The lights are beginning to fade on 2015-2016; after a hot start that saw our New Jersey Devils in contention for a playoff spot (even sitting in the top 3 of the Metropolitan Division at times) they have come back down to Earth (thanks injuries) now sitting 7 points out of the final wild card spot with only 12 more games to go and 1 more game played than the current 8th place team. While we had high hopes and dreams once the team got into a rhythm, those dreams feel so long ago with how the team has played recently.
In their last 10 games, the Devils have lost 6 and only managed to secure 8 points in the process; the totals simply weren't good enough for a team that was in a close race for a wild card spot. The Devils will miss the playoffs again this year barring some sort of late season miracle and as a result, the time to focus ahead should begin right now So what can the Devils do? Do they simply play out the string of 12 games and then focus on their future? I say no; there are plenty of things that can be done in 12 games to help the team build on the positive moments from this season.
Figure Out Who Shouldn't Come Back Next Year
The Devils have a ton of contracts coming off of the books heading into next season; in fact, the only players who aren't a free agent of one type or another are Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Michael Cammalleri, Ryane Clowe (who will be on LTIR for the duration of his contract), Joseph Blandisi, Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, John Moore, Damon Severson, Seth Helgeson, Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid. For a team that needs to have 20 players active every night, having only 11 active contracts (12 if you count Clowe, which I don't) gives the team quite a bit of flexibility.
Granted we all expect many of our restricted free agents to come back, meaning Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelley, Sergey Kalinin, Jacob Josefson, Reid Boucher, and Jon Merrill should all be back in red and black next year. David Warsofsky might be back too as he is also an RFA, but I would rather the team not keep him as he hasn't looked like anything special since joining our team. David Schlemko is an unrestricted free agent, but based on how he has played (at least after the first 10 games of the season) Ray Shero needs to do everything in his power to bring him back.
With 20 of the 23 active spots filled after compiling this list (including Schlemko and eliminating Warsofsky and Clowe), if the Devils want to bring in any free agents or other young players, they will need to "trim the fat" so to speak. Tuomo Ruutu needs to go far, far away from New Jersey. Jiri Tlusty was injured for much of the season and while he's not that old, he already seems to be on the decline; I think Shero could find an upgrade over him in free agency this year. Jordin Tootoo was a good soldier at times, but he just hasn't been as useful as he used to be; I'd let him go as well. Stephen Gionta is the last remaining member of the old CBGB line from 2012 and in all honesty I thought he should have been the first one out the door; we've already let one Gionta go, why not another? Tyler Kennedy should also be let go, as he has contributed very little to the team; Mike Sislo can either sign as a guy expected to start in Albany or he can walk as well. Unless any of these guys show something crazy in the final 12 games, based on their play this season they should all be sent packing.
Now we get into the tough decisions starting with Bobby Farnham. I think the Devils still need a physical presence, but I don't think "Wild Thing" should be an every night player. Based on his hot start, his speed, and his ability to get under the skin of the opposition, I bring him back, but only as the 13th forward and usually holding him for rivalry games. Patrik Elias is still on injured reserve, but is also an unrestricted free agent. As much as it kills me to say this, if Patty doesn't retire, I let him go. I love Patty, the A-Line is my favorite Devils line of all time, and if he comes back before season's end, I will be finding tickets to a home game no matter what, but the fact of the matter is he's lost a step, and I don't see him slotting in over any of Cam, Blender, or Boosh next season
Take a Look at Players in the System
If the Devils don't plan to make a splash in free agency or through trades, they should take a look at some of the other players down in Albany; without more injuries, they are restricted to a limited number of call ups as the trade deadline has passed. There are only 2 players in Albany that I would want to see and both are defensemen: Raman Hrabarenka and Vojtech Mozik. Hrabarenka has looked good when I've seen Albany play against the teams here in Connecticut and I would like to see if he is going to be someone who can help our back end, or if he's simply an AHLer. Mozik is an interesting case as he came over from Europe to play in North America; you can assume he doesn't want to settle for being in the system and that he wants to be an NHLer. Mozik has yet to make any NHL appearances, and now that he's back from injury, I would like to see New Jersey give him a shot.
Sadly, the players available to call up from Albany aren't seeming of the NHL quality, or do not have a contract that permits them to play in the NHL. The Devils will probably look to sign some of these players for next season, either for Albany or to take a look at them during training camp.
I'd like to hear what you think the Devils should do with the last 12 games of the season including tonight; should everything stay status quo and they simply play out the 12 games? Do they call anyone up to take a look at them? Who should the Devils re-sign/not re-sign next season? Are you still clinging to the hopes of the team going 12-0-0 and jumping someone on the last day of the season? Leave any and all thoughts below and as always thank you for reading!