After last night's shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the New Jersey Devils have one main task before the start of the season: get the roster down to 23 players. They had 27 in camp. Earlier last week, Tom Gulitti confirmed at Fire & Ice that the Devils will put Patrik Elias on injured reserve. That means the team has to make three cuts; someone else will have to go if/when Elias returns. They have made one cut and are about to make one more within twenty-four hours of that win against the Flyers.
The known cut is forward Tyler Kennedy. The Devils announced he has been released from his professional try out contract after the Flyers game through the team's public relations Twitter account. Kennedy had a decent preseason. The 29-year old got into three games, scored no goals, scored in the first 3-on-3 exhibition game against the Islanders which was unofficial, picked up two assists, took three penalties, and put five shots on net. That's not a terrible stat line, but for a winger on a try-out, one would have wanted to see at least more shooting from him. In his career, he has averaged over two and a half shots per game. Yet, he did not do that in preseason. I would have liked to have seen him get one more game in the hopes of making a more spirited case. Yet, personal issues have kept him away from the team this week. Plus, he already had three games and didn't exactly impress - especially compared to the other try-out, Lee Stempniak. Could he be signed later? Possibly, but I don't think he would be released now if they were thinking that. It's not like the Devils are up against the salary cap or contract limit.
The one that I think will be cut very soon is defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani. Tom Gulitti reported earlier today at Fire & Ice that Gragnani has been put on waivers. Due to his age and his past NHL experience, he will have to clear waivers before he gets sent down. The only reason why he can be said to not be technically cut is because being placed on waivers just means a player is able to be demoted to the minor leagues. A player can be put on waivers, clear them, and then just not get moved down. But with the roster needing to be reduced, I think he'll be assigned to Albany if/when he clears tomorrow. I don't think another team will claim him; if he is, then he's off the Devils anyway. With a minor hip flexor injury, he also was held out of the last two games. I would say he performed better than the likes of Reece Scarlett, Raman Hrabarenka, Vojtech Mozik, and Seth Helgeson in preseason. He showed he can be calm on the puck and do useful things on offense at times. He did not do well enough to make one think he should be in the lineup ahead of, say, David Schlemko. I think his cut was inevitable given the state of the Devils blueline.
I'm a little surprised Helgeson is still on the roster, especially since I don't think he has to go through waivers (he's 24 and only 22 games played). I still think he's the next to go; if there's no room for Gragnani, then there shouldn't be room for Helgeson. The more interesting survivor at the moment is Pavel Zacha. As he was scratched on Friday night, I figured that was a tell that he's going to be sent back to Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League. Yet, with Kennedy and Gragnani off New Jersey and Elias on IR, it appears possible that he may get a few games before going back to junior. Especially if the last cut is only Helgeson. Zacha hasn't been particularly impressive in preseason. I'd say he was decent. Yet, he didn't have a game or games where he demonstrated he belongs in the NHL right now. So even though the Devils could give him up to nine games before beginning the first year on his contract and then send him back, I don't think it'll be particularly helpful for Zacha or the team.
There is one more loose end for the Devils to tie up and that's the status of Lee Stempniak. Of the two players on professional try-out deals, Stempniak was far and away the better player. He was helpful in all situations, he contributed on the scoresheet and off the puck, and he showed he has plenty left in the tank. While I understand the urge to see the younger players, Stempniak being here for even just a season would be more helpful. Stempniak has the experience to handle himself well on what is likely to be a bad team. The team can trust that rather than rely on a younger player potentially getting in over his head or picking up bad habits because he's set to get minutes on a bad team. I'm hoping to see him sign soon as I believe he's been one of the more impressive Devils in training camp. Perhaps when that is done, Zacha goes back to juniors, Helgeson is demoted and the cuts are not only all done but allow for Elias to return.
Presuming Gragnani is re-assigned, the Devils will have at least one more move to make ahead of the 5 PM EDT deadline on October 6. Who do you think it will be and why? Will the Devils make only one cut or will they make two or even three? Will Stempniak be signed? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on the latest roster moves in the comments. Thank you for reading.