Sunday was not a fun day for the New Jersey Devils or their fan base. They got run out of Madison Square Garden by the New York Rangers, eliminating them from playoff contention. The game was so awful, in fact, that the comments on John's recap scarcely even mention the contest. Instead, everyone's focus shifted towards the team's future. They have three more games to play, but they won't have any implications for the Devils outside of draft position any more. With this in mind, I decided to just put together a little primer so people have a proper place to discuss all of the things the Devils have to consider this off-season.
Pending Free Agents
The Devils will have a lot of contract talks to get through this off-season. Only six of the current forwards on the roster are signed through next year. Four of those are the CBGB line and Krys Barch. That means there is a whole lot of uncertainty at forward for this roster heading into next season. Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac are the lone forwards signed on for extended terms, so Lou will have some work to do to fill out competent set of scorers.
As far as the defense, the Devils actually already have six defenders at the NHL level signed through next season. Only two players from this years 8-defenseman logjam will be free agents this summer. Only Harrold and Zidlicky are scheduled to hit the market in the summer. This could be a bit of a concern as Zidlcky (and to a lesser extent, Harrold) bring at least some sort of scoring prowess to a mostly offensively illiterate bunch. On the other hand, I don't think anyone would sorely miss their defensive abilities. The glut of young defenders accumulating in the system could also be considered motivation to let the two FA defenders walk as well.
Unrestricted Free Agents (Current cap hit):
- Patrik Elias ($6M)
- Dainius Zubrus ($3.4M)
- David Clarkson ($2.67M)
- Steve Sullivan ($2.6M)
- Alexei Ponikarovsky ($1.8M)
- Tom Kostopoulos ($600K)
- Marek Zidlicky ($4M)
- Peter Harrold ($525K)
- Cam Janssen ($575K)
- Tim Sestito ($525K)
- Other assorted AHLers
Restricted Free Agents (Current NHL cap hit):
- Matt D'Agostini ($1.65M)
- Jacob Josefson ($900K)
- Adam Henrique ($854K)
- Andrei Loktionov ($817K)
- Keith Kinkiad ($900K)
- Mattias Tedenby ($875K)
- Other assorted AHLers
The Devils Cap Situation
As many of you likely know (unless you have erased this year's mind-numbing lockout from your memory), the salary cap ceiling in the NHL will be falling from this year's level of $70.2 million. Next season will feature a new cap value of $64.3 million, meaning there will have to be belt-tightening all around the league. In order to deal with the falling cap, each team has been given two amnesty (or compliance) buyouts to cut payroll without dealing with a buyout cap hit. It is debatable whether the Devils will have a want or need to use it, but it is there. The Devils do seem to have plenty of cap space in the meantime, with 15 players signed for about $39 million. That leaves around $26.3 million to fill out the last 8 roster spots (somewhere in the range of $3.25 million a player).
If the Devils do get in a pinch cap-wise, or just want to clean out a bad contract for some other reason, they do always have the option to use their amnesty buyouts. Amnesty buyouts have the same rules as normal buyouts (2/3 of the total salary over twice the remaining term) sans the cap hit. Candidates have been thrown around by fans at length and there are definitely a few who have seen the most requests for a merciful end to their contracts. Noted traffic cones/fan base punching bags Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov have seen their names mentioned at length by fans regarding buyouts this off-season. A couple other players have been brought up as well, and while the Devils using a buyout on anyone seems unlikely, you do never really know with Lou Lamoriello.
Plausible Buyout Candidates (years remaining; average annual value):
- Anton Volchenkov (3 years; $4.25M AAV)
- Bryce Salvador (2 years; $3.17M AAV)
- Henrik Tallinder (1 year; $3.38M AAV)
- Johan Hedberg (1 year; $1.4M AAV)
Edit: As pointed out by user elesias, if the Devils want another way to shed a player with a bloated contract, the new CBA between the NHL and NHLPA now allows for a team to retain up to 50% of the salary/cap hit of a player they are moving. So theoretically the Devils could save money versus a buyout by just taking a chunk of someones contract on and moving them to another team. Teams can retain salary from traded players up to a limit of 15% of the salary cap ceiling, though it's hard to imagine the Devils ever even approaching that number.
The Devils are hosting the NHL Entry Draft in Newark this year. At this point, they are likely to land somewhere in the 8-12 range for their pick. The NHL's new draft lottery system allows any team that doesn't make the playoffs to have a shot at winning the first overall pick, though the Devils odds to do so will be rather slim wherever they end up (hey they won it last time, so you never know).
Chances are that most people, myself included, would prefer the Devils focus on rebuilding a woefully thin pool of forwards prospects. Beyond Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau, each far from sure things, there's not much at forward in the system. We'll delve further into the pool of prospects here at ILWT in the coming months, but this draft is supposed to be pretty deep.
The Devils currently have picks in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 6th rounds of the draft. The 3rd, 5th, and 7th rounders were traded away in deals for Zidlicky, Loktionov, and Ponikarovsky, respectively. Keep in mind the the Devils still have to forfeit their 1st either this year or next to close out the Kovalchuk cap-circumvention penalty. If I had to guess, I'd say Lou will continue to kick that can down the road, so expect the Devils to hang on to that pick this year, especially since it may be top 10.
The coaching staff, from Pete DeBoer on down, will likely undergo a bit of scrutiny coming off this season. The coaching staff as a whole has caught some heat from fans at times, but the seems to be somewhat of a general consensus that it would be best to keep PDB at the helm, if not all of the assistants. Matt Shaw and Dave Barr will be looked at, given the special teams woes, and some may question whether Stevens is the right fit for the defense. I think it is likely that most of the staff stays in place, though Lou has always had an itchy trigger finger when it comes to firing coaches, so you never know.
As fans, we all can't get enough speculating on what moves our favorite teams need to make in an off-season to get better. Saying you want a coach/player fired, traded, or thrown into a volcano is about as American as apple pie or diabetes. So have at it. What do you think needs to be done this off-season? Who should go and who should stay? Unleash all of your hot sports takes below in the comments (and try to be civil with one another while you're at it). Thanks for reading and here's hoping 2013-2014 holds better things for the Devils.