It's time for a second edition of What Do You Think. Last time, it was about the Devils' attendance struggles. And in both the initial question and a follow-up post, you have provided some excellent comments. I certainly hope to see those kinds of well-thought out comments again for the more hockey-relevant issue of trades.
The NHL trade deadline for this season is March 4, 2009. (TSN already has their site ready!) With the All Star break, you can bet general managers across the league are evaluating their team, their position, and putting out feelers to make some moves. And after the All Star Game, the unofficial mad rush for positioning for playoffs and/or rushing to get into a playoff position will begin. Teams who could contend drop out. Teams who weren't contending could catch hot and move up. And some teams, well, their shot at the postseason is nearly dead within the first week of the month of February. So it's isn't readily apparent as to who will be willing to "trade for the future," so to speak. Mirtle has been keeping up a regular look at the playoff push for all the teams in the league and it gives a good idea of who could be sellers and who could be buyers in by March 4. In fact, for some of the teams already out of it, Mirtle's even compiled a list of potential players that could be shipped off for a little in return.
What do the Devils do? Let's look at the current situation:
With Martin Brodeur eventually coming back in March Lou tends to make a move at the deadline. Rich Chere notes that a veteran defenseman is usually a good bet at becoming a new Devil at the deadline. It makes sense. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few: Bryce Salvador, Ken Klee Brad Lukowich, Vladamir Malakhov, Richard Smehlik, and Sean O'Donnell. And Chere thinks this season is no different. The players, particularly the defensemen, aren't thinking the same way.
I don't blame them. I mean, the Devils allow only 29.2 shots on average per game, which is eleventh-best in the league. It's not bad and I think a bit stilted due to recent results. Moreover, the Devils are incredibly good on even strength, with a for-against ratio of 1.37. Only Boston has a better ratio at 1.57. And the penalty killing has improved to 82.0%, which is good for the fourteenth highest efficiency.
I feel that some may think the Devils need a stud defensemen to really put the icing on the proverbial cake. I wouldn't get my hopes up, though. For starters, past history shows that if Lou makes a big deal, it's rarely for a premier defenseman. If there will be a new defenseman, it's likely going to be someone complementary. Second, the blueline unit is truly better than the sum of it's parts. Throwing someone off the unit in favor of a new guy for a month-and-a-third before the playoffs could also throw off the chemistry and hurt the defense overall. Third, stud defensemen are expensive in terms of trades. How many are there really in the league? Not even 30, I'd bet. And for the teams who have them, I can't imagine they'll let them go so easily.
The Three Goalie Issue
That all said, a move for a defensemen wouldn't surprise me as Chere indicates. Chere also helpfully reminded us recently, with Brodeur now skating again, the Devils now have a goaltender issue similar to Vancouver about 2 weeks ago. The return of a dominant goalie means one of the three has to go. And Marty's not going anywhere. Chere has this quote from Lou.
And what about having three goalies? Is that a problem on the horizon?
"Things have a way of working out," Lamoriello said. "We'll have to see what we do."
Typical Lou. You don't know whether this is a hint or a matter of a fact statement. Still, with both goalies on the last year of their contracts (according to NHLSCAP, whose work is at Hockeybuzz), a trade is the only way the Devils are going to get anything in return for either of them.
I'd have to check the rules, but I'd imagine Kevin Weekes would have to go through waivers if sent down to Lowell - and he would almost undoubtedly be picked up by someone in that case. Scott Clemmensen started in Lowell and perhaps not have to go through waivers. But he's been playing too well to go to Lowell. He would be quite disgruntled. about being sent down.
|2008 - Scott Clemmensen||30||1754||19||9||1||4||67||2.29||860||793||.922||0|
|2008 - Kevin Weekes||10||512||4||4||0||0||22||2.58||256||234||.914||0|
Still, three goalies isn't viable for the roster. Clemmensen has been getting the majority of the games and he's been playing splendidly in net. He's even among the top 10 goalies in the league in some statistical categories, such as wins (7th), goals against average (6th), and save percentage (8th). The only legitimate strikes against him are his tendencies to give up rebounds (a concern quelled by an alert, reactive Devils defense) and he has no experience in the playoffs. Kevin Weekes hasn't been as good as Clemmensen, but he also hasn't been getting as many games. In his last two appearances, he was great - he has the talent. And he actually has been in the playoffs; though it's been a while ago. Still, long ago is better than none at all in case Brodeur goes down in the postseason. So goaltender is where one decision has to be made.
How About Those Forwards?
At the beginning of the season, if you were to ask me who doesn't last as a Devil this season, I'd say it's Brian Gionta. After a big 48-goal season in 2005-06 which led to a nice $4 million/year contract, he hasn't come close to that level of performance. This season, he's been very good - fitting in well with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus; and it shows in his production.
|2008 - Brian Gionta||45||11||27||38||11||24||2||1||0||0||135||8.1|
Gionta will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. So the big question for Lou is this: do you pay him a comparable salary and hope he can keep this production up? Or do you trade him and get a viable player in return? With Gionta in the prime of his career, Lou could command some serious talent in return. Especially in a deal with Weekes or Clemmensen. Keep in mind, the Devils' chemistry among it's top two lines has been a big factor in not just Gionta getting points, but for all of them. The returning player may not fit in as well as quickly, to the detriment of the Devils. One of the reasons why the Devils are winning as many games as they have been is that they can score some goals. Taking away a scoring forward, even if he's replaced with another one, could seriously dent the Devils' production - and their wins.
|2008 - John Madden||40||5||11||16||-5||16||0||0||1||0||63||7.9|
Then there's John Madden. Don't leave the site, it's just a thought. John Madden is an option to be traded as well. His contract at just under $3 million/year ends after this season. While he was solid last season, he hasn't been as productive and he's struggled early on. Madden has been playing much better recently and is starting to show some on-ice chemistry with David Clarkson and Brian Rolston. He's also not getting any younger at age 35. Madden is a warrior in the right situations; but can he keep the fire burning? This season, sure. But for the next few seasons? Perhaps not. I don't think he will be traded, but as an asset, it's not impossible.
There's many more thoughts I could go on, but I'll leave it here. Trying to figure out what Lou will do is nigh-impossible. But the situation is as follows: the Devils will have three solid goalies on the roster. They have a few players with expiring contracts who could command some serious returns in conjunction with a goalie. And the Devils may or may not be one solid player away from being a solid Stanley Cup Contender. Perhaps Brodeur is that player and no one will be moved. Perhaps these are too many words (well...). Perhaps Lou will do something completely unexpected (which a small part of me kind of expects, actually).
Regardless, I ask you, the reader: What do you think the Devils should do in terms of trades up until the trade deadline? Put it this way: If you were Lou, what would you do to make the Devils a better hockey team?