Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils signed another player: defenseman David Schlemko. He bounced around three different teams last season and now he's with the Devils on a one-year, one-way deal worth $625,000. Thanks to Steve for getting that news out here first. Now that the initial reaction has settled, it's worth exploring the signing in a little more depth. I believe there's plenty of positives with this deal and a few negatives with this deal.
Some of the positives are inherent in the basic news of the signing. The 28-year old was signed to a one-year, one-way contract for a little more than the NHL minimum salary. The Devils had cap space and contract space to spare prior to this deal. They still do with 44 players signed and more cap space than anyone else in the league according to both General Fanager and Hockey's Cap. If this deal goes south, then it's not a big one at all. The Devils could do what Arizona and Dallas did: put him on waivers. Should he clear, he'll go down to the minors; if he doesn't, then he's elsewhere anyway. While one wouldn't want a lot of contracts for players seen as marginal by the larger market, having a few isn't bad for the books. So there isn't a large or even a medium commitment here.
The real positive is that Schlemko isn't that marginal of a player. Steve noted this in his posting of the news earlier today. He cited Matchsticks & Gasoline's report card, where he got good marks for his 19 regular season games and 11 playoff games with Calgary last season. He was a bottom pairing defenseman with the Flames, but he was well-regarded for the role. Just before July 1, there was this post at M&G about three Flames turning UFA which included Schlemko. It makes a good case that if he's sheltered, then he can provide quite a bit of value. The post concluded that Schlemko should be re-signed by Calgary. As we know, he wasn't. But between those two posts, he wasn't a scrub despite averaging less than thirteen minutes per game. He's not going to bang, crash, and be a stout defender like, say, Helgeson to pick a name. He's more likely to help move the puck a bit and help things go forward. The latter means more than the former.
Of course, Schlemko played a bit more than just 19 games with Calgary last season. He's done a bit more on the ice too. Check out these tableaus from Dom Galamini's Own the Puck. The first is what he calls a HERO chart, a quick visualization of a player's underlying numbers.
The second shows his impact on his linemates. Both are based on the player's last three seasons.
Both show Schlemko to be more than just a body on the blueline. He may be a third-pairing caliber defenseman, but these charts support the notion that he can do just fine in that position.
Knowing that leads to the third positive with this pick up by Ray Shero. The Devils are deeper on defense. As of this morning, the Devils' top six seemed pretty set: Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, Damon Severson, Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, and John Moore. That may be all well and good, particularly for a re-building team. Everyone but Greene was ranked on our Top 25 Under 25 list. But it becomes an issue if and when players get hurt and play poorly. Schlemko will give Shero, head coach John Hynes, and others on the staff options. Schlemko being around means that players such as Merrill, Gelinas, and Moore will have to continue to work to justify their spots in the lineup. Schlemko being around allows someone to take a night off in the middle of an arduous road trip or a back-to-back and recover from a minor issue before it becomes something more serious. Schlemko being around allows Hynes to put out seven defensemen in a game. Schlemko should be penciled in for the #7 role and we should see quite a bit of him as we did with Peter Harrold, only with the notion that Schlemko can be better than Harrold provided he's not over-utilized.
That all said, it's not all rainbows and sunshine. The addition of Schlemko means others are pushed back. Training camp was intended to have a battle between at least Seth Helgeson, Raman Hrabarenka, and Vojtech Mozik to determine who the #7 and #8 defensemen are in the organization. The Devils used eleven different defenseman last season, so there's value in establishing the depth chart beyond the top six when issues arise. These players could very well see plenty of time in the NHL in 2015-16. It's just that their chances are lower now that the Devils have seven defensemen with significant NHL experience. I don't think that hurts the re-build as it's arguable whether Helgeson, Hrabarenka, and Mozik will be NHL defensemen much less whether they are right now or not. Among the three, I do feel bad for Mozik. He does have a two-year entry level contract and I would agree it's better to get used to North American hockey in the AHL than in the NHL. Yet, I don't think he signed with the intention of playing in Albany. He can still make his case in camp to be the next defender up when New Jersey needs one, but the task is harder for him all the same. It's not that big of a negative if you think these defensemen need to play in the minors anyway. I still understand those who see it as a small one.
Additionally, Schlemko would have to stay on with the Devils. This in of itself is not a total negative either. It's another minor one. Schlemko is either in the lineup, scratched, or risked being put on waivers. Unless he is truly wretched, I do not think he would clear them to go back to Albany. Yes, no one bothered to sign him until September 10. Still, as Steve noted, Schlemko was placed on waivers twice last season and he was picked up in each case. It didn't go well for Dallas (this post by Josh Lile shows a worse-case scenario: Schlemko being repeatedly picked on), but it did for Calgary, and recall that the original team was a really bad Arizona squad. Schlemko is a #7 defenseman so he's not going to make or break a team, but the pick ups tell me that organizations do recognize his value. Especially if they need to bolster their blueline on the cheap or get a player; he would likely be claimed during the season. Not a loss if he's bad, but if he does well for New Jersey, then that would be a kind of a loss. To prevent that loss to keep him on the active roster - which means one less spare spot for someone else. That may be the plan anyway. Again, it's a minor negative all things considered but it comes to mind.
All told, I was surprised with the signing because I did not think the Devils really needed to add a defenseman. If there's a season to baptize players by fire, then this is probably a good one to do it. After thinking about it for a bit, I think it's a good decision overall. It's a cheap, low-risk deal for someone who could do pretty good things in limited action on the blueline. I'd rather have Schlemko in that spot than seeing Seth Helgeson do it or hoping Mozik is ready for it right after camp. The defensemen who really need to show growth - namely Merrill and Gelinas - will only be affected by Schlemko if they play so badly that Hynes thinks Schlemko can do better. That would on them, not the coach or Schlemko. All told, the positives out-weigh the minor negatives.
What do you think? Did this information sway your opinion about the Schlemko signing? Do you think it was a good one or a bad one, and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this deal in the comments. Thank you for reading.