Lou Lamoriello has had his hands full this off-season. With the departure of Zach Parise through free agency after the Devils inspiring run to the cup finals in 2012, Lou Lamoriello appeared to have picked the team up right where they had left off with this years offseason acquisitions. Notably, acquiring Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks for a 9th pick at the 2013 NHL Draft in Newark, New Jersey built a significant amount of anticipation around the upcoming season. This essentially secured the future between the pipes for the Devils, a future which appeared concerning due to the fact that prospect goalies Kieth Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood do not appear to be ready to replace the Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur in the near future. Although unexpected, this move by Lou was seen as the steal of the 2013 Draft by the NHL and fans around the league.
Ultimately, the work was done at the back end as Lou began to focus his attentions towards the Devils Offence, something the Devils have struggled to consistently produce in recent years. With this in mind Lou began to lock up key free agents. Examples include the legendary devils forward Patrik Elias who was signed to a 3 year extension worth $16.5 million. Additionally, long time Devil Dainius Zubrus was signed to a 3 year contract worth $9.3 million. Just like Parise in 2012, the Devils main question in the 2013 Free Agency was undoubtedly the possibility of losing David Clarkson to free agency. After scoring 30 goals in the 2011-2012 season it was clearly evident that Clarkson was going to receive top money long term. It became apparent that Lou would need to replace the tough physical play and scoring production that Clarkson provided after Clarkson's agent turned down Lou's original offer. For this reason Clarkson signed a long term deal with the Toronto Maple leafs for $36.75 million over the course of 7 years,. With this in mind, Lou began looking towards the Free Agency and in doing so signed Ryane Clowe (Former San Jose Shark/New York Ranger) to a 5 year deal worth $24.25. Lou came under immediate scrutiny after signing the 30 year old. This was due to the fact that Clowe is an injury prone player who isn't getting any younger. Clowe demonstrated this last season when he only played 12 games for the Rangers after being traded from the San Jose Sharks the same year. Coupled with his three concussions in a single season, his point production also dropped last year, a year in which he only produced 3 goals and 16 assists in 40 games. In response to the reception of the contract around the league, Lou stated, "I’m never comfortable with any term and value of any contract that’s too high," He went on to say, "But there’s a value to that. This [type] player here, in my opinion, he’s too important to this lineup to take a chance losing. I won’t apologize." This contract is a high-risk high-reward possibility for the New Jersey Devils. Subsequently, replacing Clarkson was essential, but the lingering absence of Parise was felt during the shortened season as no significant replacement was brought in. Lou changed all of that when he brought in Micheal Ryder for 2 years at a total of $7 million. This was evidently received with much more praise as opposed to the Clowe contract that Lou negotiated. With a potential 30 goal scorer in Ryder, and the addition of Clowe, the Devils appeared to be a strong contender once again.
Unexpectedly, Ilya Kovalchuck signed a 17 year contract worth $102 million in 2010. Even more unexpectedly was the fact that just 3 years later he retired from the New Jersey Devils and the NHL in favour of playing in the KHL. Ultimately, with Kovalchuck retiring at the end of free agency it proves to be an extremely difficult hole to fill for the upcoming season. This unfortunate event puts Lou and the New Jersey Devils in a tough situation. Free Agents remaining that could replace some of Kovalchuck’s production include: Damien Brunner, Jaromir Jagr, and Mason Raymond to name a few. Although this will undoubtedly put the Devils in a short term hole, this event has the possibility of having a positive long term impact on the franchise due to the fact that they become free of a highly paid long term contract for a players production that will likely drop over the years.
Devils fan or not, it's hard not to feel some form of empathy towards Lou and the devils organization after losing the likes of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuck in consecutive years. With Adam Henrique "Close to re-signing" as per Tom Gulitti of the The Record, Reid Boucher looking impressive in development camp, and a promising pool of young talent in terms of Defensive prospects in Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, Eric Gelinas, and Alexander Urbom, the New Jersey Devils are well on their way to becoming a serious contender once again.