We're now 47 games (48 after tonight) into the 2015-16 hockey season for our New Jersey Devils and the team currently sits in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, though with the way the standings are packed, that could change at any moment. The team has been working hard for coach John Hynes all season, but they're still struggling to find secondary scoring. In addition, the team has been hampered with injuries, and only now are they starting to get back to full strength. The problem with being back at full strength is that it can result in contributing players being sent back to the minors just because of their contract status. With the team fighting for a playoff spot would these moves be correct?
The "Magnificent" Seven
I'll answer my own question here and say no, I don't think it would be beneficial to send a contributing player down in favor of a veteran or player that requires waivers. I wouldn't even miss some of the players that require waivers to be sent down. I compiled a chart of all of the Devils forwards that aren't top 5 in scoring (so no Adam Henrique, Michael Cammalleri, Lee Stempniak, Kyle Palmieri or Travis Zajac) to see who should be playing in the other 7 spots.
With this chart, we should not be comparing the PPG of these players to our top 5 point producing forwards, otherwise we wind up with arguments such as "Reid Boucher should replace Travis Zajac on the second line due to his higher PPG" due to the small number of games played by some of our players.
We could however state that Boucher would be a superior lineup choice to say Stefan Matteau, as they have both played a smaller sample of games, both have played in a similar role, and yet Boucher has managed to outproduce Matteau in a quarter of the number of games.
If we go solely off of PPG from the above chart, the remaining seven forward slots would belong (in no order) to Boucher, Patrik Elias, Sergei Kalinin, Jacob Josefson, Bobby Farham, Jordin Tootoo and Joseph Blandisi. Tyler Kennedy and Stephen Gionta would be the healthy scratch/injury replacements forwards due to them having the next two highest PPG totals.
What really sticks out to me on this chart are the numbers of a few players that were previously chosen in the first round of their respective drafts; the first of which is Jiri Tlusty. I think with 30 games played at this point, we Devils fans can officially chalk Tlusty up as a failed experiment. While he has not seemed out of place in Hynes' system, he hasn't produced either, to the point where I honestly believe that Zajac and Palmieri could each have about 5 more points each if Tlusty's offensive ability hadn't dropped off the face of the Earth. Tlusty's 4 points in 32 games would put him on pace for about 11 over an 82 game season; with his injuries and healthy scratches taken into account, he would not even be on pace for 10 if he were to play in every remaining game this season. I say the Devils should cut their losses sooner rather than later if he returns from injured reserve by placing him on waivers.
The next sore thumb is a player who is a bit older and has also battled injuries in Tuomo Ruutu; Ruutu is starting to remind me of the last days of Dainius Zubrus on this team. While his speed doesn't seem to be an issue, everything else does; he has trouble holding on to the puck, makes ill-advised passes, and takes unnecessary penalties like the one he took against Calgary on Tuesday. Ruutu is adding little to nothing to this team and honestly probably would have found himself on waivers already if the team had ever been completely healthy.
The final former first is still fairly young, but at this point Stefan Matteau is looking more and more like he won't pan out. While his play hasn't exactly been discouraging, he hasn't done anything that makes me say "this kid is an NHLer" either. Perhaps it would be poor asset management to put him on waivers instead of sending down an exempt player like Blandisi, but in this writer's opinion Matteau is no longer an asset; he's just kind of there. Also, I doubt he gets claimed.
What if Everyone Gets Healthy?
Well that's the question isn't it? If we want New Jersey to be a competitive team, some tough decisions will need to be made down the stretch, especially if Patrik Elias gets healthy. Jacob Josefson is expected to play tonight, so that's one name coming off of injured reserve, but still leaves the team with some line-up decisions.
If you were to ask me, you obviously don't touch the top 5 forwards; Blandisi or Boucher can play the left wing on line 2 with Zajac/Palmieri and the other plays on the third line. Kalinin and Elias round out the third line if Patty is healthy; if not Jake takes that spot. Farnham and Tootoo should be on the bottom line no matter what; if Jake's not on line 3, he's here, otherwise Gionta gets into the lineup.
The Devils cut the dead weight and end the experiments that did not work this way; even if Tlusty and Ruutu wind up down in Albany, they're off the books at the end of the year, so it's not really a bitter pill to swallow. Boucher needs to either do or die at the NHL level at this point, and right now he's doing; let's just hope he continues his pace tonight against Ottawa. Blandisi may still be waiver exempt, but he's looking like he belongs more and more in each game he plays which is more than I can say for Ruutu and Tlusty at this point.
What do you think about the roster decisions the Devils will have to make? Do they send Boucher and Blandisi back if everyone is healthy? Do they waive players such as Ruutu and Tlusty? Do they take a page out of the old Lou Lamoriello playbook and keep someone on IR even though they're healthy? Will the team make a move other than the ones outlined here? Leave any and all comments below; thanks as always for reading!