On Thursday, Gerard put up eight reasons why he's currently excited for the 2015-16 New Jersey Devils season. While I will be the first to say this team will almost assuredly be in the lottery, one of his reasons stood out. Specifically, the departure of plenty "dead weight" from last season's team. Here's what Gerard specifically wrote:
As I mentioned above when talking about the young defense, Peter Harrold is in St. Louis, Bryce Salvador seems unlikely to return and Mark Fraser thankfully appears to be nowhere close to rejoining this team. Additionally, Michael "Ghost" Ryder and Martin Havlat were not re-signed and Dainius Zubrus was even bought out. Ryane Clowe will more than likely be placed on LTIR or retire if he does not receive medical clearance. Scott Gomez and Steve Bernier also will not be returning, but for better or for worse remains to be seen with that pair.
Critics of the Devils have been saying for seasons that the team is "too old" and needed to rebuild their stock of youth through drafting. While the rebuild is questionable, the team has definitely gotten younger and now it's time to see what some of the above young names can do without the older players on the roster.
I can agree that not having to see Michael Ryder or Martin Havlat float about or Mark Fraser eating up PK minutes is a benefit. However, it occurred to me that most of them won't be seen by anyone as of this writing. Gerard noted that Peter Harrold was signed by St. Louis. Right now, he's one of the few Devils free agents from last season that has been signed by anyone.
After some digging, here are the 2015 Devils free agents that have been signed: Peter Harrold was signed by St. Louis for one year. Joe Whitney was given a one-year, two-way deal with the Isles. Scott Clemmensen took a coach-like job with the Devils organization. Even the Goalless One, Tim Sestito, got a contract with Dinamo Riga of the KHL. And as of Saturday, Cam Janssen was signed by the Panthers. No, not Florida - Nottingham. That's it. Havlat, Ryder, Scott Gomez, Steve Bernier, Mark Fraser, and Bryce Salvador remain out of contract. Dainius Zubrus was bought out, so he joins that list. Salvador was going to decide whether he'll keep playing at all by the end of the summer; the others' status are unknown. It's telling that it's mid-August and none of the other six are inked with anyone anywhere.
I believe they are partially the victim of being a part of last year's Devils team. Gomez and Bernier were bright points, but they carry some baggage. Gomez is 35 and while he showed he had something left in the tank, would any of the other teams lock themselves in for a year to see if he can do it under their system? Ordinarily, a bottom-six winger with 16 goals in a season would get a contract fairly quickly on the open market. Yet, the 31-year old Bernier remains out of contract. I can agree that he's not going to shoot at 15% again, but it appears his road back into the NHL will be through winning another tryout - assuming he gets one. Ryder and Havlat, again, were floaters and possibly floated their way out of consideration given their failure to seize opportunity on an offensively-starved team. Zubrus is 37 and has played like a shell of his former self; his career may be at an end. Likewise for Salvador, as he's slow, provides no offense, and he's 39. Fraser is basically a younger, more physical Salvador. Given that the Devils have all but declared them to be dead weight, the other 29 teams in the league have responded by not picking up the dead weight of one of the lesser teams last season.
I also believe they are also a victim of the current market. In another time, another team might have done what the Devils did when they signed Havlat and Ryder. While they understood the risks with the signing, should the player work out for them, then they would provide quite a bit of value in the short term. They would address a need and not for a lot of money. Given their advanced ages plus every team having some sort of analytics person to provide information on these players, I think most teams have understandably cooled on these players. Again, Gomez and Zubrus are at advanced ages; if Bernier isn't likely to score much then it's a question as to what they can provide; Salvador and Fraser are the type of defensemen that is fading away from the NHL; and Ryder & Havlat are also one-way players who aren't adding much if they're not shooting & scoring. None of them are attractive signings. Why give them a chance beyond a professional try-out contract?
This is a necessary part of the re-building process. I will agree that the Devils currently don't have enough replacements to improve the positions they served. In fact, I think they still need right wingers. Still, a team doesn't get better by sticking with what didn't work so well. Ray Shero has recognized this. With the team still bereft of prime prospects, especially at forward, they are likely going to have high picks in 2016 so it's not a bad thing to go into 2015-16 with questions throughout the lineup. When there is a better free agency class and with other moves that could be made, the team can be made stronger. The first step is to make those spots available for improvement; that has at least been done.
In the meantime, it's clear that the dead weight from last year's team truly are. As training camp gets closer, maybe - hopefully? - some of them will get a tryout with someone. Do you think they will get that offer? Is their time in the NHL done? What do you attribute the cause to be? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.