I mentioned last week that I would be away when my article was published, and in between the start of my vacation and said article being posted here, news broke that our New Jersey Devils had traded Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Taylor Hall. I, like many, was initially not sure how to feel, but after coming to terms with losing Lars, I think it makes the Devils a better team.
There is, however a major problem with Larsson being an Oiler and that is our blue line is (at least on paper) not as strong as last season. General Manager Ray Shero attempted to lessen the blow of the trade by signing Ben Lovejoy when free agency opened. Even with Lovejoy in the fold, the Devils still could use a defenseman on their roster to start next season as our only known quantities are Lovejoy, Andy Greene, Damon Severson and John Moore since Jon Merrill may or may not be available until the season is underway due to a recent surgery.
That gives us four defensemen with two playing on each side meaning that we will need at least 2 blue liners to ice a full lineup; the Devils could choose to fill both slots internally, look to sign multiple remaining free agents, or a combination of both. I honestly think it will be a combination of both since the team will carry 7 defensemen total during the season, and I could see them signing a player and offering a PTO to another. Let's take a look at who I think would be good internal and external candidates for each side of the ice:
Internal: Yohann Auvitu
Wow did this guy pick the right time to sign with us! Between Merrill's injury, David Schlemko signing with the San Jose Sharks, and some underwhelming performances by call-ups last season (Seth Helgeson proved he is a #7 at beast to me) the coaching staff will be looking for another lefty to round out the ranks. If they don't want to commit to any other free agent signings, then they should look to their signing from back in May as a viable option at least for the time being. All the team would need from Yohann would be for him to be a stabilizing presence on the back end. Helgeson is the only other lefty in the system aside from recent depth signings Karl Stollery and Andrew MacWilliam, so unless the team goes for a free agent, it seems as though it will be one of those two; based on the fact that we just signed him and we seemingly know what we have in Helgeson, Auvitu gets the nod.
External: Kris Russell
Russell was an awful fit with the Dallas Stars, but he played well when he was a member of the Calgary Flames organization and considering that he is unsigned a week after free agency has begun, either he's asking for way too much money/term or there's not a lot of interest in him. If it is the former, as some reports currently indicate could be the case, then the Devils should probably steer clear, but if it winds up being the latter, then Russell could be someone to take a chance on; if he works out, he's close enough to the core age group that he could be kept around longer than just this season.
Internal: Steve Santini
It may have only been one game last season against what at the time was a pretty bad Toronto Maple Leafs team, but I liked the glimpse that I saw of what Santini had to offer. While he drew a quick (albeit somewhat questionable) penalty, he showed that he has no fear of using his physicality to establish himself and win the puck; the team doesn't really have a defender who plays with the edge that Santini does at the moment and that physicality is a useful tool in both the regular season and playoffs should we reach them. Santini also has higher upside than the next best option which in my opinion is Vojtech Mozik; while both are relatively inexperienced at the NHL level, if the team decides to stick with one of their righties in the system to fill the gap, I feel Santini will win the job out of camp.
External: James Wisniewski
Okay, now hear me out on this one as I know his entire 2015-16 season lasted all of 47 seconds down in Carolina and he was just bought out, but Wis is exactly the type of defenseman the Devils need at this point. He's someone who can comfortably move the puck up the ice and chip in some goals and assists to boot. I could see Wisniewski helping out the back end of power play as well, unless we want to kill Severson and Greene next season by having them play even and both special teams. Barring another freak injury that ends his season before it begins, it's possible that Wisniewski tries to come back from his injury/buyout on a short deal to try and rebuild his stock in the league. If the price and term are right, I say why not?
Now I'd like to hear from you our fans on whether you think the Devils need to sign another defenseman or not; should they be looking at the remaining free agent crop to fill the gaps on the blue line? Do you think the team will be looking more at guys that are already part of the organization? If they do sign a free agent, who would you like to see brought in and why? Leave any and all comments below and as always thank you for reading!