On Friday our esteemed editor wrote a compelling post on why Alexander Semin could be a good addition to the New Jersey Devils. I fully agree with the arguments John made and while I would love to see Semin on Patrik Elias' wing next year, I think that the term and dollars of the contract Semin is looking for doesn't fit what the Devils want to invest in a forward at the moment.
With that in mind I believe that the Devils will look for a short-term fix and concentrate their finances on keeping their own talent, namely Travis Zajac, David Clarkson, Elias and Dainius Zubrus who are all unrestricted free agents next year.
But focusing your finances on players who are up for a new contract next year doesn't deal with the problem at hand. The Devils need to add forwards who can score goals.
The current list of available free agents are thin with proven goal scorers, and players like Jiri Hudler and PA Parenteau who might have been backup plans for the Devils are now long off the market. Besides Semin, you have an aging Shane Doan or a high risk/high reward player like Peter Mueller and not a whole lot of other names that ‘wow' you. That said, I think there might be a guy out there who can insert himself onto the Devils third line, have a positive impact moving the puck forward, contribute on the power play and even win some face-off's if necessary.
That player is Kyle Wellwood.
After the jump, we will look at how Wellwood performed last year, what Arctic Ice Hockey (the Winnipeg Jets SBN site) and others thought of his play, where he might fit on New Jersey and speculate on the potential salary he might command.
Kyle Wellwood Statistics:
After a few seasons of mixed results with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wellwood has bounced around the NHL from Vancouver to San Jose and finally last year to Winnipeg. In between Vancouver and San Jose also included a brief KHL appearance and a re-entry waiver claim that took him from signing in St. Louis to ending up on the Sharks.
During his career Wellwood is a .49 point per game player, has averaged 1.35 shots per game, with a high of 2.06 shots per game in 06-07. Wellwood getting shots on net is important, as he has a career shooting percentage of 14.4%. You want Wellwood shooting. Besides some interesting utilization in Vancouver during the 2009-10 season, most of his coaches have deployed Wellwood in the offensive zone in order to help him get shots on net and generate scoring opportunities. Since his return to the NHL in late 2011 he has capitalized on his offensive zone starts and has helped keep the puck in the opposition's end of the ice.
After struggles in Vancouver and the KHL, Wellwood played well enough during the Sharks second half/playoff run in 2010-11 that Fear The Fin thought he should be brought back.
Consider this-- amongst Sharks forwards who played at least 30 NHL games, Wellwood was sixth on the team in goals per 60 minutes of ice time (0.65), eighth on the team in points per 60 minutes of ice time (1.55), had the best relative CORSI on the team (18.5), was tied for first in shots for on ice per 60 minutes (33.6), first on the team in penalties taken (0.0), fourth on the team in penalties drawn (1.2), and first in +/- per 60 minutes of ice time (an astounding 1.42). In other words, Wellwood absolutely destroyed his weak competition while he was on the ice. Wellwood posted some of the best numbers on the
Consider this-- amongst Sharks forwards who played at least 30 NHL games, Wellwood was sixth on the team in goals per 60 minutes of ice time (0.65), eighth on the team in points per 60 minutes of ice time (1.55), had the best relative CORSI on the team (18.5), was tied for first in shots for on ice per 60 minutes (33.6), first on the team in penalties taken (0.0), fourth on the team in penalties drawn (1.2), and first in +/- per 60 minutes of ice time (an astounding 1.42).
In other words, Wellwood absolutely destroyed his weak competition while he was on the ice. Wellwood posted some of the best numbers on theafter you account for his ice time, and there's a very easy case to be made that he is a player more than worthy of a contract proposal this offseason. Although I stated above that he is a non-essential player on the Sharks roster, there is no doubt that he is an extremely important tool for the third line to utilize.
Heading into free agency again, Wellwood didn't see many multi-year offers and eventually ended up with the Jets on a one year 700K contract.
In Winnipeg he finally started to get some consistent playing time and people started noticing he was a pretty useful player. In December, Daniel Wagner from Backhand Shelf wrote this about Wellwood.
Wellwood is leading all Jets forwards in Corsi and is second on the team behind the injured Tobias Enstrom, indicating that he consistently drives puck possession into the offensive end. He’s doing this while facing the fourth toughest quality of competition and averaging the seventh most minutes per game among Jets forwards.
Many expected his numbers to drop off, that he was lucky but Wellwood was consistent through the rest of the year and Jet fans were impressed by his performance. In summing up his season, Arctic Ice Hockey had the following commentary on Wellwood:
Performance/Usage Grade: A-
He's not Steven Stamkos, but Wellwood took his favorable offensive minutes and did great things with them. One of the things not measured here is his determination to avoid minor penalties, which doesn't appear to affect his productivity on the ice and, conversely, reduces the penalty kill time of his team. I personally believe a bit more faith in the guy would have netted him even more than his 18 goals and 47 points. Played great at evens, by the way, and he was a bit unlucky PDO-wise to boot.
If you believe in the statistical player evaluation of GVT (Goals Versus Threshold, developed by Tom Awad and available at Hockey Prospectus here) Wellwood was the 139th most valuable player last year. That put him ahead of many notable players including Brad Richards and Dustin Brown.
Where Does He Fit?
I think you can slot Wellwood on the third line with Jacob Josefson and David Clarkson and create the same type of offensive production that the line did when Alexei Ponikarovsky was with the Devils last season. He can also jump up to play with the second line if needed, but obviously he would be better suited to play on the third line.
He can also be a presence on the second power play unit (as noted above he averaged 1:59 of power play ice-time per game last season) picking up some power play time from Henrique (likely pushed up to PP unit 1) and Petr Sykora. Wellwood was also pretty good at faceoff's last year, winning 54% of the 250 that he took for the Jet.
Does this however, fit Lou Lamoriello's Plan B? In the Fire and Ice Blog post that discussed the Devils signing Krys Barch, it was alluded to by Barch's agent that Barch could push a current fourth liner up to the third line if necessary. If Lamoriello is hoping that one of Bernier/Carter/Gionta will see third line time with Josefson and Clarkson I hope he reconsiders. While the play of the CBGB line was great in the recent playoff run, I'm a bit reluctant to rely on that output in October when the season starts.
Other Roster Considerations:
With the Devils shallow pool of forward prospects, a signing of Wellwood (or any third line player) doesn't really block any player. You can argue that perhaps Mattias Tedenby should be given the chance to win a job on the third line. Personally, I'd rather see Tedenby play in more of a top six forward role than on the third line. Further, Tedenby didn't exactly wow anyone with his play in the AHL last year once he was demoted, so I would rather play it safe and sign a player who can put up 10-20 goals than rely on Tedenby at this point.
With a seller's market Wellwood is in a more favorable position than he was at this point last year. Arctic Ice Hockey speculated he could command $3MM a year offers at a term of three years. That seemed a bit on the high side. As free agency progresses and you see top 6 forwards Hudler/Parenteau sign contracts for $4MM a year for 4 years, I actually think Wellwood could end up with slightly less than $3MM per year as he seems to be better suited for a top 9 forward role as opposed to a top 6 role. So perhaps a $2.25MM-$2.5MM yearly average would be fair for him. Considering that he played well for San Jose down the stretch/playoffs of 2010-11 and only received a $700K/1 year deal, it's possible he could be had for less.
Based on his recent travels from team-to-team and league-to-league I think term might be the most important selling point to Wellwood. A two to three year commitment could be a good carrot to get Wellwood to take less money per year.
Kyle Wellwood, Alexander Semin or any free agent acquisition won't replace everything Ryan Suter's best friend brought to the ice. But they can help replace his goal output. Suter's best friend, combined with Sykora and Ponikarovsky scored roughly 60 goals last year in the regular season. With healthy seasons from Travis Zajac, Jacob Josefson, utilizing a competent fourth line and the emergence of Adam Henrique those missing goals can be replaced, but it won't be easy, and a little help couldn't hurt.
A low-risk signing like Kyle Wellwood who can score anywhere from 10-20 goals, play solid defense and drive the puck forward could be both a frugal and tactically sound decision for an organization like the Devils. It's not as sexy as a Semin or Doan signing or a big trade, but it's much more likely that the Devils go the route of a solid third line addition as opposed to signing a forward to a big contract. If they do, they could do a lot worse than Kyle Wellwood.
Now it's your turn...Do you think the Devils are likely to pursue a player like Wellwood? Do you think the Devils should look to acquire any third line player or simply go 'status quo' with what they have? Thanks for reading and sound off below.