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Free Agent Defensemen & The Devils: Jay Bouwmeester

About 2 weeks ago, I posted up a poll while discussing what direction the Devils should go for this offseason in terms of free agents.    According to this poll, the majority of you - a combined 67% - feel that the Devils biggest need is on defense.  35% of you all felt the need is for an offensive defenseman and 32% of you all felt the need is for a defensive defenseman.  Given the list of unrestricted free agent defensemen at NHL Numbers, it may seem that the market may hold more defensive defenseman than offensive defenseman.   That said, at least we can agree that the blueline needs to be bolstered for next season.  

By the way, I'm not considering restricted free agents because A) offer sheets will require compensation to the original team which can get real expensive in terms of money and draft picks and B) there isn't really anyone that makes it tempting to run that risk unless you really, really, really like young defensemen who haven't hit their full potential yet.  I don't think they'll improve the Devils right away, which is what I assume this signing (or signings) need to do.)

I'd like to make this a daily feature for the next few weeks, looking at defensemen who the Devils might be or should be interested for next season.Today, let's take a look at Jay Bouwmeester, the 25 year old #1 defenseman from the Florida Panthers.  Also known as the most sought-after defenseman this summer:

Jay Bouwmeester

#4 / Defenseman / Florida Panthers



Sep 27, 1983

2008-09 Salary: $4.875 million

2008 - Jay Bouwmeester 82 15 27 42 -2 68 9 0 2 1 182 8.2

Jay-Bo is just entering the prime of his career after season after season of missing the playoffs in Florida.   He's oozing with talent, he clearly can provide offense from the point, and he's a fantastic skater.  According to the scouting profile on his player page, his weaknesses are his physical play and that he's not a vocal leader.  Two weaknesses that won't make a bit of difference in New Jersey where Jay wouldn't have to be physical and wouldn't be a leader anyway.  He'd be a fantastic fit and could even fit right in up top with Paul Martin.  If I were Bouwmeester, I wouldn't look for just money, but also for a successful team to sign.  Given that the Devils haven't missed the playoffs since 1996, the Devils emphatically fit that need.  

His recent numbers on offense indicate a definite upgrade on that front.  In his past three seasons, he's put up 12, 15, and 15 goals with at least 20 assists.  That's more than Paul Martin's 33 points and Johnny Oduya's 7 goals.  Oh, did I mention from the 2008-09 season, Bouwmeester put up 9 power play goals?  Imagine what he could add to the Devils' power play?  OK, he shoots left, but does it really matter?   Combine this with the fact that he's averaged an astonishing 26:59 per game, up against the opposition's best players every night, and ends up with a goals against/60 average of 2.55 in even strength situations. That's not bad at all!

So Bouwmeester eats minutes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; he's not a slouch in his own zone; and he's productive on offense.   He'd fit the Devils' needs and he'd be a clear-cut, true #1 defenseman - the first since Scott Niedermayer, I'd say.  It's a shame the Devils aren't going to get him this summer.

Let me be blunt:  Short of a miracle, the Devils aren't going to get Bouwmeester.  Look at Brian Campbell when he was a free agent.  A young and budding offensive defenseman like him earned $7.140 million/year with Chicago in a prior offseason.   While Bouwmeester would almost instantly make the Devils' defense one of the top in the league, he's simply going to be too expensive.  Watch some team this summer to offer at least $6.5 million for Bouwmeester's talents.  Again, he's about to turn 26 and hit the prime of his career.  There are no other UFA defensemen with this much talent at this age and that all comes at a premium price.  This opportunity just doesn't happen all that often.

Put it this way, if Brian Rolston got 16 offers last summer, then Bouwmeester should be getting offers from nearly every team in the league!

I think the only way the Devils will even have the money to compete in the Bouwmeester sweepstakes is if the Devils let all of their UFAs go.  Even then, the Devils may not have a lot of cap room for a few seasons if they add $6-7 million to their current roster (as seen here at NHL Numbers). Oduya couldn't return (though, if it means Jay-Bo, I wouldn't mind), and it could very well have an effect on keeping Paul Martin (who I want to stay as a Devil) and others in the future.  And I definitely won't want Martin to go for free. Seriously making an effort to sign Bouwmeester would literally be putting all the eggs in one basket.  The Devils can't definitively upgrade themselves at center, the depth on defense, or get a proven backup goaltender if they drop all that coin on Jay-Bo. It's almost an either-or situation.

Even if the Devils plan to offer $7 million/year for Bouwmeester (assuming they have the cap space), it's not a guarantee that he'll say yes.  And if we learned anything from Scott Niedermayer's free agency experience, waiting and not getting what you want could very lead to signing whoever is left for way too much money (McGillis, Malakhov).

In short, I'd pass on Bouwmeester unless Jay and his agents seriously want to come to New Jersey.  Throw a little $5-$5.5 million offer for a few years out there, maybe, and see if he's at least interested.  However, I don't think it'll make sense in terms of the cap and based on that alone, we should not expect Bouwmeester in Devils red for next season.

Feel free to have your say on Jay Bouwmeester.  Maybe you think the Devils should take a big shot and seriously make a play for Jay-Bo.  Maybe you have someone else in mind that you'd like to see covered? Perhaps you are a fan of Bouwmeester or the Panthers and can provide some insight on what he would bring to the table? Share your thoughts as we continue this series with some more "names" on defense.