During Free Agent Frenzy, Lou Lamoriello did some serious work for the New Jersey Devils. He went out and signed two forwards, the big name being Mike Cammalleri and the low risk/high reward signing being Marty Havlat. He also resigned fourth liners Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. This has definitively bolstered the depth and (hopefully) potency of the team's offense. This is also not to mention that Ryan Carter is still a free agent and Lamoriello has stated publically on multiple occasions that he would like to resign the final piece of the CBGB line.
Even without Carter, the team is currently looking at 14 NHL-caliber forwards who really have no business playing in Albany, along with two Albany forwards in Stefan Matteau and Reid Boucher who could be NHL ready sooner than later. Considering that only 12 forwards can dress on any given game night, this creates somewhat of an issue for head coach Peter DeBoer. Gerard wrote about this issue a little while back. Should the team seriously look to trade a forward, however, or do they have what they need right now to succeed? Let's look at the evidence from both angles to see.
Of Course We Have to Trade Someone
The obvious first response, at least for me anyway, was that the team definitely has to move someone before the start of the season. Otherwise, talent will be wasted waiting for an opportunity to play, a la Jacob Josefson most nights during last season. The sentiment of moving a forward was even bolstered by Lamoriello himself, who noted that he would look to move a forward or two if at all possible. If he could move two forwards to get an even better one, or get a quality prospect, that would maximize the use of potential on this team. For me, that seemed like the most obvious answer.
Of course, figuring out who should be moved--and who would generate the best value based on need--is a lot tougher. Gerard looked at this a great deal in his post, so I do not want to delve into that too deeply here. Just to quickly summarize, while the majority of players are pretty safe from being moved, the players who have the likeliest chance to either be moved or demoted would be Dainius Zubrus, Damien Brunner, Jacob Josefson, Steve Bernier, or Ryane Clowe. I definitely agree that in terms of a trade, Brunner or Zubrus could gain some potential buyers, and if Josefson does not really start to produce this year, he has minimal chance of going anywhere except on the fourth line or on spot start duty.
If two of those skaters were moved, it would leave 12 forwards available from the start, 13 if Carter is resigned or if the trade yields a top flight forward. Then, if and when someone gets injured, you can always call up Boucher or Matteau to give them a shot at producing with the big club. This seems like a pretty decent spot to be in for the Devils, especially if the team produces well. Is it the best move for the club, however? Let's see what not moving a forward would look like.
Who Said We Need to Move Someone?
After sitting on the roster for over a month now, the argument could be made that the team really is solid as it is now, and moving a forward is far from a necessity. To make this argument, we have to look at projected line combinations and how the team would look on the ice right now. Therefore, I am going to guess at how the lines will look on opening night. Of course, this will more than likely not be how it looks, but all we can do is guess at this point.
Line 1: Cammalleri - Zajac - Jagr
Line 2: Elias - Henrique - Havlat
Line 3: Clowe - Zubrus - Ryder
Line 4: Ruutu - Josefson - Brunner
Extras: Gionta, Bernier
Again, that is far from a definite, but it gives us a good look at what the current lineup has to offer. The main question mark, as mentioned by Mike, is who they decide to play at center. That really drives the whole lineup. I happen to think Josefson has more potential to offer, which is why I plugged him into the fourth line center spot instead of Gionta, but I could easily see that being switched. Also, I threw Zubrus in a center position because starting both Gionta and Josefson means benching someone like Zubrus or Brunner, and I am not sure that is prudent.
The interesting thing here is that you could probably come up with twenty different line combinations for this group of forwards and be able to argue any one of them as being the best. What does that mean? Well, it means that the team has a solid overall group on offense. Yes, you do not see that star top line like so many teams have, or even that the Devils had a couple years back when they could throw Kovalchuk and Parise on the same line. What you do have instead is arguably three lines with second line talent, and a fourth line with third line talent. This is the opposite of a team that is front loaded with star players and prays that its bottom six can just get lucky with a goal here and there. Instead, the strength of this team will be to match up its bottom six against most in the league, while hopefully getting solid production from the top six.
The other area where this squad will really benefit from is the inevitable injury bug. If you trade a couple guys, you will have to rely on Matteau and/or Boucher to produce once they are called up. There is a chance that they do well, but there is also a chance that they are not quite ready for big time action on a nightly basis. With this group, however, you have two proven NHL-caliber players ready to go whenever an injury does occur. Considering there is a strong chance that multiple players will get hurt at different points in the season, having the extra players ready to go could in fact really be a good thing. It will work to keep this team competitive when everything is not going as planned.
So What is the Best Move?
In the end, I think that after sitting on this roster for a while now, I would be fine with whatever Lamoriello decides to do. My initial thought process last month was that someone had to be moved, and if a trade can yield someone who could really help this team now or in the near future, I would still be very happy with that decision. If no one is moved before the season starts, however, I would not be upset at all. This team, as constituted now, is fairly solid, with a third line that looks a lot like a second line, and a fourth line with much better talent than a normal fourth line. You could even claim that the top line of Cammalleri, Zajac, and Jagr is a true top line, and I would not disagree considering how well Zajac and Jagr play together. Overall, I look at the forwards on this roster and I cannot complain too much. Yes a trade would be nice if the perfect scenario arises, but I would not settle for less.
That was my take after letting the new roster digest in my thoughts for a month. What are your thoughts now? Do you believe that a forward or two still absolutely needs to be traded, or do you think that this team can compete as it looks now? What would be the ideal situation moving forward? Please leave your comments below, and thank you for reading.