The playoffs are going by pretty quickly for the NHL right now, and before we know it, free agency will be upon us as of July 1st. Our New Jersey Devils have a good amount of cap space to work with this offseason, and with many teams being close to the cap while needing to fill out their rosters, it may leave many players available to teams such as ours with a good amount of space. I would like to stress that these choices are in no way indicative of all of the writers here at AAtJ, just me. Let's get to it!
While some may say that defense was not a problem for the Devils last season, I beg to differ; there were too many times that someone with the initials J.M. made a boneheaded play that extinguished our forward attack and put us back on the defensive. We need some competent players that can move the puck forward and there are plenty of good defenders available this summer; my choices would be:
David Schlemko (LD) - While he is an unrestricted free agent, we Devils fans are familiar with what Schlemko can bring to the team. I think he was one of our signing last offseason that made our team a lot better. If Schlemko doesn't mind signing for $2 million or less, I would love for him to come back on a multi-year deal.
Jason Demers (RD - Dallas Stars) - I know a lot of fans are not concerned about the right side due to the prospects we have coming through the system, but I still think if the Devils want to be competitive sooner, they could afford to sign Demers, who has been pretty darn good for Dallas. He's still in the age range the team is looking for (he will be 28 at the start of next season) and could make the right side look disgustingly good along with Larsson and Severson. If he's looking for north of $6 million however, I would look elsewhere, even taking a good, long look at Steve Santini in training camp.
Keith Yandle (LD - Our Hated Rivals) - Not at the top of everyone's wish list, but we were starved for goals from the back end last season as well as in general and Yandle is an offense-first defenseman. Yandle will be 30 once next season begins, but his stat lines speak for themselves in terms of his passing and vision on the ice. While I don't want to give him too large of a deal for too long, I think if he's in the same price range as what I have above for Demers, he would be a good addition. I would actually want to pair Keith with Adam Larsson to ensure that he has a responsible, seasoned partner.
If New Jersey made all of these additions, it would allow the Devils to run something like:
Extra: John Moore/Jon Merrill
Granted the team probably won't sign all three guys; Yandle would be the least necessary due to playing a side where we have more bodies available, though Demers is redundant in terms of what he brings to the team. Pick and choose who you'd want from the list and round out your pairs accordingly.
I might be one of the few fans, but in all honesty, I'm not terribly impressed by the forwards that are going to be available this offseason; I'm not terribly impressed with our group either, but still I don't see many names available that will help us. The way I see it, New Jersey's forward corp next season is as follows assuming all RFAs are re-signed:
Now if Patrik Elias were to come back for one more run, I would slot him down next to Pavel Zacha. Joseph Blandisi would have to battle with Reid Boucher for the second line winger spot with the other either being relegated to his off wing on third line (dropping DSP to line 4), to the 13th forward spot, or if Blandisi loses the competition to the AHL for seasoning.
If Elias doesn't come back, it leaves the Devils to make a few more moves, possibly internally. I would bring Bobby Farnham back as I've said before as the 13th forward for rivalry games, or just to slot in when a bottom 6 guy gets hurt.
Kyle Okposo (RW - New York Islanders) - I'm not opposed to this move, but it has to be for the right price and the right term, much like my desire to have Yandle. Okposo has proven that can put the puck in the back of the net, and we definitely could use a few more guys with this ability. We may not have a John Tavares on this team, but even 3/4 of his production in Brooklyn would be welcome here in NJ.
As per the spot on line 4, we could fill it with one of our newest players in Nick Lappin who posted 7 points in 12 games with Albany or even bring back Stephen Gionta to play an energy role. The 4th line slot isn't the most pressing matter, and I don't want to waste too much money filling the slot. We really only need one top 6 player for next season and Okposo might be the best bet, unless we win one of the latter two lottery spots and can draft Patrick Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi.
Many fans might say why not mention Steven Stamkos and it is simply because I don't see him signing with us at all. I will also say right here and now that I want no part of Eric Staal; a guy who put up less points than Travis Zajac last year that will probably be looking for more money than Zajac makes (Staal's cap hit was 8.25 million this past year) is not what New Jersey needs.
Now I'd like to hear what free agents you think the Devils should chase after; do you think they will go after more forwards than defensemen? Who do you think should be playing where on our lines? Are there any forwards that I didn't mention that are free agents whom you think would fit in well in New Jersey. Leave any and all comments below and as always, thank you for reading!