Hello, All About the Jersey readers! I am on vacation this week without a computer anywhere near me, and this website runs poorly on my cell phone, so this is technically a semi-pre-canned article that I wrote on Sunday. Free agency will open on July 1st (tomorrow by the time this is published) and our New Jersey Devils may or may not be busy depending on who General Manager Ray Shero is pursuing and how interested they are in joining what appears to be an up and coming squad at this point. Based on the list of who's available this offseason, today I take a look at 10 players that I think would fit in with our team; as a disclaimer, I'm not advocating going out and signing all 10, I just think we could see one or more of these players should Shero believe they address some team needs. Here they are in order of realistic chance (in this writer's opinion) that we get them:
1.) David Schlemko - LD - New Jersey Devils
With Alex Goligoski and Keith Yandle being off the free agent market (both signed deals with the teams that their rights were traded to), New Jersey will need to find other options to solidify a mostly young blue line. Based on how he played last season, and how much better our Power Play operated with him than without him, I would love to see David come back to New Jersey for at least one season. While he isn't the flashiest option or the difference between making or missing the postseason, he improves our left side and allows the team to put someone named Jo(h)n in the press box where both of them looked like they belonged for portions of last season. He also may be willing to sign another one year deal, which means the team would not be required to protect him in the upcoming Expansion Draft.
2.) Patrik Elias - LW/C - New Jersey Devils
Bit of a trend with the start of this list here, but again this is a fairly realistic target and if Patrik feels he has it in the tank to go one more season, bring him in and let him mentor Pavel Zacha and any other young players on the roster next season. If New Jersey is able to score a right winger through free agency (see most of the rest of this list for those ideas) to play in the top 6, then a third line of Elias/Zacha/DSP sounds good to me. If Patty does come back, it allows him one more season to go out on his terms, and gives the front office one more year to find a position in the organization for him; after watching Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer find employment elsewhere, I want to see the Devils keep another one of our retired numbers (come on, we all know it's going to happen) in New Jersey along with Ken Daneyko.
3.) Kyle Okposo - RW - New York Islanders
In terms of free agents outside of the organization, Kyle Okposo could be the scorer that the Devils are looking for. While he's not the most prolific scorer, Kyle is good for about 20 goals per season, which is a great improvement over many of the players that we sent out onto the ice last season. Some Islanders fans have claimed he is a product of John Tavares, and while Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac certainly are not even close to Tavares, they have no problem distributing the puck, and I'm certain they could find Okposo enough to help him reach at least 20 goals. He would more than likely ride shotgun to Henrique along with Michael Cammalleri and if he develops some chemistry with them, our top 6 could be even more dangerous than it was last season. There's certain to be a number of teams chasing Okposo however, and we may not be the favorite to win his services.
4.) Loui Eriksson - RW/LW - Boston Bruins
I don't know about you, but I wouldn't hate having another 30 goal scorer on this team even if he will be 31 by the time the season starts. Eriksson has been a fairly consistent 25-ish goal scoring player outside of an abysmal 2013-14 which he bounced back from with his past 2 seasons, and any pucks going into the back of the net for us would be a help. Eriksson would be a help, but he is supposedly seeking a longer deal and could be an expensive player. If we're handing out a 5 year (or larger) contract to a winger, I would rather it be someone like Okposo who fits in with the age range of the team's core. If we miss on Okposo and don't want a long term commitment to a player over 30, there are some over 30 players that may be willing to accept shorter deals, such as...
5.) Lee Stempniak - RW - New Jersey Devils/Boston Bruins
Stempniak is another player who solidified the lineup last season, and he looked impressive alongside Henrique and Cammalleri on what wound up being our top line. Lee is another player that is a bit older (33 turning 34 in February) than the age range Shero is looking at for his acquisitions, but there's no denying the chemistry he had with Cam and Rico. If he's willing to come back on a 1 or 2 year deal, not only does it improve the team in the short run, but again we either do not have to protect him (on a 1 year deal) or he will qualify as a forward we can expose (on a 2 year deal) when Las Vegas enters the league. If we miss on Okposo and Eriksson, and Lee is comfortable coming back on a short deal, I see no reason not to do it.
6.) Jason Demers - RD - Dallas Stars
The only defender other than Schlemko that makes this list, Demers is a defender who is still in his prime having just turned 28 a couple of weeks ago. While he doesn't put up a ton of points, his 23 from last season would have been enough to lead our team; couple that with the fact that he plays solid defense, and picking up Demers should seem like a no-brainer. The problem we have here (and the reason Demers falls to #6 on my list) is that there will be 28 other teams (as it seems Dallas will let him go) that could be interested and his price could be pretty high. The Devils would look really nice with Adam Larsson, Damon Severson and Demers on the right side, and it would definitely be better than running Lars, Sevs and one of the Jo(h)ns (on their off side) there.
7.) Troy Brouwer - RW - St. Louis Blues
Like Eriksson, Brouwer will be 31 before the 2016-17 season officially gets underway, so he may not be a target for our team; he would however be a nice upgrade over many of the players that we trotted out in the bottom 6 last season. Should the Devils strike out with all of the other right wingers above, they decide give Brouwer's agent a call if they decide that having Devante Smith-Pelly, Kyle Palmieri and Beau Bennett as their 3 best right wings isn't good enough. He could be good for 15-20 goals (which was the approximate amount our entire bottom 6 potted last season) so Brouwer would not be the worst depth option in the world.
8.) Teddy Purcell - RW - Edmonton Oilers/Florida Panthers
Purcell is a player who to me has always seemed to have some tools to succeed, but hasn't really been able to put it all together on a consistent basis. He's another 30 year old going on 31 into next season, and he's good for a few less goals a season than Brouwer; again I could see this being an option if and only if the team strikes out on all of the right wingers that fall in the desired age range and the team is not happy with the current crop of righties; if the contract was anywhere near the price of his last one ($4.5 million per season) I would hate it immediately. If that amount is his asking price, please Shero, stay far, far away.
9.) Mikkel Boedker - LW - Arizona Coyotes/Colorado Avalanche
If the Devils simply decide that they need better depth than last season, don't want to re-sign Elias, decide Zacha is a better center than left winger, decide John Quenneville isn't NHL ready AND think that Joseph Blandisi would benefit from another season of seasoning in Albany, then they may look to Boedker to fill out the left side. I don't see our management looking at left wing as a position of need, and I also think Mikkel might be asking a bit much for a guy who has never hit 20 goals in his career, so this is a real outside chance. Speaking of real outside chances...
10.) Roman Polak - D - San Jose Sharks
Note from John: Gerard wrote most of this list ahead of Wednesday's big trade. Between that, Steve Stamkos signing an extension, and Gerard not being around, he gave me the OK to make up a new #10. I settled on Roman Polak.
With Larsson gone, the Devils need help on defense. Unfortunately, the group of UFA right-handed defensemen is small. Roman Polak is coming off a decent five-year deal and the 30-year old showed he still had plenty of gas in the proverbial tank. While his ice time was more limited in San Jose, Polak did average over 19 minutes per game, with most of those big minutes coming from a bad Toronto team. In the last three seasons at Corsica, his CF% went from not that great to rather poor back to not that great. Again, a mitigating factor may be a rather poor Toronto squad. Yet, he's not exactly a great defender. He's really the best of a less-than-ideal bunch of right-handed defensemen. He could be a stand-in for a season or two until the Devils are able to get somebody better for a second or third pairing. As for the first pairing next to Greene, well, that right-handed defenseman that can play over 22 minutes and play really tough minutes doesn't appear to be on the market right now. So it goes, unfortunately.
You'll notice that I left some big and big-ish names off of my list such as Milan Lucic, David Backes, Eric Staal, Sam Gagner, and others; some of them I left off because I don't see them coming here (such as Lucic) while some were left off because I want no part of them (such as Staal and Gagner) even if they did fit Shero's age range due to their skill set diminishing.
As I stated before, this article was written on Sunday, so some of these names might be off the market by the time free agency opens due to them re-signing with their team from the end of last season who still has their rights. Now I'd like to hear which players you want the Devils to pick up in free agency; do you think Shero makes a big splash? Do you think he looks to make a collection of smaller moves? Will he make a trade with a cap strapped team for a roster player? Leave any and all comments below, thank you for reading, and see you next week in my usual time slot!