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Madden and Gionta Want to Stay, But at What Cost?

There isn't a whole lot going on today. According to Chere, Brent Sutter felt it was best to have the team take 2 days away from the rink before getting back to it on Thursday. Given that they just played 5 games in 7 days, fair enough. However, the schedule nor the playoffs really call for a nice easy schedule. Given the Devils recent problems at penalty killing, I kind of wanted to see a statement being made about trying to get it togther. I suppose Thursday will have to suffice for that. At least Patrik Elias can be upgraded to likely for Chicago, according a later Chere report.

But the most interesting thing to come from Chere today is actually a bit ahead of itself. It's really about two of the big decisions the Devils will have to make for the offseason: Brian Gionta and John Madden. According to Chere, both players would like to stay in New Jersey. Given their current deals of $4 million/year (Gionta) and $3 million/year (Madden), I can't imagine they'll remain as Devils for the same price.

The issue is two-fold with each player: how they have been performing and how they fit into the Devils' salary cap. Let's start with Brian Gionta. Currently, he has been making $4 million/year and his goal totals have fallen. He signed this contract after reaching his career peak - and franchise single season record - of 48 goals. Gionta was a 5'7" monster with 48 goals and 41 assists. Unfortunately, Gionta has yet to come close to those amounts as he has scored 25, 22, and currently has 18. Granted, his point totals have increased from 45, 53, to a current total of 55. He's involved in plays, but it's a big disappointment when a guy who once scored 48 in a season is struggling to score even 25. Based on the monster season that got him this contract, I'd say he hasn't lived up to it.

2008 - Brian Gionta 72 18 37 55 15 32 3 3 1 0 219 8.2

But again, he wants to stay. And he is only 30. He's got a few years still in him and if he can catch fire with consistent linemates, Gionta can be the scoring threat he was 4 seasons ago. Langenbrunner has put up numbers in a similar way. It's not unthinkable that the same could happen to Gionta. On the other hand, Gionta has been consistently with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus up until recently and he's on pace to have his lowest goal scoring season since 2003-04. In fact, even with recent changes, Gionta is still playing with Elias, who is having a point-per-game season. Yet, Gionta continues to annoyingly miss on finishing chances.

Now John Madden is a harder one to figure out. His main role is to be a checking center. He doesn't normally put up a lot of points. Madden's main responsibilities are to cover forwards, help out on the penalty kill, and give the opposition a little something to worry about when he does get a chance to counter attack. This quote from Chere really sums it up:

Madden, 35, is earning just under $3 million this season. His defensive play, faceoff ability and penalty-killing have been at the heart of the Devils' success over the past decade. But his role hasn't always been clear this season and he admits he hasn't played well enough to satisfy himself.

Inconsistent linemates, inconsistent play from longtime linemate Jay Pandolfo, and a general weakness on the penalty kill overall has hurt Madden this season. Especially the penalty kill, which is currently at a 79.9% effectiveness rate over the whole season.

That said, he is having a good year at the faceoff dot with 51.5% faceoffs won (only Travis Zajac is better on the team with 52.9%). And Madden isn't really having that bad of a year; Mirtle has him listed among top defensive forwards in the league based on his analysis. OK, we'd like to see Madden higher up, but he's there. He's also a battled-hardened veteran of the playoffs. Madden has the proverbial heart and tenacity that is needed in the postseason.

Madden's been paid just under $3 million/year and I'd say he's justified his contract for the most part - this season aside. However, one last parting shot, Madden will be turning 36. Who knows how much he'll have left regardless of where he plays?

While I (tried to, at least) summarized how each player has done; let's look at the numbers. According to NHL Numbers, the Devils have 13 players under contract for next season with an estimated cap hit of 39.908 million. There are needs the Devils must fill. The biggest one relevant to Madden and Gionta, the Devils need to keep Johnny Oduya - who is in line for a big pay raise for 2009-10. Mirtle's noted that he's one of the top defenders in the league, a testament to how much improvement he has made. I would think $3 million/year would be more than valid for Oduya. Also, don't forget that Travis Zajac is a restricted free agent and he's definitely deserving of an increased salary.

Unfortunately, Oduya is an unrestricted free agent like Madden and Gionta. I don't think either really takes priority over Oduya. Especially if the Devils bank on Brian Rolston as a top 6 forward for next season. After all, Rolston's better on the right wing, which just happens to be Gionta's position.

Personally, I would think that signing both Madden and Gionta to similar deals to what they have would make little sense for the Devils. It would only tie up salary and hamper the team through 2009-10 and perhaps beyond. Though, if Holik and Shanahan aren't retained, that'll free up some more money. Even then, I think it would be wise to save that money for more deserving players (e.g. Zajac, Oduya, a free agent offensive defenseman, etc.).

From a performance standpoint, Gionta isn't playing like a $4 million scoring winger, due to his dwindling goal scoring, and Madden may not be a $3 million checking center for much longer, due to his age. Yes, I understand that the playoffs change everything. If Gionta becomes a Goal Scoring Machine en route to the Cup, fine, a bigger deal will be justified. I wouldn't have a problem with that. And I'm sure both agents are ready to point to Dainius Zubrus ($3.4 million/year) and Jay Pandolfo ($2.5 million/year) for comparison purposes negotiations. But I'm not interested in comparisons; on their own, I think the Devils should only retain Madden and/or Gionta if they are willing to play for less. Given that they want to be here, that is certainly a possibility.