Looking at the Devils roster today it seems like there are five players for the top six, one third liner, and the fourth line is set and then some. Zajak, Kovalchuk, Elias, Zubrus, Clarkson seem pretty reasonable as a top 5 of 6, with Henrique as the third line center. Clarkson impressed me to no end this last season, and I see no reason why his transition from enforcer to scoring power forward won't continue into next season. With 30 goals and 16 assists I'm fairly confident in his ability to play alongside Kovalchuk and Zajac. Zubrus' 17 goal/27 assists are pretty nice too and he played well on Elias' right side last season.The obvious hole is a second line left winger.
As for the third line Henrique and Josefson could play together, but Ponikarovsky leaving (though I'm not so upset to see him go) leaves a hole in the third line that I would hate to see filled with the likes of Bouton, Janssen or even recently signed Krys Barch (with a thoroughly unimpressive 12 goals and 19 assists in 304 games). Even Tedenby doesn't seem like a good option to me now. He has some speed and flashy moves in front of the net but his 1 goal 5 assists and -15 speak pretty loudly against him playing in the NHL. Barring an outstanding training camp I'd expect Tedy to play in the AHL for a while.
According to the New Jersey Devils Examiner Lamoriello said that Krys Barch could fit in on the fourth line if one of the fourth line players was inserted into the third line. That would seem to imply that someone from the fourth line (read: Stephen Gionta) could move up to play with Henrique and JJ. I like Gionta but mainly as a 4th liner, I'd really like someone better to put next to Henrique so he can avoid a Sophomore slump. I think Sykora is a good fallback option, 21 goals and 33 assists are pretty nice, especially since he would sign for very little, but obviously Deboer didn't trust his play enough to give him much of a playoff opportunity.
So what do the devils need? Two players that can add an offensive threat and some depth. A top six winger and 3rd line winger that can both put the puck in the net.
Fortunately the Devils have two assets. One is 16+ million in cap room, the silver lining on the massive dark Zack Parise storm cloud. This allows the Devils to sign the only free agent who could reasonably play a top six role, Alex Semin.
His career stats are really impressive at 197 goals, 211 assists, and +65 in 469 games. While he only racked up 54 points each of the past two seasons, he had 84 in 09/10 and more than 70 pts in 3 of 7 seasons.
I'm not a fan of Ex Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, and I think much of Semin's decline in scoring can be accounted for by sub par coaching, and being caught in a transition phase from a purely offensive team to a more defense oriented one. Even the mighty Ovechkin (the far superior Russian Alex in the Caps lineup) saw his totals drop significantly in the past seasons, from 109 in 09/10 to 85 and then 65 this past season. I think this shows some dysfunction in the Capitals organization, and its very likely that Semin could flourish in another organization (like one where he could play alongside Zajac, Kovalchuk, or Elias). There are the obvious concerns about his attitude and less than stellar playoff production 34 pts and -1 in 51 games. There are some great things to be said about his defensive ability as well, look to the recent ILWT post for evidence of this, I think that signing Semin, as the only available high scoring FA is imperative for the Devils.
The other asset the Devils have are 7 defense men under contract with and 8th, Fayne an RFA almost certainly going to return. So they could easily trade a defenseman. I like the Salvador signing, despite what anyone says against him, and I think Larsson, Zidlicky, Fayne, and Tallinder are a good base for a defense. I like Greene too, and Harold played well in the end of the season and playoffs. Volchenkov has a 4 million cap hit and I really didn't like his play in the latter part of the season and playoffs. At least he is dispensable and according to NHL's Nicholas Gross, there are at least 10 teams looking for a good defeseman this year (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1190303-nhl-free-agents-each-teams-biggest-need-heading-into-2012-13-season) Volchenkov has been very good in the past, though not so much with the Devils, and I think they could get a substantial return in the way of a good third line wing for him. I would love to see someone like Bobby Ryan fill that role, and I think they could land a player like that for Volchenkov, and a prospect or a fairly high draft pick. This is definitely the way to go.
So the lines I want to see next year are
Kovalchuk Zajac Clarkson (or possibly put Kovy on the right with Semin on left)
Semin Elias Zubrus
Josefson Henrique ???? (Possibly Ryan but definitely get someone from outside the organization)
???? ???? Gionta(I really don't care who is down here, they have plenty of goons and other to fill these spots, maybe even Sykora)
I think this is the best lineup they can possibly get post Parise, they can easily pull it off, and honestly it doesn't look so bad.
What do you think?