If you have been following the New Jersey Devils in this offseason, then you probably know that the Devils have a little over $4 million dollars in cap space left and 19 players. And even if you didn't, well, CapGeek spells it right out for you. Since the Devils haven't dumped any players to create cap space, you can probably rule out the likelihood of seeing Ilya Kovalchuk or any other "big name" player on the market come to New Jersey now.
That said, all teams must have 20 players on an active roster, the Devils will likely carry an extra defenseman to start since Anssi Salmela suffered a major injury in May, and all teams must be under the cap ceiling of $59.4 million when the season begins. What can we expect the Devils to do from now until October?
Fortunately, the current cap situation clues us in to what the Devils can do. CapGeek has come out with a brand new, Flash-based salary cap calculator for all 30 NHL teams. The key feature of this calculator is that it allows users to organize an actual roster by position and add players to see how they'll fit in under the cap. I've played around with it for a bit and have come up with an idea of what to expect going forward.First off, that $4.1 million cap space figure you've seen on the original team charts includes a bonus cushion. The Devils have $740,000 tied up in potential bonuses: $240,000 to Vladimir Zharkov and $500,000 to Johan Hedberg. I'm not completely clear on what activates those bonuses but they do factor into the additional space the Devils have. It's not an insignificant amount as taking out said bonus leaves the Devils with $3.458 million in cap space.
For the sake of this argument, let's include the bonus cushion and hope they aren't activated.
Now, looking at the calculator, the roster is a bit out of order with respect to position. That's OK, we can click and drag players to positions as we see fit. Still, you'll immediately see that the Devils are short a forward. This can either be a center or a winger depending on how you see everyone factoring in. When I put it all together, I made Dainius Zubrus the second line right wing and Rod Pelley as a center. Therefore, there's a spot open there. You may feel that Zubrus should be a center with Pelley and that will leave a wing position open. All the same, a forward has to be added.
Since I made the opening at center, there are four things the Devils can do. They can put Jacob Josefson and his $900k cap hit in that spot, they can put Adam Henrique and his $870k cap hit in that spot, they can figure Tim Sestito is ready and put his league minimum deal of $500k on the New Jersey roster, or go with a veteran free agent.
I'm not even looking at other spots and already preseason has an important purpose: who among the prospects and minor league players is ready to step up? One of Josefson, Henrique, and Sestito could have a real shot at making the roster as-is and that's not even considering a long shot like Michael Swift coming in and making a splash. If the Devils want to keep as much space as possible, then Sestito has an advantage. If not, then that's better for Josefson and Henrique.
Incidentally, there are a lot of free agent veteran centers who haven't been signed yet. Given that the spot I made is on the bottom two lines at center, then it doesn't have to be a big name - just a cheap player with experience. Still, given the other roster needs, it can't be too expensive lest I prevent myself from adding a top prospect. The quantity of UFAs does help drive their value down so getting an older player on a one-year, league minimum deal would be likely. It would be necessary if it's apparent that Josefson, Henrique, Sestito, etc. aren't ready to handle a center position for a whole season.
Let's move on to defense. Remember: Salmela had knee surgery in the end of May and is expected to be out for 4 months at a minimum. He'll miss preseason and will need extra time to get ready, so the Devils need a sixth defenseman to at least for the start of the season. This could easily be Mark Fraser, who filed for arbitration earlier this month. However, with the number of defensive prospects in the system, they could definitely make their case to move ahead of Fraser. Depending on what he's re-signed for or awarded in arbitration, the Devils could save some money here.
Immediately, I see the purpose of Tyler Eckford signing a two-way $550,000 deal. He's been mentioned along with Matthew Corrente and Alexander Urbom as being not far away from the NHL. Unlike Corrente ($821k + bonuses) and Urbom ($870k), though, Eckford has the edge of being more cap friendly and that could be the difference maker if the decision comes down to those three. Why spend an extra $300k for a depth defenseman position when Eckford can provide similar performance as Urbom or Corrente (or Fraser or Salmela) would? Speaking of cap friendly deals, should Matt Taormina shows his offensive skills can have value at the next level, then the Devils will take a good look at him as well. Remember, his deal is worth $510,000 in the NHL - he could be an even bigger bargain, though I really do think he's a long shot for now.
Again, the Devils can go for a veteran free agent and possibly for the league minimum on defense. Though, I don't see the need to do just that. At least three defensemen prospects will fight for the spot with Fraser and given that Eckford signed just above the league minimum, there's not a lot of room for savings.
Sure, a savings of about $300,000 may not seem like much, but it can be huge later on should the Devils need to call up players for injuries or make a trade and need all the space they can get. Preseason's not just about finding out who's ready for the NHL anymore. It's about finding out who's ready and whether they can be added without taking unnecessary cap space.
This leads me to extra players. Since they'll need one on defense to start, I don't see the need to add another one. With one of the signed forwards being Pierre-Luc Letourneau Leblond, an extra, non-beefy winger would do the trick. Here, the Devils have relatively expensive winger prospects they can plug in. Mattias Tedenby is the hot name and would add $875k to the cap. Alexander Vasyunov ($850k) and Nick Palmieri ($801k) would be options from the farm team, as would the recently re-signed and now-really-cheap option of Patrick Davis ($500k). Again, the Devils could add a veteran forward for league minimum and be safer with experience should none of the prospects be ready.
You may think these are minor moves, but they can have a dramatic effect on the overall cap. Suppose the Devils want to go with prospects and the best ones regardless of contract. If you add Josefson, Tedenby, and Corrente, the Devils will have 22 players on the roster and $1.766 million in cap space with the cushion. Not bad. But if you go for cheaper options in those same spots with Sestito, Davis, and Eckford, then the cap space is at $2.648 million. That's a savings of close to a million dollars, which can be huge later on if the Devils need to trade for a quality player. Even if there is no trade, there's no good reason to waste cap space.
Quite frankly, it would be foolish if the Devils went out and spent even just a million of their cap space on a short-term role on this roster. This is why you should expect league minimum or near-league minimum deals from the Devils or seeing prospects being given a real long look in preseason to do the job. Forget about Kovalchuk or even Frolov. The big moves made by the Devils this summer have been made already short of a massive trade. Now, they don't have much cap space and at least two roster spots to fill. From here on out, it's going to be minor additions (either by signing or promotion) and the Devils will be wise to minimize their additions to the cap.
Play around with the new CapGeek calculator and let me know what you think the roster will look like on opening night. What are your expectations of the Devils future additions? Do you think they'll take a prospects' contracts into account along with how they perform? I think they should, but perhaps you feel differently. Should the Devils go into free agency to fill these roles, who do you want to be added? Please let me know what you think in the comments.