils would be just fine if they let Salvador walked or even be a better team without Janssen. I understand it isn't easy, but managing a team requires tough decisions to be made. I don't think re-signing all of these guys makes the team that much worse; I just question whether it was the best possible choice both in the short-term and the long-term.
At the same time, I can't bury loyalty completely. It's a compliment to the organization that Salvador, Hedberg, and Brodeur would consult with Lou before making a decision as opposed to just following their rights to just accept the best offer. As much as I may gripe about the deals, apparently other GMs were making comparable or larger offers. For example, Gulitti did tweet that Hedberg got better monetary offers but took less to stay here. For another example, Brodeur told Gulitti that he was offered two-year deals by everyone who showed interest. So, as strange as it may sound, it could be that the Devils kept these players for less than others would have paid because the player had some desire to stay a Devil. I'm still not a fan of the contracts themselves, but that's a silver lining of sorts.
Of course, loyalty may have one other positive in the Devils' 2012 offseason. As of this writing Zach Parise has yet to make a decision on where to play. While the Devils' financial situation is questionable - again, Salvador just got $9.5 million over 3 years makes me wonder how serious it is - New Jersey hasn't been ruled out of the proceedings despite big offers made by Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and whoever else has been rumored at this point. While it's unclear how much has been offered and how serious each offer is, that loyalty that Lou and the organization espouses has at least some effect on Parise not immediately going for the cash. If you want Parise to stay, then this is wonderful for the time being. If you don't or you're concerned on how "competitive" New Jersey's offer may be, then perhaps it's not so great. I'm just saying it has some effect. It may have dragged out the proceedings too; but a longer wait may be better for New Jersey.
Of course, Parise could still decide (today?) to go elsewhere as it is his right to do so. The point remains, I've seen the concept of loyalty within the organization inherent in the Devils' offseason moves given all of the re-signed players. Some have been good, some haven't, and while they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, it's not clear whether they're actually better or worse. We may see two more depending on Parise and Petr Sykora, and it's not impossible that they may sign for less than they could get on the market to stay in New Jersey. Yeah, Sykora is still a free agent; I've actually forgotten about him. Unsurprisingly, New Jersey is his is priority according to the end of this post by Tom Gulitti. For better or worse, loyalty remains valued in this organization.