For many a fan, the early stage of the off-season is a time to play Armchair GM with their favorite team, putting together fantasy rosters and imagining what their favorite team could look like if only they had the power to make all the moves. Some seem realistic, some seem fantastical, but it's a hobby that can pass many an hour and generate enthusiastic discussions amongst fans and fanbases.
I'm not immune to this, and I've got what I deem a "reasonable fantasy" scenario. Here's how it looks:
Reid Boucher ($0.693m) / Travis Zajac ($5.750m) / Jaromir Jagr ($3.500m)
Adam Henrique ($4.000m) / Patrik Elias ($5.500m) / Michael Ryder ($3.500m)
Ryane Clowe ($4.850m) / Jacob Josefson ($1.000m) / Tuomo Ruutu ($3.800m)
Ryan Carter ($0.875m) / Dainius Zubrus ($3.100m) / Stefan Matteau ($0.843m)
Mike Sislo ($0.600m) / David Steckel ($0.650m) /
Andy Greene ($3.000m) / Mark Fayne ($3.000m)
Jon Merrill ($0.840m) / Adam Larsson ($3.500m)
Eric Gelinas ($1.250m) / Marek Zidlicky ($3.000m)
Peter Harrold ($0.800m) /
Cory Schneider ($4.000m)
Keith Kinkaid ($0.605m)
Trent Hunter ($0.667m)
Johan Hedberg ($0.000m)
Anton Volchenkov ($0.000m)
Bryce Salvador ($3.067m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(estimations for 2014-15)
SALARY CAP: $69,000,000; CAP PAYROLL: $62,588,334; BONUSES: $3,375,000
CAP SPACE (23-man roster): $6,411,666
So what were my "ground rules" for "reasonable fantasy"? I make a couple of assumptions. First, I assume that the Devils are capable of re-signing any of their own players that they so desire. Second, I assume that the Devils have no particular advantage in signing prominent UFAs from other teams unless there's a credible reason to believe otherwise. Finally, I've thrown "sentiment" out the window altogether, which means I don't assume that personal feelings and intangibles will prohibit certain moves.
The moves themselves?
The Devils re-sign the following goaltender: Keith Kinkaid (RFA, one year)
The Devils re-sign the following defensemen: Marek Zidlicky (oops, done!), Mark Fayne (three or four years), Adam Larsson (RFA, six years), Eric Gelinas (RFA, two years)
The Devils re-sign the following forwards: Jacob Josefson (RFA, one year), Ryan Carter (two years), Jaromir Jagr (oops, done!), Mike Sislo (one year)
The Devils sign the following UFA forward: David Steckel (one year)
The Devils do NOT re-sign the following players who played at least one game with the NHL club last season: Martin Brodeur, Steve Bernier, Cam Janssen, Mattias Tedenby
The Devils exercise their second and final compliance buyout on Anton Volchenkov
The Devils waive Bryce Salvador and bury him in the Minors when he clears waivers.
The Devils trade Damien Brunner for a future draft pick.
The Devils ice what I feel are four reasonable lines with the personnel available. There's also cap space to make future additions to the roster as opportunities dictate.
In honor of this "pretend fantasy", I'm going to do a most un-Devils thing and holds a press conference to defend this piece of handiwork. And even more un-Devils'-like, it's going to be a press conference that doesn't pull as many punches. Without further adieu:
Pretend GM: I'd like to thank everyone here today to dissect and vivisect this work. I'll now take questions from the gathered members of the press corps who would like further illumination.
"Glenn": I'm feeling a little peckish. Isn't there a media spread somewhere around here?
PGM: Right through that door, my friend. Bon appetit.
(The familiar-looking mustachioed man, "Glenn", races through the indicated exit. Seconds later, an exclamation of "Ahh! Funnel cake!" can be heard.)
Scotty Sideburns: Pretend Lou, do you really think this "reasonable fantasy" roster is a realistic construct?
PGM: I don't see why not. I'm not fishing in the deep end of the pool and praying that Prospective Free Agent X picks the pile of money I have available over someone else's pile of money. It's not that there aren't good players to be had in return for bricks of cash, but I don't see any rational reasons why New Jersey would be their preferred destination over somewhere else.
For the most part, I'm working with the parts I already have available to me.
Barry Place: It seems to me you're paying a premium when bringing some of your old guys back.
PGM: This construct is also meant to be something of a "worst-case scenario". It's not that bad, obviously, but I'd rather put together a hypothesis with less-than-ideal conditions and then be pleasantly surprised later when I wring extra savings out of things to be used down the road.
Donny Lemons: Good job getting rid of that Swiss bum Damien Brunner!
PGM: Actually, the plan is to float both Brunner and Michael Ryder on the trade market and see what transpires from there. I believe both can be traded easily enough if the idea is to clear roster space and salary cap space and not to reap significant returns for next season. If circumstances dictate that Ryder goes instead, Damien Brunner slides into that spot on the wing with Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias.
As with my comment to Mr. Place a moment ago, having Ryder on the roster instead of Damien Brunner is a "worst-case scenario" sort of plan. Ryder has the larger salary cap number, so keeping him on the roster leaves less to go around later.
Pierre LeRouge: You didn't have a playoff team last season. Why would this group be competitive for a playoff spot next season when you've jettisoned several players from last year's club and replaced them with a bunch of minor leaguers and journeymen?
PGM: Last season's team was very unlucky. No one could predict that this team would go 0-for-13 in shootouts.... reverting those numbers to something approximating league average would have put them above the cut-off line on April 13th.
Beyond that, I don't feel the roster was deployed in its best possible configuration. There were players who should have played more, and players who should have played significantly less. It's never an exact science, but a coaching staff that is more flexible in this regard and quicker to adjust to developing trends can produce a team whose outcomes are closer to what the numbers say they ought to be.
Barry Place: Holy hell, this team is depthless! You're in all sorts of trouble if injuries strike.
PLL: I have faith that such an eventuality can be addressed in-season. Either our AHL affiliate can provide players, or the trade market will do so. This roster holds my hopes that our top prospects can graduate to the NHL level and provide meaningful contributions while giving opportunities to the next wave to spread their wings at Albany.
There are players in the Bottom Six who can step into larger roles as needed. There are players in the Minor Leagues who can step into those Bottom Six roles. I'm not worried.
Scotty Sideburns: David Steckel? Really? Why not just re-sign Jim Dowd and Grant Marshall and Ken Daneyko while you're at it, given how frequently they hang around your team.
PGM: In its Alpha form, the "reasonable fantasy" scenario actually had Zenon Konopka pencilled into that slot.... until his unfortunate suspension for violating the League's substance abuse policy. But you're missing the point altogether -- the idea is to have a veteran as the 14th forward for when the need arises, and someone who can make some contribution on the 4th line. At the same time, the idea is to have a player who isn't likely to crowd out some of the other players in the lower tier of NHL forwards.
David Steckel has demonstrated that he's a responsible defensive player and he's very good at faceoffs. As for the aforementioned Zenon Konopka, he is also very good at faceoffs and has shown a willingness to drop the gloves when it's necessary.
I'm looking for a 14th forward who is a veteran that can contribute, but not a player who the roster will revolve around or who can't be moved if the situation necessitates as much. It doesn't have to be Steckel or Konopka or anyone in particular. I just had to have a name to stick into the slot for the time being.
Pierre LeRouge: Where's the offense coming from? You were one of the lowest scoring teams in the League last year.
PGM: I believe this team could give you 220 goals if they maintain the strong possession that has been a staple of Pete DeBoer's teams in Newark. I'm not asking for massive numbers from any single player, either. If each of the top two lines nets 60 goals, the third and fourth lines put up 60 goals combined, plus 40 more from the defensemen, the extra forwards, and any in-season additions to the roster, you're up to 220 right there. That's enough to put the team in the middle of the pack.
Pierre LeRouge: And you believe that would be enough to put you into the playoffs?
PGM: Absolutely. The defense may need a little time to adjust with Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov gone, but I have faith that they're very sound defensively to begin with. Cory Schneider has proven he's one of the very best goaltenders in the League, and I expect good things from him playing 60+ games.
Add 20-25 goals and that's probably a couple of wins right there. Add in some luck in the shootout and a few extra points there. Put the two together and I believe you have a club that won't be sweating the scoreboard in March and April and may even challenge for the division if things break right.
Scotty Sideburns: I'm offended by the lack of class you're showing in how you're shoving people out the door. Martin Brodeur defines your franchise. Bryce Salvador is your captain. Stephen Gionta has been a very important player for you and is a tremendous story. Yet you're throwing them aside without a backwards glance.
PGM: Sentiment is a wonderful thing, but my assigned task from ownership is to put together a competitive team and to win games. That has to take precedence over happy/fuzzy stories.
Martin Brodeur has clearly expressed a desire to play more, and I don't believe that it happening here is in the best interests of this club. Cory Schneider is an elite goaltender who should be shouldering the lion's share of work, and it is one of my highest priorities to ink him to a contract extension in the very near future. Catering to his competition does not seem to me to be a way to get that to happen.
Bryce Salvador is no longer the defenseman he was a few years ago. His leadership in the locker room will be missed, and his contributions to our 2012 playoff run will be fondly remembered, but I no longer believe he is one of the seven best defensemen available to us. If he and his agent can find a situation more to his liking, I will do everything in my power to help faciliate that.... but if that doesn't happen I appreciate everything he's meant to the franchise over the past several years and wish him well. He will be paid, and he won't be asked to report to Albany or another Minor League Affiliate, but it is not productive to retain his services in lieu of other possibilities.
As for Stephen Gionta, I believe his continued presence in Newark would be a roadblock to other players who can contribute both this season and going forward. I want to give those other players the opportunity.
Donny Lemons: Do you really believe ownership is going to sign off on spending that much money on defensemen who won't be on the roster? I mean, I'm glad to see that useless Russian Volchenkov gone, but you're asking your owners to spend more than $10 million for nothing.
PGM: They have to get paid whether they're in the lineup, in the press box, in Albany, in Russia, or sitting at home. Letting contracts dictate everything else is a good way to put a subpar lineup on the ice.
Scotty Sideburns: Do you really believe Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau can contribute in the NHL next year?
PGM: Absolutely. Reid Boucher is a goal-scorer, and fitting him in on the wing next to Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac gives him an opportunity to take that offensive ability to the next level. As for Stefan Matteau, I believe he and Ryan Carter and Dainius Zubrus can be an effective fourth line. They can score a little, they can grind and hit a little, and they won't be a defensive liability.
Barry Place: So what are the odds that this could honestly happen next year?
PGM: That's why this is called a "fantasy".