ILWT Audition 2014: Jagr's Back!!! Ok, Now What? (Ideas for the NJ Devils 2014 Offseason)

Writer J is happy Jaromir Jagr is returning - and has a lot of opinions on what the Devils should do this summer. - Bruce Bennett

The ILWT Audition process for 2014 continues with Writer J Gerard Lionetti. This submission is glad that Jaromir Jagr will return to the New Jersey Devils, but has a lot - and I mean a lot - to say about what the team should do during 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 J Gerard Lionetti, who brings an extensive opinion for the Devils offseason.  Seriously, I think it's longer than anything I wrote.  So take your time reading this one - there's a lot here.

***

The end of the 2013-2014 season was a disappointing one for our New Jersey Devils fan base.  We've been spoiled by having so much talent for the past two decades that missing the playoffs two years in a row is the equivalent of a disaster for us.  To be fair, no one saw Ilya Kovalchuk retiring last summer, and Lou Lamoriello signed whoever he could to try and plug the holes.  Some guys panned out (Saint Jagr), some guys didn't (Ryder, to a somewhat lesser extent Brunner) and some guys (Clowe) just kept getting hurt.

This offseason has already seen Lou resign Jagr just a mere two and a half weeks after the end of the season.  Aside from working out a new contract for Cory Schneider, this was the most important thing to do; we need Jagr.  He has a positive effect on the locker room, a positive effect on his line mates (turns out a Jagrbomb was just what the doctor ordered for Travis Zajac), and the man eats, sleeps and breathes hockey; despite the letter on Bryce Salvador's jersey, I believe Jagr's leadership was what kept us in the playoff chase until the last week or so of the season.

So with free agency and the draft coming up, and Jagr already contracted, where should we go from here?  I'd like to spend some time analyzing buyouts and trades to pursue as well as our free agents and what to do with them, and some free agents outside of the organization that my fellow fans are clamoring to bring in.

Buyouts/Trades:

Compliance Buyout:  Bryce Salvador

Before getting into anything else, I feel the Devils need to use their last compliance buyout on the captain; he exemplifies everything that is wrong with this team, and it's hard to demand better out of your team as a captain when you're consistently one of the worst players on the ice.  Bryce seems like a nice guy, but at 39 he's not getting any younger, he's dealt with too many injuries, and he is constantly either getting beaten by younger opposing forwards or playing out of position.  Volchenkov may have a worse contract, but unless Salvador retires, he's the one we need to send packing.

LTIR:  Ryane Clowe

This is only assuming that Clowe, after suffering another concussion this season, can no longer continue his career; it would free up cap space, ensure Clowe is paid until his contract finishes, and at the same time, he would not count against the Devils' cap.

I liked Ryane in his time with the team, but concussions are scary stuff, and the fact is that he's had two this season, and that means he has already suffered from three (or possibly four) in his career.  I admire Clowe wanting to continue his career, but his long-term health and quality of life should come first and foremost.

Trade:  Michael Ryder

I feel Ryder still has some value despite being an absolute albatross in 2014; his Devils tenure to me is simply wrong place, wrong time.  Michael can still be a good, albeit crazy streaky goal scorer, and to a team that doesn't cycle the puck and grind games out the way we do, he could still be an asset.  I would try to move him at the draft for either a forward prospect or a high-mid round (2nd?  3rd?) draft pick.

Trade:  Peter Harrold

Harrold also stills holds some value; not as an "in your lineup every night" guy, but he's a serviceable 7th defenseman.  If we want to bring back both Mark Fayne and Marek Zidlicky, we need to jettison more than one defender.  I would rather keep A-Train after this last season than I would Salvador and Harrold, so if there's a team looking for defense at or after the draft, I trade Harrold for a late round pick, be it for this draft or next draft.  His contract isn't very large either, and a cap strapped team looking for an extra defenseman would probably pull the trigger at this low asking price.

Possible Trade:  Adam Larsson/Eric Gelinas/Jon Merrill

Ok, now with this being my first article, I was hesitant to include this section for fear of the fan base eviscerating me.  We need forward help, and our prospect system is limited to Reid Boucher, Joe Whitney (I still include him; eight minutes is not enough ice time to conclude one way or another if he can make an impact or not), and Stefan Matteau.  I'm hesitant to deal one of these three kids; Gelinas brings The Truth, Merrill grew into a solid defender by season's end, and Larsson is already a solid defender that as a former #4 overall I'm not ready to give up on yet, as many Devils fans are.

That being said, if a trade for a young forward who would fit into our system (read: NOT Nail Yakupov) comes along, we have to consider it.  Granted for how high the organization is on these three, there would probably need to be some other assets involved to make it work, but with Steve Santini, Damon Severson and Seth Helgeson also in the system, we could afford to deal one of the three mentioned.  If it were up to me, I'd hang on to all three, unless I got an offer that knocked my socks off.

New Jersey Free Agents:

Jaromir Jagr

Check - thank whatever deity you believe in!

Mark Fayne

Fayne tends to fly under the radar and a lot of Devils fans seem to give him a bad rap, but from watching him for years now, he's a solid defender, and while he doesn't bring much flash or flare to the table, he makes the perfect foil for Andy Greene.  When watching him, he also seems to be one of the better Devils at pinching in and keeping the puck in the zone as opposed to some who let it get by them resulting in an odd man rush.  He makes the occasional boneheaded play, but to be fair every player in the league makes a bad play every so often.  His -5 might worry some, but I don't feel it is indicative of his play; Mark (after escaping Pete's Press Box Purgatory) played some of the toughest minutes on the team (partly because he's paired with Greene, partly due to the amount of injuries last season, partly because he's a good defender), and the two were solid to say the least.

What I Would Do: 4 Years, $12-14 Million, $3-3.5 Million AAV

I feel Fayne has more value to the Devils than any other team, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't get a fair pay day for a defenseman in his prime.  Plus without Fayne, we're running a defense core of Greene, Anton Volchenkov, Peter Harrold, and the kids; not exactly encouraging.

Marek Zidlicky

Oh Zid, I love thee and yet I loathe thee; my biggest problem with Marek is his maddening inconsistency.  One night he looks like an all-star, Norris-caliber defenseman, and the next he looks like a third-pair scrub.  He brings a nice offensive upside to the team, but is it worth the mistakes and penalties he takes?  If we let him leave as a free agent, then who plays his minutes?

What I Would Do: 1 Year, $4 Million IF AND ONLY IF we get rid of TWO of Salvador, Harrold and Volchenkov

Zid brings some unique skills to the table and I feel like he's got at least another season or two in him, however we have a logjam at defense, and I feel the younger Mark Fayne is a better long-term investment for this team despite Fayne not bringing much offense.  If we can't ship a few parts out, Marek is the odd man out to me, though the Devils will probably retain him due to his closeness with Jagr and Patrik Elias.  In a perfect world, Sal retires, and we either compliance A-Train, or we bury Harrold in Albany (this being my preference) if we can't trade him so that Zid can mentor one of our younger players.

CBGB

The darling fourth line from the Devils Stanley Cup run just two years ago seems to have worn out some of their welcome in New Jersey after this season.  Ryan Carter played in line with his career statistics and set a new career high for himself in goals.  His penalty killing ability and hustle were present and noticeably good.  Stephen Gionta had a bit of a regression this past year, but DeBoer had him as high as the second line at some points, which I think even Gionta himself would agree is probably too high of a spot.  Gio still managed to provide some good penalty killing and his effort and hitting ability remained intact.  Steve Bernier on the other hand is someone whose effort I found missing on many nights.  He had the chance early in the season to play with Elias for an extended period of time, and he responded by having one of the worst seasons of his career, including a glaring -15.

What I Would Do: Carter - 1 Year, $800,000

CBGB will always have a soft spot in my heart, but it's time for us to move on.  I keep Carter because he plays with some speed and some grit, and has the ability to play wing and center.  He hustles every game, and ideally he would slot in as our 12th or 13th forward.  If we absolutely NEED to keep another member of this line, I keep Gio and offer him a two-way contract again.  He played on one last time, and I honestly don't believe he'd have a problem doing so again.  We need to in the very least move on from Bernier in favor of Stefan Matteau; if the staff decides he's not ready, we can slot in Mike Sislo.

Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas

I grouped these two together, due to the fact that they're in the same boat as Restricted Free Agents, and I'd like to follow the same pattern with them.  They're both young, they're both going to get more than their Entry Level Contracts, and they both need to be on bridge deals to prove what they really can do with more playing time, which the above moves would guarantee them.  Gelly has The Truth which this team desperately needs and Adam can be his Peanut Butter (that nickname has really grown on me) as a solid defender that relies on good positioning.

What I Would Do: Larsson - 3 Years, $6 Million, $2 Million AAV; Gelinas - 3 Years, $4.5 Million, $1.5 Million AAV

The length of these deals in negotiable, but the annual cap hit should be accurate.  Both guys have proven to be defensemen that are above their entry level deals, but they still need to prove they belong in the NHL long-term.

Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby

Another pairing I would like to address together; these two seem to be a disappointment among Devils fans, and while the argument can be made that they weren't developed properly, both are not truly competing at an NHL level.  Tedenby seems to have the skills, but can't seem to get it together whereas Josefson has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries, disappointing play, and the rumors/jokes that Peter DeBoer just has it out for the Swedes.

What I Would Do: Josefson - 1 Year, $800,000

Josefson gets a slight raise due to qualifying offer rules and making the math easier in the end.  I honestly believe Tedenby will be playing in Europe next year; if he isn't, I think the Devils should cut him loose.  Tedenby seems like a good enough kid, but I don't think there's a spot anywhere for him.

Keith Kinkaid

...well, someone has to back up Cory Schneider, right?

What I Would Do: 2 Years, $1.5 Million, $750,000 AAV

Looks good to me, welcome to the big time Keith; moving on.

Outside Free Agents:

This is a compilation of names that I've seen Devils fans throw around here on ILWT, in comments sections on NHL.com and on other message boards as well.  While I may have missed a few key free agents, I feel these are the ones our team would be in the discussion/running for.

Paul Stastny

One of the biggest names on the market this offseason is former Devil Peter Stastny's son Paul.  After a 78 point rookie season, and a career-high 79 points during the 2009-10 season, Paul's numbers were starting to drop each season after, with him being on pace for only 48 points had last season been full-length.  He had a nice resurgence playing as one of the veterans among all of Colorado's youth this season posting a nice 60 point season that included 25 goals.

Do We Get Him? I'll be a realist here and say no, we don't.  I feel Colorado will lock him back up, and if they don't, there will be a big bidding war over him, and I worry some team will pay him north of seven million a season.  I like Stastny and think he's a great player, but as I already mentioned, prior to this season his numbers were trending downward.  While I still think he's going to be a good, productive player, his contract will probably be for more than just a couple of years, and I just have this hunch he won't be worth the money towards the end of the contract, higher salary cap or not.

Thomas Vanek

Vanek was a big name many knew might be moved heading into the season, due to him being in the last year of his contract, and early season proved this right, as the Islanders traded a king's ransom to pair him with John Tavares.  Once it became apparent that he wasn't going to re-sign, the Islanders sent him packing to Montreal for a much smaller return. Unlike Stastny's Avalanche, Vanek's Canadiens are still going strong in the postseason at the time of writing this piece.  There's no doubt in the league that Vanek is still an elite sniper, registering 27 goals this season, despite having to adjust to different systems twice.

Do We Get Him? While I would love nothing more than to have Vanek slot in on the top line next to Jagr and Zajac, again I just don't think we're going to get him.  There have been been rumblings for a while that he wants to go to The Dark Side Minnesota; even if he doesn't go to the Wild, the Devils traditionally seemingly do not pay for top dollar free agents, and that's exactly what Vanek will be this year.

Marian Gaborik

The former franchise player of the Minnesota Wild, Gaborik has become somewhat of a journeyman the last few seasons, spending a couple with Our Hated Rivals, before being shipped to Columbus at last season's trade deadline, and then to Los Angeles at this season's trade deadline.  Gaborik has only appeared in roughly half of a season's games these past two seasons, but extrapolating upon his stats from those seasons, he was more in-line for 2010-2011 Gaborik than he was 2011-2012 Gaborik.  His recent playoff resurgence however, seems to suggest he may have something left in the tank.

Do We Get Him? It's a distinct possibility, if we miss out on all the other high-scoring free agents, but Gaborik has been a great fit for the Kings this postseason, so he may want to re-sign with Los Angeles.  Depending on who goes where and when during free agency, I can't say I'd be disappointed with this signing, and if he plays alongside Jagr and Zajac, it could be a thing of beauty.

Dany Heatley

Coming off a contract that had Heatley at a $7.5 million cap hit for the past six seasons, Dany seems to be the odd-man out now that the Minnesota Wild have two, top-six left wingers.   He's also a former two time, 50 goal scorer, though his play has fallen off the proverbial cliff the last few seasons, with him even being demoted to Minnesota's 4th line for parts of this past year.

Do We Get Him? I really hope not; anyone who's watched Heatley play the last few seasons (or even just bothered to look at his stats) knows he's a shadow of the player he used to be.  I don't see any team going crazy to offer him a contract anywhere close to his last one, but I do see him taking a much smaller deal to stay in the league.  I really hope we're not the team that offers it to him.

Mike Cammalleri

Rumors sprouted at this past year's trade deadline that New Jersey had interest in Cammalleri, but nothing materialized, with the Devils instead going the Tuomo Ruutu route.  Cammy has had a pretty good NHL career, with five, 20+ goal seasons to his credit, including two of over 30, with one of those being just shy of 40.  Mike's will be 32 at the start of next season, so he still has some good years left in him.  There has to be some injury concern thought, as excluding the lockout season, he hasn't played over 67 games in a season since 2008-2009.

Do We Get Him? Part of me says he might come here, but a larger part of me feels like he stays in Calgary since he wasn't moved at the trade deadline.  I could be wrong though, and if New Jersey does sign him, it wouldn't be a bad thing, and there's a good chance he would fit well with Travis and Jaromir.  It's just he's not the lefty I want...

Matt Moulson

A former three time 30 goal scorer, Moulson had a slight regression to 23 this season, but had to endure a similar three-team season as Vanek did, and much of it was with the offensively inept Buffalo Sabres.   Moulson was a great winger when paired with John Tavares on the Island, and never really seemed to be a defensive liability the way many pure goal scorers can be; I think it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility to see him hit 30 goals again with Zajac and Jagr feeding him.  Plus he's not too shabby in the shoot-out, an area where we could use all the help we could get.

Do We Get Him? Remember in the Cammalleri summary how I said he wasn't the player I wanted?  Yeah, that's because this guy is; if Minnesota is serious about Vanek, I don't foresee Moulson wanting to play left wing on the third line behind Vanek and Benedict Parise.  Not only do we have a slot open for him, but I also don't feel he'll command Vanek/Stastny money, not to mention the prospect of coming back and getting to stick it to the Islanders should he feel at all vindictive and desire to do so.  If I'm Lou, I toss a 5x5 at him; he's only going to be 31 this season, and while he's not an elite talent, he's a good goal scorer that would seem to be a good fit in with the Devils team-first mentality.

Brian Gionta

A familiar name set to become a free agent this offseason is current Montreal captain, and former Devils winger Brian Gionta.  The older brother of the current Gionta of New Jersey, Brian still holds the Devils record for most goals in one season, a record that has stood for eight campaigns now.  Brian has never come close to putting up that many goals again, but he had a nice string of 20+ goal seasons that ended during an injury-plagued 2011-2012 for Brian.  In the two seasons since, he has registered 14 (lockout prorated total of 24) in 2012-2013 and 18 this season, meaning that his totals are being to drop as he gets on in age.

Do We Get Him? If we toss his brother to the wayside, I put our chances at just about 0%, which is good because I can't speak for the majority of the fan base, but I don't want a(nother) declining rehash acquisition.  Even if we keep Stephen, I don't want Brian back; nostalgia aside, at this point of his career, he's nothing more than an aging middle six guy, and this team has too many of those already as it is, with quite a few (Ruutu, Zubrus, Clowe) being paid too much for what they do.  The absolute last thing we need this offseason is another guy that fits that mold.

Ryan Callahan

Another familiar name (but for quite a different reason) scheduled to become a free agent is Ryan Callahan.  Callahan is one of the few big name free agents this year known for bringing a good combination of offense, defense and physicality to every game.  He has missed time in the past due to injuries from his style of play, and his numbers have been trending downward since he peaked in 2011-2012.  His injury history however, makes me wary due to what we're going through with Clowe.

Do We Get Him? Can I say no based on the fact that he used to be the captain of Our Hated Rivals?  No, I can't?  Ok, well fine; I don't want him because his contract demands are a bit much, and I honestly believe we could get Moulson for either the same amount or less than Callahan is asking for.  Does he bring size and grit to the table along with some skill?  Absolutely, but who's to say he doesn't decline or start to break down from his physical style of play similar to Volchenkov?  Or worse yet, he could turn into Toronto Clarkson 2.0.  Just seems like too much risk; I'd rather we sign a goal scorer and, if grit is needed, call up Matteau to play in our bottom six.

Mason Raymond

Ok, so maybe Raymond technically isn't a guy that Devils fans have been clamoring for, but I think the guy's worth a look.  Raymond is just 28 years old, and after going unsigned last season, was invited to Toronto's training camp, and given a one-year, $1 million contract to play on their third line.  He put up a respectable 19 goals, which would have been good enough to place him in third on our team.  We could use him to round out our middle six, especially if we trim the fat that I mentioned earlier.

Do We Get Him? Honestly, I would love nothing more than to see Raymond in the red and black next season.  After having a great season on Toronto's third line, I'm hoping that the combination of the Leafs choking away a playoff spot, and a little more money than his last contract would be enough to entice him to come and play on our third line instead.  I could see this one happening.

Other Names of Interest

Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Ales Hemsky and Radim Vrbata are all established players I could see the Devils being interested in as well.  I'll start out by saying I wouldn't pursue Hemsky as he had less goals than Michael Ryder this season.  There are enough Devils fans ragging on Ryder for his lack of production (and lack of defense) and Hemsky would just be the same problem.  Per Grabovski and Kulemin, recent rumors suggest the two might be a package deal, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; the problem is we need goal scoring, and unless Kulemin turns around to where he was two seasons ago, it's just more of the same, plus it would prevent us from signing one of the guys I've already mentioned.  To top it all off, they're both lefties, and the Devils are already a bit left-heavy on forwards.

If we can find a way to ditch Ryder, if I were Lou I go out and get Vrbata; one year, two years whatever it takes.  If Clowe is done, we need another winger and I think if we give Vrbata the same contract we gave Ryder, he'll fit a bit better in our system than Michael did, mostly because he doesn't seem to absolutely vanish even if he's not scoring.

My Signings

Matt Moulson - 5 Years, $25 Million, $5,000,000 AAV

Mason Raymond - 2 Years, $5 Million, $2,500,000 AAV

Radim Vrbata - 2 Years, $7 Million, $3,500,000 AAV (Only if Ryder is gone AND Clowe goes on LTIR)

How Do We Look?

(Chart layouts courtesy of capgeek.com)

Writer_j_1

Writer_j_2

Without Clowe (forward and salary cap changes only):

Writer_j_3

Final Thoughts

I don't know if the Devils have any intent of pursuing anyone in free agency this summer, let alone the names I've listed.  Aside from Jagr, there's no guarantee our unrestricted players will be coming back.  The only thing I know for sure is that Lou cannot stand pat this offseason; "status quo" on the roster means we probably endure another season without the playoffs , and after missing the playoffs by a mere 5 points this season, I don't think this roster will be able to tank for Connor McDavid.

I'd like to know what my fellow Devils fans think about what moves we should pursue this offseason.  Until next time (hopefully!) keep on raising hell Devils Army!

***

Now that you read Writer J Gerard'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 J Gerard 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 J Gerard Lionetti for the submission and thank you for reading.

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