It's that time of the year again! That's right folks, it's where we sit around our computers and watch Uncle Lou try to fix the mess caused by Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk each taking their proverbial ball and going home. Huh? What's that? Lou stepped down as GM and it''s in the hands of Ray Shero? The sky is falling, the sky is falling!
In all seriousness, a fresh take on free agency might just be what the doctor ordered for our New Jersey Devils. After swimming through mediocrity for the past few seasons, the team is finally moving in a new directions by hiring a new coach and not offering new contracts to a number of players. We do still need to ice a complete team and there's no doubt in my mind that Lou Lamoriello as president still wants the team to be competitive. So what do they do? What should they do? First I'll be taking a look at where the roster is and what we need; from there I'll be stepping into the shoes of Ray Shero and trying to justify bringing certain players to New Jersey.
A Roster Divided (in Chart Form)
I have to thank Alex for this chart from his article earlier this week, as it makes it a lot easier to see where the Devils roster is in general and at what positions they need help:
Immediately right wing sticks out to me for a couple of reasons; first Alex lists Stephen Gionta as a right wing, and while this is technically true, he's also been used as a center before, so we can't necessarily assume he won't be used down the middle. Another right wing listed is Sergey Kalinin whose KHL stats weren't exactly mind blowing; even if we assume both of these players will be used in bottom six roles, that results in Jordin Tootoo again being among the top six which is something the Devils should strive to avoid.
The other position that could use some attention is defense; while Ray Shero seemingly hasn't completely ruled out Peter Harrold and Mark Fraser all I can say that is I really, really, REALLY think he could find better options. Harrold is fine in a "not every night" role but a traffic cone would have been more effective than Fraser last season. I would rather lose with five kids and Andy Greene playing each game rather than go anywhere near Fraser again.
Speaking of the kids, the left side will be fine with Andy Greene, Jon Merrill and either Eric Gelinas or Seth Helgeson playing; if an injury strikes, there's still an extra guy to jump in. The right side is where I think the team could use help; aside from Adam Larsson and Damon Severson, the only right handed D here is Vojtech Mozik who many expect to start the season in the AHL, If this scenario comes true, coach John Hynes will either be playing someone on their off side, or he will need Shero to get him a defender.
The Devils look to be alright down the middle and on the left side, at least in terms of having the required number of bodies to play in those positions. Whether said bodies will be successful or not is another story. If anyone has any concerns about the goaltending, I suggest reviewing some games from last season as Cory Schneider preserved New Jersey's integrity when it seemed as if the rest of the team was trying to tank for McDavid.
So what should New Jersey do in free agency? Well if I were Ray Shero, I would feel pretty certain at this point that no one wants Dainius Zubrus or Tuomo Ruutu, which is somewhat disappointing. From this point forward, I will be addressing the roster as if I am the GM and will discuss the terms of their contracts, so here we go!
I will be looking to go out and sign at least one, but more likely two right wings and one right handed defender. The team has just over 22 million in cap space to play with (thanks to nhlnumbers.com for that information) before re-signing Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Stefan Matteau and Seth Helgeson, so I will include their new deals as well.
Adam Larsson (6 Years, $24 Million, $4 Million Cap Hit): Adam has had some ups and downs during his tenure so far in New Jersey, but with the new coaching staff in place, we are confident he will continue to play the game he played in the second half of last season under Devils legend Scott Stevens. As a former #4 overall draft pick, we will be looking to build the team with Adam as one of the cornerstones, and because of that we have signed him to a six year deal.
Eric Gelinas (2 Years, $3 Million, $1.5 Million Cap Hit): Eric has shown during his tenure in New Jersey that he still has some areas of his game to work on, but he does bring The Truth to our team's lineup. As he still has some struggles, we have offered him a two year deal while still raising his salary; we are confident that Eric will continue to grow under our new coaching staff,
Stefan Matteau & Seth Helgeson (2 Years, $1.5 Million, $750,000 Cap Hit per player): Both of these players are restricted free agents who have not shown much outside of the AHL, at least not yet. These identical deals allow them both some time to show if they have what it truly takes to play at the NHL level.
Various AHL Deals ($3 Million Combined Cap Hit): It is important to have depth and we will need to have players inn Albany available to be called up should we have a number of injuries,
TOTAL CAP HIT OF RE-SIGNED PLAYERS: $10 Million - Approximately $12 Million Remaining
Now to announce our free agency offers:
Marek Zidlicky (1 Year, $3 Million, $3 Million Cap Hit): After sending Marek to Detroit at last year's trade deadline, New Jersey is happy to extend this contract in an attempt to bring him back to the team in a veteran mentor role. While we considered some other options (namely other former Devils Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya) we wanted another right handed defender on the roster. Marek will pair up with Seth Helgeson but with less will be expected of him in limited third pairing minutes. On occasions where Helgeson is out of the lineup and Gelinas is in, Zidlicky will play with Jon Merrill. Again, we did research other options and Marek was cost effective, familiar with the team and also plays the side where we need a defender and these criteria make him the target of our first free agent offer.
Michael Frolik (4 Years, $20 Million, $5 Million Cap Hit): Michael has been a player on New Jersey's radar for years; while we could have attempted to bring him over using other assets, we thought it best we wait until he reached free agency to attempt to bring him aboard. Michael would immediately slot into a right wing slot on one of our two top lines along with the recently acquired Kyle Palmieri. While his point totals were not the highest in Winnipeg, we do believe that Michael could post more points with some power play time and increased responsibility. The rough part of free agency is that you need to overpay a bit to get the player you covet; $5 million a year represents a significant raise from what Frolik was making with the Jets; the contract duration is not overly long and Michael is still young enough to make it worthwhile for both sides.
If Mr. Frolik does not accept our offer, the New Jersey Devils will then send out our next offer.
Joel Ward (3 Years, $12 Million, $4 Million Cap Hit): Joel in some ways reminds me of former New Jersey right wing David Clarkson in that he likes to play with a physical edge and he isn't afraid to go to the dirty areas to help his team put points up on the board. As Ward is a bit older than Frolik, our offer to him would be for a shorter term; the same rule from above of "overpaying to get your man" still somewhat applies here, however this is only a small raise from what Joel was making with the Washington Capitals. Right wing is of dire need in New Jersey and we truly need to bring aboard at least one player that could join the top six; having Joel on our second line would allow us to have more proper right wing depth.
Should both forward/all three player signings be rejected, the New Jersey Devils will simply move on with the pieces that we currently have. We will have a couple of other contracts coming off of the books next summer and there will be other players reaching free agency at that point. Right now the team is in flux so we need to keep the roster and salary cap flexible while also attempting to be competitive. If our choices decide to sign elsewhere, it simply opens the doors for younger players to step in and attempt to make a mark this season.
We will let you know in the coming days if these players have accepted our offers or not. Thank you all for coming today.
Now I'm sure my choices may not be popular among all fans here, which brings me to my next suggestion: what do YOU think the Devils should do in free agency? Should they focus on free agents or should they give players like Paul Thompson a shot in the NHL?
I would just like to say here that I know free agency started yesterday, but my last edits for this will be from June 30th; I'm in the middle of relocating at the moment and I probably will not have internet set up until late today (7/2) or tomorrow. If the players I mentioned above are signed to other teams, I apologize in advance as unfortunately I will be unable to edit this article on July 1st. Thank you guys for bearing with me and In Lou (and Ray) We Trust for free agency!