ILWT Audition 2014: Overcrowding: A Potential Issue This Offseason

Writer I's submission is about the team's overcrowding at forward. Beware, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier, you get mentioned in this one. - Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The ILWT Audition for 2014 continues with Alex Potts. Alex's post is about the overcrowded group of forwards the New Jersey Devils have entering this offseason and what may be done to address it.

At the end of April, I put out another call looking for new writers for In Lou We Trust to write about the New Jersey Devils. I've opened up the audition to the community at large in order to get some new perspectives and additional voices on the front page with regularity. Since then, I've received eighteen entries that met the submission criteria. Regardless of how they're received, I thank the writers of each and every one of them - you know who you are - for stepping up and submitting an entry.  (One more instruction for those who made submissions and received letters, by the way.  Please do not comment on your submission or any of the other audition posts.  This will help allow others to freely judge the work and show that you can handle online reactions.  No drama is the best drama.)

Throughout the this week, I will post each one under an anonymous name so you can discuss and critique the post without regard to who actually wrote it. I can ensure you that I did not change any of the content outside of formatting it in to the SBN platform.  To that end, please note that I don't necessarily agree with what the posts actually say. I'm just letting them stand on their own. Please be constructive in any criticism and do offer your thoughts about whether you liked (or disliked) the post in addition to discussing it's content. Don't be mean, but be fair.

Now, I assigned a letter to each writer based on when I received it.  However, I decided to mix up the letters in terms of order of posting.  So this process continues with the submission of Writer I Alex Potts, who highlights the issue of overcrowding on the New Jersey Devils' roster.

***

For many Devils fans, myself included, one of the more intriguing storylines of this upcoming free agency period is the prospect of the team bringing in a scorer or two that could work in the top 9 to produce much needed goals.  For a team that ended up 27th in goals for, scoring is an obvious need.  As noted on this site and several others, the Devils play low event hockey; so much so, in fact, that the team finished 29th in all Corsi events for last year.  When added up, the team saw 7694 Corsi events this season, both for and against.  This was far and away the lowest in the league: the second lowest team, the Minnesota Wild, saw 8392, an extra 698 Corsi events.  So for the few attempts that the Devils do create, they need people who have excellent abilities to score goals.

Over the last two seasons, however, the team has had difficulty finding those people.  This past season, the team leader in goals was Adam Henrique, with 25.  This tied him for 43rd in the league.  In fact, only two Devils cracked the top 100 goal scorers in the NHL: Henrique and Jaromir Jagr, with 24 goals.  Clearly, more offense is required if the team is to reach the playoffs, never mind move above what Lou Lamoriello termed "mediocrity."

One of the next logical questions, however, is where would a new player go?  With the signing of Jagr, the team's current top 9 from last season is all under contract for the 2014-2015 season. This creates an obvious dilemma, as if you bring a potent scorer in, you will have to move someone else to make room for him.  There are a few options to alleviate these concerns.  One option that seems pretty certain Lou will not do is use a buyout on a forward.  He seemed reluctant to use one last year, and most fans would hope that if he does decide to use one it would be on aging defensemen Anton Volchenkov and/or captain Bryce Salvador.

This leaves two other immediate options: trading a top 9 forward or demoting one to the fourth line.  I would like to discuss both potential options here.  The first option is trading a top 9 forward.  To analyze this, we first need to determine which forwards are highly unlikely to be moved this offseason.  Looking quickly at the roster, I feel that there are several:

  • Jagr just resigned so he is not being moved anywhere.
  • Patrick Elias is a lifelong Devil and one of the most productive members of the team, meaning in all likelihood he will stay put.
  • Same with Travis Zajac, the underappreciated anchor of the squad.
  • Henrique just signed a long deal with the club prior to last season, and can become a real threat in the top 6. He will probably be staying.
  • Ryane Clowe has a no move clause, and also carries a rather large cap hit for a player of his caliber. Considering his injury risk, I think it is safe to assume he is staying put.

That leaves four forwards who have a higher potential to be traded than the previous five:

  • Tuomo Ruutu has a no move clause. He was acquired at the trade deadline, and performed decently overall. I think that Lou would like to see his production over the course of a full season. While he could be moved, smarter money says he stays.
  • Dainius Zubrus has a no trade clause, and is also north of his 35th birthday. He could be dealt, but the Devils would most likely have to accept less than he is worth. He fits Peter DeBoer's system well, and most likely stays as a result.
  • The final two, Damien Brunner and Michael Ryder, were recently discussed in a post here. They both underperformed, and many would like to see at least one moved. Considering that neither has a long contract, and both have fairly cap-friendly contracts (Ryder's less so), I think that these two have the highest potential to be traded.

In the end, it is clear that of the top 9 forwards, most have a very minimal chance to be traded.  My highly unscientific analyzing has shown that in all reality, only four forwards even have the potential to be moved, and even then I really only think there are two legitimate options.  So barring some more magical conjuring done by Lou, a trade may not happen.  That leads to the other option: demoting a top 9 forward to the fourth line.

"But wait!  Moving someone to the fourth line means breaking up the CBGB line!  That can't happen!"  This is a sentiment I have heard echoed at the Rock, and one I happen to disagree with.  While the trio of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier were electric in the cup run two years ago, much of their magic has dissipated.  Looking at their stats from the 2013-2014 season, the trio combined for 14 goals, 19 assists and a combined average on ice Corsi of 51.4%.  While that number might be great on a weaker possession team, it is not so hot on the possession giant that is New Jersey.  All three produced a negative relative Corsi, with Carter and Gionta owning a -4.5% and Bernier a -1.6%.  They are definitely an energy line and can provide a spark, but they no longer hold the same magic that they did.  And considering that all three players are UFA's this summer, there is a chance-albeit small-that none return.

Who would drop to the fourth line then?  I think the easiest answer is Brunner.  He makes the smallest salary of those on the top 9, and really needs to prove himself before earning better minutes.  Pairing him with Jacob Josefson, assuming he is resigned, would give the fourth line a fairly talented duo, one who can score goals and the other who thinks defense first.  Add one of the CBGB line to that mix and you have the makings of a quality trio.  Moving Brunner to the fourth line would then open up a spot for Lou to add a talented goal scorer to the mix, perhaps two scorers if Ryder or someone else is traded as well.

Now that you have heard my opinion on the situation, what do you think?  Do you think there is a better chance that any of the top 9 forwards could be dealt?  Do you agree or disagree with the idea of breaking up the CBGB line?  How about the idea of moving a top 9 forward down to make room for a free agent?  Please let me know in the comments section below, and thank you for reading.

***

Now that you read Writer I Alex's post, I want to know what you think about it.  What do you think of the subject matter? What did you think about how Writer I Alex wrote this post? Based on how it was written and what was it about, is this the kind of post you would want to see regularly at In Lou We Trust? Please leave your answers and other comments about this post in the comments. Thanks go to Writer I Alex Potts for the submission and thank you for reading.

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