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Why the New Jersey Devils will have a Different Look in 2009-2010 - and what should be done next

The New Jersey Devils have not done a whole lot in free agency so far this summer.  Here is exactly what they have done (all these links go to Gulitti's posts as confirmation of moves):

Now, I said that Oduya was a must-sign player among all the UFAs and to that end, the Devils succeeded.  Credit Lou with that.  Moreover, Lou has been able to keep Greene to keep the defense intact and Travis Zajac has been qualified, so he'll return as well.

Of course, I also said that the Devils needed a two-way/offensive defenseman on the blueline as that's the only type of player the defense could use; as well as a back up goaltender, and possible upgrade at center on the second line.   With John Madden now in Chicago, the Devils also need a checking center.  So to that end, the Devils still need to fill these needs.

I think most of the readers understand why Lou is doing this.  thejerseydevil really hit the head on the nail as far as what the plan could be with this FanPost.  Though, the reasons are not exactly a secret according to Lou. 

There are essentially two reasons: 1) the salary cap is going to go down after this upcoming season and 2) Lou wants to give the prospects a real chance at making the lineup.  Let me repeat the quote Chere had from Lou yesterday evening:

"I don't think this is a change in direction," Lamoriello said. "It's a change of people pushing other people. The core is still there. But you can't keep everybody. The cap is going down next year."

The emphasis on the youth is further justified with this quote from Lou that Gulitti got today:

But Lamoriello reiterated that the "primary" reason was, "We want to put some young people in this lineup. Remember, we haven't won the last two years. We won during the regular season (but not the playoffs). So, we've got to get some new people in there and, also, we've got to put some responsibility on some people who are core people and are becoming core people to get it done and start logging more ice time."


"It was a decision because I think people are ready to takes roles in other areas," Lamoriello said. "In my mind, I think (Rod) Pelley, (Pierre-Luc Letourneau-) Leblond, (Nicklas) Bergfors are that close. They still have to do it. And (Matt) Halischuk is not far away. (Alexander) Vasyunov is not far away. Those are real things."

In a way, I can get behind this idea.  Back before and during the 1999-2000 season, the Devils started integrating the then-unknown qualities of John Madden, Brian Rafalski, Scott Gomez, and Jay Pandolfo.  Back in the 1999-00 season, you'd be lying if you told me they would become the impact players on the Devils that they would become.  Nothing gold can stay, though, so it is time for them to go and perhaps that Lou is talking up Pelley, Bergfors, Halischuk, Vasyunov, and Leblond - he sees something similar in them as he did back nearly a decade ago.

In addition to the aforementioned prospects, there's Matthew Corrente and Tyler Eckford on the blueline to push the defensemen for spots; and from junior and NCAA leagues, there's Patrice Cormier, Adam Henrique, Nick Palmieri, and David Wohlberg right off the top of my head.  I'm sure they (and others!) will get some serious looks in preseason.  The Devils may not have any "this guy is definitely going be in the NHL and succeed" prospects, but they aren't just standard guys either.

Back to Lou's gambit.  Since this is a results-oriented business, it's important to note that the Devils haven't gotten further than the second round in the playoffs after the lockout in 2004-05.  Those teams definitely could contend one way or another - I felt really strongly about last season being a fantastic roster who could make it happen.  Yet bad breaks (this past spring), a lack of fire (2008 playoffs), running out of gas (2006, 2007) or whatever reason you want to attribute the losses to aside, the Devils did not succeed in the playoffs.

Rather than trying to sign another veteran to a deal that some would say is outrageous and hoping things will be different this time, Lou's gambit is to give the youth a chance. At the least, they'll develop and the Devils will be safe should the salary cap drop significantly for 2010-11.  For what it's worth, NJmetal15 took a stab at what this year's team could look like budget-wise in this FanPost.  It's not a bad attempt except for a few generous assumptions.

Anyway, my point is that I get what Lou is trying to do.  It's clear that the next head coach of the Devils will have to be willing to work with and utilize the younger players.  And as Blez pointed out in this FanPost about why Rolston's presence is now a blessing at this point, the Devils do have some flexibility with respect to positions at forward. As it stands, the Devils will need that.   However, I think the Devils absolutely should make some signings to fill in some of these holes.  

At a minimum, the Devils should sign a back-up goaltender.  Jeff Frazee had a fantastic 2008-09 season from what I understand, starting in Trenton, getting called up to Lowell, and performing fairly well in the AHL.  Lou has said that he could be Brodeur's back up, but I think Frazee's development would be better served by starting in the AHL.  He'll get minutes, he'll get games, and he'll face a lot more shots than he would in practice or pre-game drills in New Jersey.  I think Frazee needs experience moreso than anything else, and he won't have that on the bench.  And yes, even if Brodeur plays the mythical 60 games some want him to play because it's a nice number, that's still significant time watching instead of making saves for Frazee.

As far as the defense goes, I can live with the defense as-is.  I really would like to see a M-A Bergeron added to it as an offensive threat, but the group has been successful before, they can make it happen again.  Yet, the Devils still need a center.  Right now it's Zajac, Zubrus, and Pelley. And Zubrus isn't a natural center.  It's such an unfortunate turn of events that Petr Vrana signed a two-year deal to play in the Czech Republic, as he could have been a frontrunner for a spot on this team already!   Anyway, the Devils need someone to play center and if you didn't like Zubrus taking up the role, I don't think you're going to enjoy seeing a winger like Patrik Elias or Rolston try and do it for a whole season.   

I truly think the Devils should sign at least one center - be it a defensive center to be on the third line, or a more offensive-minded center on the second line.  Truth be told, I did want to see Saku Koivu  here.  However, given that his deal with Minnesota appears to be breaking down because the Wild aren't offering him a four year deal according to Michael Russo; I can't see Lou giving him such a long term deal.  Two years, OK, bring on Saku.  Anything longer and it starts making less sense.   Russo's post offers a list of who's left and take a look at the centers:

Centers: Saku Koivu, Mike Comrie, Robert Lang, Todd Marchant, Jason Williams, P.J. Axelsson, Radek Bonk, Manny Malhotra, Dominic Moore.

Most of these are viable options - if only for a one or two-year deal.  I think the Devils would be better off getting another actual center either for the second line (Koivu, Williams, Comrie, Lang) or for a third line (Malhotra, Axelsson, Moore, Marchant, Bonk).   It'll add strength to the group of forwards, it'll prevent forcing wingers to play out of position, and they have skills who would keep the Devils more competitive.  If it's Koivu, great! If not, I can settle for most of these guys (I'd be the most wary on Bonk and Lang due to age, incidentally).

I'm not looking for a big splash, but signing a back-up goaltender and getting another center now would not compromise the intent of getting younger and giving the prospects a chance.  If anything, it'll reduce the temptation of rushing up Frazee (or another junior prospect) to the NHL, or playing a prospect winger out of position  Given the reasons brought up by Lou and others, I completely understand and can agree with this different look for the 2009-10 season.  I just don't think the Devils should just stand pat either and just settle for possibly Brendan Shanahan to be the last man signed.  I don't think he will and I certainly Lou can at least fill in those two holes.