On Sunday, the New Jersey Devils traded Henrik Tallinder away to Buffalo to clear up some cap space. It was the sort of move I expected because the Devils have to give new deals to Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson while bringing back Marek Zidlicky. While Henrique and Josefson have yet to be signed, the Devils went ahead and re-signed Marek Zidlicky today. Tom Gulitti reported that the 36-year old defenseman has been signed to a one-year contract.
As of this writing, the amount of money he signed for is unknown. Zidlicky's contract is for a total of $3 million per Gulitti, which does include bonuses. (Note: This post is now updated to include his value.)
I will say that I understand the decision to retain him and I appreciate that he took a pay cut to stay in New Jersey for just a bit longer. It was rumored he had a larger deal on the table from someone else, so sticking around for less is very much appreciated. What must also be appreciated is that Zidlicky is an offensive defenseman. The Devils don't have any one on the blueline like him. They have prospects that might become offensive defensemen or two-way defensemen with a good offensive game. But for right now, Zidlicky is it. He fills that glaring need on the roster.
He wasn't just the Devils' leader in shooting attempts among all the defensemen; he was also one of the most prolific in the league at evens. He's not at all afraid to shoot and his aggressive pinches have occasionally provided an extra dimension to the Devils' attack. Zidlicky is the only defender on the roster with a skillset meant for a power play. On top of that, he was good at driving the play. According to his even strength numbers Behind the Net, he got plenty of generous zone starts but he finished with such a high rate that he still comes out significantly above zero when adjusting for zone starts. According to his With You/Without You at Hockey Analysis, he even managed to stay positive in possession while playing with Bryce Salvador (his most common partner on defense), which was a feat in of itself. Zidlicky wasn't all bad.
However, there's enough to criticize to prevent me from saying he's a good offensive defenseman. For starters, his decision making has been questionable. It's not uncommon for him to pinch at the wrong time or without confirming he has support. That leaves the team open to counter-attacks at worst or just puts himself out of position to begin with. In his own end, he's decent enough but he can be prone to getting lost in coverage at times. While Zidlicky fired the puck a lot last season; it only yielded four goals. Andy Greene didn't get nearly as much power play time as Zidlicky, but still finished with only three fewer points so it's questionable whether his prolific attempts have led to much. His use of his stick has led to plenty of penalties, though. Zidlicky led all of the defensemen in minor penalties last season with 19. If it's any comfort, he didn't clear any pucks over the glass. Lastly, he's 36. He's not going to get better or learn anything new. What you see is what you get, for better or worse. I can understand why some fans get frustrated with the veteran.
One area that's out of Zidlicky's control was how he was used last season. Here are the ice time stats at NHL.com for all of the Devils' defensemen. Zidlicky averaged 3:37 on the power play in 2013. I'm fine with that, to be honest. The only offensive defensemen should get a lot of power play time. I'll be fine with him getting significant time on the PP next season too unless someone else really emerges. What I'm not fine is the fact that he averaged 17:10 at even strength, the third most on the team and often with Bryce Salvador, who finished second at even strength ATOI. A pairing of one offensive and one defensive minded defenseman each is a sensible idea and it's worked in New Jersey for many years. However, neither Zidlicky or Salvador are fast, steady, or prolific enough at what they do to justify such heavy minutes. I can live with Zidlicky-Salvador but not as the top pairing or given about the same amount of ice time as Greene's pairing like we saw for much of last season. (There was a short period of time where they were limited, and it was good.) They can't be limited or protected as they should be in terms of competition and/or zone starts. Hopefully, Peter DeBoer will wise up and that will change in 2013-14.
Zidlicky made $4 million last season according to CapGeek. So the fact he's getting $3 million, which could be less if he doesn't hit his games-played bonus, makes his re-signing far more agreeable. I'd almost go as far as to say it's a good deal considering what other defensemen were getting earlier in this offseason. Flaws in his game aside, I recognize that he does fill in a need and does something the other defenders don't do. Either way, the cap hit won't last that long. It is only one year and it's rare that the Devils only use seven defensemen in a season. Gulitti's post about the signing at Fire & Ice does include the suggestion that another defenseman may be moved. That may be necessary for Henrique and Josefson to get deals while leaving some space open for future moves and call-ups. The two contracts could possibly be done for less than the roughly $4.1 million they have open, but it could be tight.
While we wait on the amount of the deal - and I'll update this post after it's revealed - let's discuss this signing in the meantime. Are you fine with seeing Zidlicky for another year? Do you hope that it's only one more year? What role do you think he should have on the team in 2013-14? Will he succeed in it? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this signing in the comments. Thank you for reading.