The big story in between the two preseason games yesterday is that Tom Gulitti and Rich Chere broke the news on Wednesday that Patrik Elias went to see a specialist on Tuesday and had scar tissue removed from his groin. The surgery was a success. As a result, though, he is now out for 3-6 weeks definitely missing all of preseason and the Devils' home opener at a minimum.
A quick, literal look at the calender will show that should Elias recover in 3 weeks, he'll be available on October 7 - missing at least two Devils games. A 6 week recovery would keep him until October 28, missing at least 9 games and probably 2 more as the Devils host Buffalo that night and play in Boston the very next night. Of course, none of this considers how long it would take for Elias to get ready for NHL action after recovering from injury. In Gulitti's post, according to Lou, Elias can take on a "aggressive" recovery as the surgery was only for scar tissue. Hopefully, it goes smoothly and without complication. Best wishes to Elias as he recovers from his scar tissue surgery.
Regardless, the big question is what do the New Jersey Devils do now? At a minimum, Elias will miss a few games and he'll need extra time to get rid of any rust. Putting the issue of whether it was a good idea for Elias to play center aside, there is a big positional hole at center that the Devils must fill in the next two weeks. Right now, the Devils only have Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus as regular centers. I would think Rod Pelley's a safe bet to make it on the New Jersey roster, but nothing is written in stone yet. Even if he does, the Devils need one more center.
So what should the Devils do now to get another center? What are their options?
Chere's next post asks the immediate question, do the Devils now trade for a center? This is the best option for a long term fix, as the Devils could swing a big trade to get a very good player or swing a small trade to get a "fill-in" center on the cheap. If you're hoping for another big weapon up front, then you're hoping the Devils are willing pay the cost to get an offensive center for that second line. Plus, it would allow Elias to play left wing when he does return. Yet, that could be quite costly and I'm sure the league knows about the Devils' situation. Lou would be trading from a weak position in my view, so if they do make a trade, it may not be a significant one. Then again, you can never tell with this team what Lou will do.
Lemaire was non-comittal in his response, stating that he wants to see how the prospects perform. That provides a few options for the Devils. Ben Walter and Tim Sestito could simply be called up for games in October and fill in on the bottom six. Both have been playing center, as recently as the Lowell preseason loss to Hartford (link goes to Gulitti's report on the game). Gulitti reported that Sestito has practiced with most of the veterans in the morning today, so perhaps that is a sign that he is being looked at as a possibility. Who knows?
If Patrice Cormier has a great preseason, then the Devils could also keep Patrice Cormier with the New Jersey Devils for up to 10 games and then send him back to Rimouski for the rest of the season. This way he gets a taste of the NHL, fills a hole, and then spend the rest of the season developing in the QMJHL. Because any more than 10 games and he's stuck with NJ the whole season. Of course, Cormier will have to shine as preseason progresses for this to happen.
The Devils could also slot a wing into a center to start the season. This may be the most viable short-term method as the Devils have plenty of wingers in the system. Brian Rolston has experience as a center, so sliding him over can allow a prospect or a fringe player to move up in the roster. The Devils will still have to hope no other center gets hurt and they may need some right wingers to play on the offwing - Clarkson-Rolston-Bergfors, for example. Yet Zajac-Rolston-Zubrus-Pelley as the team's centers may work as a short-term fix.
Lastly, the Devils can simply sign a center from one of the remaining unrestricted free agents available. CapGeek has a list of UFA forwards available. OK, it's not a great pool of talent. But the Devils could get someone useful fairly cheaply now and they can provide NHL-level depth all season long. Manny Malhotra, in my opinion, would be the best option.
But given that the Devils haven't gone after him now, I doubt he'll be signed. Except he's now expected to sign with San Jose shortly; so the Devils will have even fewer choices among free agents.
In all cases, I'm sure we can trust Lou to do what is best for the team at this time. Still, I want to know what option you want the Devils to take to fill in this hole at center. They can't simply do nothing, the team needs four centers for four lines. You can have your say in this poll; or explain your thoughts in the comments.