As training camp draws ever closer, much of the Devils roster appears set, and a number of tryouts and prospects will be vying for their shot to stick with the team, but there could be one glaring absence when camp opens up. With news of a gap in negotiations persisting between Eric Gelinas and the New Jersey Devils, the future for this offensively talented blue liner has started to get a little bit blurry. Gelinas remains a restricted free agent for the time being as his agent and Lou Lamoriello have yet to agree to terms on a new deal and the question as negotiations drag on becomes how long will it be before Gelinas’ spot in this organization is in jeopardy?
According to Gelinas’ agent (via Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice), Eric is willing to sit out training camp if he and the team don’t reach a deal prior to its opening due to an inability to afford the insurance costs of playing without a contract. Money seems to be the beginning and end of the rift between Gelinas and the Devils, rather than any philosophical hockey differences between the team and player. As an RFA with no arbitration rights, Gelinas’ leverage is limited with the team and holding out is one of his few negotiating tactics, unsightly as it may be.
How big a gap exists between Gelinas’ camp and Lou is hard to say, but from what we know, it can’t be too huge. One would presume the Devils are offering some sort of raise from the $660K the defenseman was previously making, and his agent’s comments seem to suggest that he is looking for something south of $1.5 million in his new deal. With both sides mum on any other details regarding negotiations, it remains to be seen how far the two sides are off from one another.
The thing about these ongoing negotiations is that Gelinas’ value as a player is difficult to pinpoint at this particular moment. He saw some great success in his rookie season on offense, putting up 29 points in 60 games. His big shot was a huge difference maker on the power play, as he put up points at the 8th highest rate in the league among defenders with the man advantage (stats via War-On-Ice) and helped turn what was a listless PP unit before his arrival into a legitimate threat. On the other hand, after a good start in terms of driving play and keeping the Devils moving forward, Gelinas game at even strength started to show some serious cracks. He had issues with positioning and defensive coverage in his own end and it eventually earned him a reduction in minutes, a stretch as a 7th D, and some time down in Albany. With those two divergent ends of his game, it makes it tough to know exactly what he’s worth. He’s not in line for a serious payday given the troubles in his own end, but it seems like he at least earned a modest raise, considering he put up the 8th most points on the team in his 60 games.
While it seems like he has some tools that would lead to a bit of a raise, there is certainly a chance for this strategy to backfire on Gelinas and his agent. Entering into any type of holdout situation poses a risk of souring relations with the team and earning a one-way ticket out of town. There are talented players in the system behind Gelinas (namely, one Damon Severson) and while it seems like the team had him in their plans going into this season, they may not feel as much pressure to get Eric into the building as he would like. Beyond Severson, there are players like Seth Helgeson, who played well in Albany last season, or tryout Tomas Kaberle that pose a threat to Gelinas’ spot on the roster. If he isn’t careful, Lou and the Devils might be content to leave him on the shelf, unsigned, indefinitely. There are certainly pitfalls there for the Devils as well, as they run the risk of alienating a player with some hard-to-find skills over what is almost certainly not a lot of money (relatively speaking), but at this point, they seem to be negotiating from a stronger position than Gelinas, who still has lots to prove as a player.
So, in this apparent negotiating stalemate, Gelinas is within his rights to exercise what is basically his only negotiating leverage to get a price that is to his liking, just as the Devils are within theirs to allow him to collect dust if he is unwilling to bend. I don’t think either side looks particularly great, with the Devils likely pinching pennies to prove a point and Gelinas fixing to be a camp no-show to pull some extra dollars out of the team. For now, I think it’s a much riskier gambit for the Gelinas camp, as he could find himself being passed on the depth chart by other players if he isn’t careful. I think it would behoove both sides to find a middle ground and resolve things though, before this relationship is irreparably damaged, leaving both worse for the wear.