Now that the New Jersey Devils are out of playoff contention, the next big event for the team and the fans is the NHL Draft. While many teams that are out of the playoffs are beginning to size up their draft options, the Devils have an even more critical decision to make before the draft. Lou Lamoriello and the Devils staff need to decide whether or not they give up their first round draft pick this season or next season. For those who live under a rock or have painfully tried to remove the event from their memory; the Devils were slapped with multiple penalties when trying to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to that humongous deal a few years back. So, let's take a look at what the penalty is, who the Devils have drafted since the penalty, and possible scenarios for the Devils.
The Devils traded for Ilya Kovalchuk back in 2009-10 season and went on to sign him to a 17-year $102 million contract that the NHL believed circumvented the "spirit" of the salary cap. After that, the NHL fined the Devils $3 million, a 2011 third round draft choice, and their first round pick between 2011 and 2014. While there have been many discussions on whether or not this was a fair penalty, it is irrelevant now that it's almost over. As an aside, Kovalchuk ended up signing a deal worth $100 million over 15 years that put the "spirit" of the CBA at ease.
2011 Draft Choice - Adam Larsson (5th overall)
After the abysmal season the Devils had in 2010-11, the Devils ended up winning the draft lottery and moving up to the fifth selection overall. Obviously, Lou kept the pick and drafted Adam Larsson. The move to retain this pick and take Larsson in the draft was a no brainer and was much needed for the Devils organization.
2012 Draft Choice - Stefan Matteau (29th overall)
After winning the draft in 2011, the Devils ended up losing in the 6th game of the Stanley Cup Finals to the LA Kings, leaving the Devils with the second to last pick in the first round. Everyone in the hockey world thought Lou would give up the draft pick at a time that was most optimal for the team. I mean, the only way the forfeited pick could be lower, was if the Devils won the Cup. However, fans were sorely disappointed when Lou decided to keep the pick and choose Stefan Matteau. While it didn't seem like a terrible decision to some, Matteau played in 17 games this year, netting one goal and two assists while burning the first year of his ELC. While this was all fine and dandy with me, Matteau was kicked off of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. This type of behavior is not excepted by the Devils organization and is starting to make the choice to keep the pick even worse.
2013 Draft Choice - ???
Currently, the Devils are tied for 19th overall in the NHL standings with one game left to play. The Devils will most likely get a draft choice between #9 and #11. Now, if you look at the final draft prospect rankings, you can see there are quite a few good forward prospects left for the Devils, who desperately need to replenish their offensive prospect pool.
Let's also look at a handful of future scenarios that are facing the team.
#1 Give up the pick this year. Lou could proactively give up a top 10 pick this season, looking like a fool for not throwing away last year's pick.
#2a Use the pick, make the playoffs next year. Lou could take this year's pick and use it, given that the Devils are usually playoff contenders. Also, Lou may trade a high draft pick and restock on more depth players, because the Devils will lose a pick the following year. If the Devils make the playoffs and make it to at least the second round, the lost pick won't sting as bad. Another note about using the draft pick this year: The draft is at the Prudential Center and I hope Lou doesn't decide to use this year's pick solely on the fact that it's in front of a "home crowd".
#2b Use the pick, miss the playoffs again. The Devils could use this year's pick and then miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year. While this scenario seems highly unlikely, it is possible. This would leave every Devils fan with a bitter taste in their mouth, especially depending on the development of Matteau. Only time will tell, but if the team doesn't make a few good moves this offseason and they fail to reach the playoffs, or end up with a pick higher than this year, Lou Lamoriello might just look silly. However, by the end of this year's draft, we will finally have closure with regards to the whole NHL imposed penalty.
So, what do you expect to happen with the Devils first round picks in the next two year? Which one will Lou choose to forfeit and why? Or, should we just sit back and trust Lou?