ILWT Audition 2014: Big Offseason Ahead for the Devils

Writer L believes this offseason is an important one for the New Jersey Devils. - Andy Marlin

The ILWT Audition for 2014 process continues with Writer L Austin Rooney. This audition post explains the situation for the New Jersey Devils in every position as they head further into this offseason.

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 L Austin Rooney, who thinks this offseason will be an important one for the Devils organization.

***

After a disappointing finish to the New Jersey Devils' 2013-2014 campaign, the team has now missed the playoffs for the third time in its last four seasons.   The Devils now face a crucial offseason of rebuilding, and the changes they make this year are sure to influence their fate over the next few seasons.

With the loss of Kovalchuk last offseason and Parise two offseasons ago, the team has lost a lot of offensive power, but more importantly its core identity from the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals run.  Of course, Kovalchuck's retirement blindsided the Devils and inevitably shook up team chemistry.  Even worse, by retiring a couple of weeks into free agency, he left the Devils helpless in terms of finding a replacement.   Top scorers like Mike Ribeiro or Vincent Lecavalier were unavailable to fill the gaping scoring hole left by Kovi's sudden departure.  Jaromir Jagr served as a good replacement, but Ryan Clowe, Michael Ryder, and Damien Brunner were not consistent enough to fill the void. Finding an offensive threat has to be one of the Devils' top priorities.

The Devils also have several players who will be unrestricted free agents this summer.  Mark Fayne and Marek Zidlicky, two of the Devils top defensemen, will be testing the market, as will the fourth line of Bernier, Gionta, and Carter, who have still been unable to match their numbers from the 2012 playoff run.  Additionally, young guns Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas and Jacob Josefson are restricted free agents this offseason and will be in demand on the market.

And, unforgettably, the Devils have a goalie debacle that pains every fan's heart.  To be sure, this offseason will be crucial to the team's imminent success.

Forwards

Offensively, the obvious need is a scoring threat.  There are a few free agents who fit the category this year - Matt Moulson, Paul Stastny, Thomas Vanek, and possibly even Ryan Callahan.  If the Devils want to get one of these four, it won't be cheap (at least $6 million/year), but it will be worth it.

One unique problem the Devils face is that players have to want to come to New Jersey, which is crowded out by the larger New York market.   In the past, other than with Kovalchuk, players have been hesitant to come to New Jersey.  Moulson, Stastny, Vanek, and Callahan all will get a lot of money wherever they go, so being a high bidder doesn't guarantee the Devils whomever they want.  They'll have to back up their offers with promises of good personnel, chemistry, and team prospects.  Given Montreal's success thus far in the playoffs, Vanek may choose to return there, depending on how the rest of the postseason goes.

Although not a pure scorer, Callahan showed last season with his 36 points and 17 goals in 65 games that he can augment any team's offensive production.  Moulson, on the other hand, is more of a pure scoring threat.  He had 49 points in 75 games with the Wild, Islanders and Sabres.   Moulson seems to be a good bet if he is not resigned before he hits free agency.  Paul Stastny is the last top scorer that the Devils will probably consider pursuing this offseason.  Stastny had 60 points with 25 goals in 71 games last year and certainly could be the player to fill Kovalchuk or Parise's persistent vacancy.  If Stastny and Moulson both explore the free agency market, the Devils need to acquire at least one of them to complement Jagr and Zajac on the first line.

The fourth line did not play close to as well this season as they did in the 2011-2012 run to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Steve Bernier was a team worst -15, while Stephen Gionta added 4 goals and 7 assists with a +/- of -8.  Lastly, Ryan Carter had 7 goals and three assists and posted a -6.  It seems unlikely that the Devils bring back Bernier, but both Gionta and Carter would be good candidates for a short contract.  They bring a gritty edge to the back end of the Devils' offensive spread.

Defensemen

Defensively, the Devils have a couple of options.  The logjam of NHL-ready defensemen on the team and its farm system is a major issue, as the younger guys should have more opportunities to play at the NHL level while they are still developing.  With that said, letting Fayne and Zidlicky go could also present its problems.  Fayne played pretty well this past season along side Greene on the top pair.  He was not as consistent as Greene, but he was still arguably the second most consistent defenseman on the team.  Resigning Fayne would probably cost upwards of $3 million.

Zidlicky's offensive threat makes him a very different defenseman from Fayne,  Zidlicky finished fifth overall on the team in points and ranked first among defensemen.   He serves well at the point on the power play and provides a nice contrast to the more traditional defensemen on the Devils' roster.  Zidlicky, too, is expensive and likely to ask for more than $3 million per year.

Alternatively, the Devils could decide to let go of both Fayne and Zidlicky and try to sign a big-name defenseman in free agency.  Matt Niskanen on the Penguins had a great season this year and will be an unrestricted free agent.  He would serve as a nice replacement for Zidlicky's offensive production - Niskanen had 10 goals and 36 assists this year with a +/- of +33.  This was also a breakout year for Niskanen, so the Devils might be able to get him for a bargain.  Plus, signing him and letting Fayne and Zidlicky go would open up space for the young defensemen who have been stuck in Albany to play in the NHL next year.

Buyouts

If the Devils want to clear some cap space to sign a big name free agent, they can buy out a contract using their one remaining amnesty buyout, which would make the player's contract have no cap hit at all.  There are two players who have the potential to be bought out this summer: Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov.  Neither of them played particularly well last year, and both occupy roster spots that might be better held by younger defenseman.  If the Devils buy out one of the two,  Volchenkov seems to be the best option.  He has two years left on his contract compared to Salvador's one, and his contract is $4.25 million per year compared to Salvador's $3.1 million. Salvador is also the current team captain, and it would seem unlikely that the Devils would end up buying out the captain's contract.  Still, a change in leadership could be what the Devils need to realign the team's look and feel to that of spring 2012.

Restricted Free Agents

The Devils have three restricted free agents in Eric Gelinas, Adam Larsson and Jacob Josefsen.  Gelinas and Larsson are most likely to receive new contracts, probably in the ballpark of $2 million per year for 2 years.  The short-term contract is designed for them to prove themselves further, but the Devils also need to commit to playing them more at the NHL level.  Josefsen, on the other hand, may not get a new contract.  It will be interesting to see whether the Devils try the short-term contract, prove-yourself maneuver on him.  To his credit, he does have potential to become a solid forward for the Devils in the future.

Goaltending

Lastly, the Devils have to deal with a very tricky goaltending situation.  It seems likely that Martin Brodeur will play hockey in the NHL next year.  Where he plays hockey, though, is quite another question.  The Devils have two real options - keep Brodeur and trade Schneider, or keep Schneider and leave Brodeur to the market.  Both goalies have been dissatisfied with their playing time and the starting rotation.  Plus, Keith Kinkaid has been successful at the AHL level for several years and is deserving of at least a chance at competing during the preseason for the backup goalie spot.

While Brodeur did play very well after the Olympic break, the Devils probably need to move on from him at this point, as blasphemous as it may sound.    Cory Schneider would be playing on the last year of his contract next year, and much of his feelings toward the Devils will be contingent on the team goaltending dynamic next year.  One thing is for sure, though - the Devils cannot afford to let him go for free.  If the Devils do reach an agreement to an extension with Schneider this offseason, it would probably be upwards of $6 million, which would be a good deal.   That would make it explicit to Brodeur that his position on the Devils will remain a backup one.

If the Devils are unable to get close a contract extension with Schneider before the draft and want to keep Brodeur, they could trade Schneider at the draft.  Although this would be the final year of his contract, Schneider would probably be worth a top-5 pick given the solid season he had.  Last year, the Canucks heard offers from rivals like the Flames and the Oilers in picks number six and seven.  This year, the Oilers and the Flames will be looking for a goaltender again, as Ben Scrivens and Karri Ramo are probably not the future backstops for their teams.  This year, the Oilers and Flames have the third and fourth overall picks respectively, both of which would be appealing for the Devils.  The Devils could then use their two hypothetical first-round picks to draft a scorer and a young star goaltender to be the future of the team after Brodeur's eventual retirement.  They could also fill forward and defensive voids and go after Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller in free agency.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this offseason is about the Devils rediscovering a coherent team identity.  They have needs at every position, both in talent and chemistry, which is not the mark of a good team.  The Devils also need a lot of work in the shootout department.  Indeed, in Lou we trust.  He will have his hands quite full this offseason.  He has proven capable of making good changes in the past, and now more than ever will they be needed.

Works Cited

All contract information was found at www.capgeek.com.

All statistics were from both www.NHL.com and www.capgeek.com.

For the Oilers information regarding Schneider's trade: http://canucksarmy.com/2013/6/30/on-the-schneider-swap-and-the-horvat-pick-what-just-happened.

***

Now that you read Writer L Austin Rooney'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 L Austin Rooney 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 L Austin Rooney for the submission and thank you for reading.

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