This is a question I'm sure most New Jersey Devils fans aren't asking.
After all, we're waiting to see if the NHL will approve the new Ilya Kovalchuk contract for $100 million over 15 years. If they do, then most Devils fans will be wondering who will be dumped to get the team underneath the salary cap ceiling in time for the 2010-11 season. (Incidentally, I've made my argument here as to who that should be back in July, please don't discuss it here.)
With September coming up, several of the free agents from last year's team have signed elsewhere. Paul Martin signed with Pittsburgh. Rob Niedermayer went to Buffalo. Yann Danis went to Russia and will play for Amur Khabarovsk of the KHL. Martin Skoula also will play in the KHL, but for Avangard Omsk. Andrew Peters and Jay Pandolfo were bought out, and Peters has signed with the Florida Panthers.
Yet, Mike Mottau has not been signed by anyone. He is still available for any team in the league. I find it bizarre (and unfair in a way) that Andrew Peters - yes, the same Andrew Peters whose fists were irrelevant last season - got a contract - a two-way contract, but still - before Mike Mottau got a deal. I know Jay Pandolfo hasn't been signed anywhere either, but he's lost more than just a step in recent seasons. He was a shutdown defensive winger, but as more teams tend to match lines "power for power," Pandolfo's lack of offense really doesn't make him viable. I can see why Pandolfo hasn't been signed, but not a 32-year old defenseman who hasn't really lost anything yet. I don't understand why Mottau is still an unrestricted free agent, and I'll explain why after the jump.
Last season, Mottau was put on shifts in New Jersey's end often (second largest differential behind Colin White); and played a ton of minutes, specifically an average of 22:15 per game (second behind Andy Greene), 19:19 per game at even strength (led the team). Per Behind the Net, Mottau had a good quality of teammates at even strength (0.081), but also faced a good quality of competition (0.033, second most among defensemen).
Back in May, in comparing Paul Martin's advanced stats with his teammates, I found that Mike Mottau actually compared quite well among defensemen in the league in terms of shots against per 60 (an important area to be good at for a defenseman). Plus, as noted in the defensive zone post earlier this month, Mottau managed an unadjusted positive Corsi (meaning, more meaningful puck possession for NJ when he was on the ice) despite not being offensive, playing next to an even-less-offensive Colin White, and having started in his own zone over 80 more times than in other team's end of the rink. That's pretty impressive.
As Tom noted a few days ago, Lemaire utilized Mottau quite a lot on the penalty kill last season; adding to his minutes and responsibilities. Tom wasn't as bullish on Mottau's PK performances, but he wasn't stinking it up on the ice either.
Given that Mottau made all of $762,500 last season, that's getting a lot of bang for your buck.
As much frustration as he caused Devils fans, in the big picture, there's not a lot of evidence to say that Mottau was abysmal. Did he have any special talents to speak of? No. Was he big and physical? No. Was he particularly useful on offense? Not really. Did he make some boneheaded plays at time? Of course, but who hasn't? Mottau is what he is, unimpressive but not at all useless.
My main point is that while Mottau isn't exceptional, but he wasn't a waste of space on the blueline either. The advanced numbers, especially from last season, aren't bad at all. Intuitively, given that Brent Sutter used him regularly and Jacques Lemaire used him heavily, Mottau must have been doing something right in his own end to justify his minutes. He didn't make a lot of money last year and unless he and his representation has set ridiculous demands, he probably could be had for cheap again. Especially now, given that the season is nigh and he'd want to get on a team for their training camp to get acclimated and ready for 2010-11.
He's been on the Devils' #4 spot in the past few seasons, surely a team could use him for a #4 or #5 spot - with the possibility for minutes in spot duty, right?
Now, having said all that, I can think of only one scenario where I would want Mottau back as a Devil. User triumph44 brought it up in the comments to Tom's post about projecting the defensemen on the penalty kill:
if the money’s there for it, i wouldn’t mind seeing mottau back here on a cheap contract playing 3rd pairing minutes and killing penalties. if the devils go with a top four of volchenkov, greene, white, tallinder, with the remaining two being a combo of young players or people like salmela and fraser, i think that’s a mistake. one of those 4 will get hurt and the young kids will get NHL time, but i fear a situation like last year where our 3rd pairing is extremely protected, zone start and QoC wise, and stops playing in the 3rd period. one injury and we’re playing one of those unproven guys 20 minutes a game.
Triumph has a good point. Remember that Mark Fraser was heavily protected last season. Lemaire gave him an average of , played him against weak competition (-0.092 was the lowest among all Devils defensemen at even strength), and despite being a physical, defensive-minded defenseman, Lemaire started Fraser 90 more times in the opposition's end of the rink than in his own zone. As a result of this practice, Fraser was brought in slowly; and as fine of an idea that may be, it meant the other four to five defenseman had to pick up even more minutes.
While the Devils have several defensemen prospects who will fight for a roster spot in training camp, I wouldn't get my hopes up on counting on them to pick up the slack. Young defensemen in the NHL aren't common at all for a reason. George St. Ayr wrote a great post at Blueshirt Banter explaining that a young defender can do well only if they are put into good situations. Even so, asking for Alexander Urbom or Matthew Corrente to do more than a 23-year old Mark Fraser last season is asking for quite a lot. In fact, I don't even know how Fraser will respond if John MacLean gives him more minutes and tougher competition in 2010-11.
This is where Mottau can be a positive asset. He can not only "cover" for the younger #6 defenseman on the ice, but give the coaching staff the confidence to give that pairing shifts later in the game and more shifts in general. They're familiar with Mottau as much as Mottau is familiar with them. This way the top 4 doesn't get overworked. Moreover, should someone higher up get hurt, the Devils know that Mottau can be used to fill in that player's spot as a short-term solution. We may not like it, but the past two seasons shown that Mottau can be on a second pairing and not look totally overwhelmed.
There's also a solid intangible I think Mottau can provide: mentoring (in theory, I don't know what he's actually like as a teacher or mentor). He's living proof that persistence plus the right situation can lead to a regular spot on a NHL roster, whether he was in the minors for a 1 season or for 7 seasons like Mottau. That's not a bad lesson to teach to a Devils system with several young defenders, some of who will end up in Albany by the end of October.
Above all that, he can be had for cheap - which will be a vital factor if/when Kovalchuk is officially a New Jersey Devil.
That all said, I don't see how most teams in the league wouldn't benefit in some small way. Do I think the Devils have to sign Mottau? No. I will only be pleased if it's after a contract dumping and he's brought in as a vet for a lower pairing position. Do I think Mottau is a must-sign player? Clearly not, the market has spoken on that one. Do I think Mottau can be an asset? Yes, and a cheap one at that, so I still fail to see how he's still without a team at this point of the offseason.
When will Mike Mottau get signed by a NHL team? For his sake, hopefully soon.
If you want to talk about Ilya Kovalchuk and his contract, do it in this post and not here. Here is where you can answer questions like: When do you think Mottau will sign with a NHL team? Do you think Mottau will get a contract offer in the coming month? Who you do you think should sign Mike Mottau. Please post your thoughts on those questions and on Mike Mottau in the comments. Thanks for reading.