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What if the Devils Go 4-4-1 for Expansion?

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It seems like a foregone conclusion with the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft that our New Jersey Devils will go the 7-3-1 protection route. But what if they don’t? Who do they protect?

Montreal Canadiens v New Jersey Devils
Make sure you protect the two Devils in this picture!
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Okay hear me out on the title of this piece; the New Jersey Devils have some decisions to make regarding the upcoming Expansion Draft, and the more I look at the current roster (and who meets the exposure requirements), the more I think that New Jersey might opt to go 4-4-1 rather than 7-3-1. Obviously, this means protecting less players, but at the same time are there really that many players on this roster worth protecting? Do we really want to bring back seven forwards on a team that currently tied for 28th/29th in goals for?

While the Devils defense this season can be described as “bad” at best, there are some valuable players who can be exposed that the team should keep to build to the future. Andy Greene and Damon Severson will be protected for certain; Greene is our captain and still a steady presence on the back end. Sevs is having the best offensive season of his pro career, and while his -28 is certainly an ugly blemish on the year, I can’t say I fault him when he’s spent parts of the season playing with defenders who are train wrecks in their own end of the ice.

Speaking of train wrecks i the defensive end, John Moore is another player I could see the Devils protecting; poor positioning aside, Moore at least possesses the ability to move the puck up the ice without having to bank it off the boards (looking at you Ben Lovejoy) while praying our forwards can retrieve the puck before the opposition. While Moore is still a player I want the team to eventually move on from, the replacement options are not pretty right now. Jon Merrill is someone who I previously had issue with as well, but he has stepped up to a point where I can at least class him as “solid” in his own end; if we went 7-3-1, I think he’d be the third protected defender at this point.

If the Devils protect Ben Lovejoy, I think I’ll scream; to the eye test he s by far the worst defender on this team whether he is playing above his head or not. His positioning is awful, his shot is not a threat, and if he screens Cory Schneider one more time, Cory should slash him with his goalie stick. Lovejoy is a vet; he should know how to navigate the ice without the number of nightly blunders he endures. We could lose him or newly acquired Dalton Prout without me (and probably most other fans) even blinking an eye.

So if we do keep 4 defenders protected, that leaves us with only four forward spots to protect players. Looking at Cap Friendly’s Expansion Draft Tool, we currently only have six forwards who meet the requirements for the two forwards required to be exposed: Michael Cammalleri, Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Devante Smith-Pelly and Travis Zajac. Unless Jacob Josefson, Beau Bennett or Stefan Noesen (if he appears in 15 more games) is extended, the Devils will need to leave two of the above six forwards unprotected.

DSP is a no-brainer to be used to meet requirements; his offensive production from last season (as expected) regressed to the norm, and he has found himself mostly on the 4th line or in the press box this season. He also hasn’t used his frame to provide a physical presence on the ice, so again I think New Jersey leaves him available. That leaves four slots for five players; I’ve written about this before, but if the Devils do not extend anyone else, I think Cam is the guy left available for a few reasons.

While it certainly wouldn’t be great asset management to lose him for nothing, Cam is first of all not a Ray Shero/John Hynes guy; he was signed by the previous regime under Lou Lamoriello. Lou was a guy who had tried to acquire Cam a few times, and finally he struck gold in free agency. We know nothing, however, of what Shero’s desire to have Cam on his team is; Ray is trying to build the Devils in his image and Mike just may not fit that vision.

Cam has also been mired in the worst scoring slump of his career to the point where he was a healthy scratch for the first two times in his career during the home and home against the New York Islanders. How bad is it now? One goal in his last 36 games bad; for perspective’s sake, Steven Santini and Seth Helgeson, through luck, skill or a combination of both, have found the back of the net during the slump.

With two seasons left on his contract, the 34 year old Cammalleri may not be long for the team, especially if he is in decline. It’s not even worth keeping him around for a veteran presence, as the team has Greene, Zajac and, to a lesser extent due to career length, Henrique (all career Devils with a Stanley Cup Finals run under their belts) that can supply plenty of vet presence/knowledge.

I know many of you will see this as poor asset management, especially since the Devils are nowhere near the salary cap ceiling for next year; without Cam, they wouldn’t even be close to the cap floor, but it would give the team even more flexibility financially. I also don’t see Cam as much of an “asset” going forward if his non-scoring, floater on the ice mentality stands; teams are driven away by players who seem disinterested on the ice, and Cam fits that bill right now. I don’t know if it’s a mental thing with the slump, but not giving your all every night on the ice is noticeable to the eye test, and Cam fits that bill.

I also think that maybe it’s best to try and cut ties this way, rather than wait to try and trade a guy with a No Trade Clause in his deal; comments such as, “I haven’t disliked my game” when you are visibly dogging it on the ice means to me that you’ve worn out your welcome here, and probably won’t make you a popular guy elsewhere. The New Jersey Devils culture has always been “All About the Jersey” and comments like the above at least to me say that maybe you’re not playing for that logo anymore. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, maybe I’m wrong; either way, if the team goes 4-4-1, the forwards I have occupying the protecting slots are infinitely more important to the team’s future than Mike Cammalleri.

Now I’d like to hear your take on the possibility of the Devils going 4-4-1 in expansion; do you think it’s even a remote possibility? Who are the four defensemen you would protect? Who are your four forwards being kept? Do you think Cammalleri even has trade value with how poor he’s been for the past 30 or so games? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!