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Binghamton Devils’ UFA/RFA/AHL Player Thoughts Moving Forward

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Decisions to be made as we hear from members of The Panel and their thoughts heading for the upcoming off-season

Photo provided by Alicia Strauch

Flashback to what was back in the first weekend of Oct, 2018.

The NJ Devils’ AHL affiliate roster looked pretty decent, at least on paper it appeared for a Saturday night opening vs the Toronto Marlies. There was a good mix of rookies blended in with some returnees, as the big club spent some serious coin on several newly acquired veterans over the previous summer months. Moral was high and anticipation was in the air for a post-season appearance for the first time in four seasons, including the BSens’ era in Binghamton.

However, the final results in the standings would end up proving otherwise.

On display was a dismal 28-41-7-0 record at the conclusion of the 76 game schedule for the Binghamton Devils. So with that, changes should be made during the off-season as last-place finishes aren’t very productive, or very popular when it boils down to the fanbase.

This is what the opening line-up looked like against Toronto which resulted in a 7-5 victory to kick off the season in front of a capacity crowd on Oct 6, 2018 at The Floyd;

  • Forwards - Tangradi - Seney - Lappin, Studenic - McLeod - Anderson, Pietila - Sharagnovich - Speers, Bastian - Rooney - Gabriel
  • Defensemen - Strait/Jacobs, Kapla/Ramage, Yakovlev/White
  • Goaltenders - Cam Johnson, Colton Phinney
  • Scratches; Tariq Hammond, Colby Sissons, Ryan Schmelzer, Brandon Baddock, Brandon Gignac and Mackenzie Blackwood (In Sweden w/NJ)

Not bad, right? So it would seem.

However, everything that could go wrong, did towards the end of the BDevils’ campaign after a (somewhat) formidable start.

Injuries were suddenly a thing for NJ as at one point, 12 players were transferred up from Binghamton to help fill in the voids, all at once. The trickle-down effect resulted in multiple PTO player contracts from the ECHL and as expected, the losses began to mount up for the BDevils peaking out with a 10 game losing streak in the final quarter.

So we move on. This is what we look forward to in about six months.

Players Signed For Next Season

Players under contract are the following;

  • Forward - Joey Anderson, Egor Sharangovich, Marian Studenic, Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, Blake Speers and Brandon Gignac
  • Defense - Jeremy Groleau, Colby Sissons, Brian Strait along with Jeremy Davies (7th round, 192nd overall pick of the 2016 Draft)
  • Goalie - Evan Cormier

Not Under Contract For 2019-’20

Those that are not including an average number/grade in parenthesis with a Binghamton Devils 4th Quarter Grades & Player Evaluations report as a reference/guide;

RFA

  • Forward - John Quenneville (86/B), Brandon Baddock (70.8/C-), Brett Seney
  • Defense - Josh Jacobs (85/B), Ryan Murphy (70/C-)
  • Netminder - Cam Johnson (82.9/B-)

UFA

  • Forward - Nick Lappin (76.8/C), Blake Pietila (78.1/C+), Eric Tangradi (77/C+)
  • Defense - Eric Gryba (73.5/C), John Ramage (85.6/B)
  • Netminder - Eddie Lack (Inc.)

AHL Contract

  • Forward - Ryan Schmelzer (80.1/B-), Nick Saracino (68.1/D+), Nikita Popugaev (Inc.)
  • Defense - Tariq Hammond (72.1/C-)

Let’s see what The Panel thinks.

Who To Sign & Which Do We Let Go?


Jeff Ulmer

In - Baddock, Jacobs, Schmelzer, Popugaev

Out - Lappin, Quenneville, Murphy, Gryba, Saracino

Undecided - Pietila, Ramage, Johnson, Tangradi, Hammond, Lack

I hate to say it but I think JQ’s playing days are over in a Devils’ uniform along with Lappin as well. Either one has proven much for the big club when giving an opportunity. I hope I’m wrong as both are premium players in the AHL and I would welcome them back in a heartbeat playing for the BDevils. However, it seems rather unlikely.

Hammond is really green as I’m on the fence on his returning. With newcomers Jeremy Groleau and Jeremy Davies set on defense along with Brian Strait, Colton White, and Colby Sissons, there is work still to be done for another vet on the blueline.

Tango has been a disappointment as age looks to be a factor but he’s a good leader and has been a plus in the locker room.

Schmelzer was a solid signing on an AHL contract and should be brought back with a new two-way deal.

Same can be said about Baddock. His leadership will be invaluable if JQ, Lappin and Pietila are moved.

Ramage had a strong push towards the end but also made careless mistakes in creating countless turnovers. His price tag ($125,000/$650,000) is quite low but that hasn’t been an issue when it comes to spending by the parent club.

Cam in question, with the recent signing of goaltender Gilles Senn, may (or may not) be over for the Devils. This now brings up a theory of resigning Eddie Lack. The days in the NHL might be limited for the 31 year-old as a regular after coming off season-ending hip surgery. But, re-signing him could be a boost. The grind took a toll on Johnson as his stamina was significantly worsen as the season rolled along.

A veteran goalie wouldn’t be a bad addition to help guide the youngster’s (Evan Cormier/Senn, 21 years-old, 23 years-old respectively). In addition, he would fill the need for a quality call-up of the parent club.


Chris Wassel

In - Jacobs, Schmelzer, Popugaev, Ramage

Out - Quenneville, Baddock, Murphy, Lappin, Pietila, Tangredi, Saracino, Gryba, Johnson

Undecided - Lack, Hammond

Quenneville – Ultimately, he may re-sign with New Jersey. Do they give him a two-way for both years or for just one? That may be the ultimate question. Alas, there are red flags with his lack of production in the NHL. Yes, Quenneville is still developing but that feeling of being a tweener is gaining traction among those in the organization and fans alike.

Jacobs – He is a player that must be in New Jersey’s future (especially in Binghamton). The right-handed shooting defenseman is sorely needed. Also, his development is vital, so New Jersey does not have to rush.

Baddock -- As much as he is likeable, there exists better talent.

Murphy – The experiment did not work out. Just do not re-sign.

Johnson – It would be nice if he took an ECHL deal but if he does not, there is no big deal in losing him. He might just sign back.

Lappin/Pietila – Enough is enough with these guys honestly. The old regime players had their chances and now it is time to go.

Tangradi – Injuries are less than optimal but with the team as bad as it was, cutting bait here is an okay move.

Gryba – He is another veteran defensive body that has not performed quite up to an acceptable level for an AHL defenseman let alone an NHL one.

Lack – One almost must see how he comes back from injury before doing anything. Worse comes to worse, maybe he can be used as trade bait.

Hammond – Some injuries limited him to 43 games and maybe he takes a two-way AHL/ECHL deal for depth purposes. Otherwise, Hammond must be cut loose.

Popugaev – There is something intriguing about him that cannot be explained. He needs at least 1-2 years before he is remotely considered for an NHL call-up.

Ramage – He is a serviceable defensive veteran with offensive upside. Bringing him back for another year, maybe two, is not harmful.

Schmelzer – All in all, the center had a decent first year in the AHL after playing four years at Canisius College. He is 25, however, and his ceiling may be limited. At the very least, he is worth trying to sign for a year, maybe two.

Saracino – There is just no plausible way he deserves to be back. He is a nice enough ECHL player, but New Jersey needs a forward that can develop at the AHL level. Saracino is not at that level. There we ere too many nights where he just appeared to be overmatched.


Joe

In - Jacobs, Tangradi, Ramage, Lack, Schmelzer, Popugaev

Out - Baddock, Murphy, Lappin, Pietila, Gryba, Saracino

Undecided - Quenneville, Johnson, Hammond

Ramage - As the best defenseman on the team alongside Josh Jacobs, there is a need for competent vets on the Devils going into next season. In fact, with Binghamton captain Kevin Rooney kicking into a 1W next year he is the prime candidate to wear the C. Ink him to a multi-year 2-way with the option to kick in for 1-way after a certain time. Team needs a franchise face in Binghamton going into Season 3.

Schmelzer - The rookie came into his own solidly this season proving he’s a player who can make waves in the AHL. It’s not often you see that happen. Well, at least not in Binghamton. It’d be a brutal mistake to let him slip through our fingers. Fitz has every reason to bring him back as a key offensive piece to the team and someone who could potentially grow with the franchise.

Murphy - Ask anyone in the Panel. I could not stand Michael Kapla. I was on my knees begging him to be traded. Ryan Murphy came in as a veteran defenseman and played almost equally as lax, if not more. Defense was the biggest weakness this season and he certainly didn’t help like we all hoped.

Quenneville - It’s hard to decide what to do with this kid. He has nothing left to prove in the minors but can’t seem to survive in the majors. There’s always a player like that in every AHL team and he’s Binghamton’s. It’d be a mistake to cut him loose but to what gain it presents for NJ is questionable at this point, with the next generation of picks on their way in.

Lappin/Pietila - When it comes to Nick Lappin, you had a dynamic forward who seemed to be a points magnet. This season, he fizzled out. In Blake Pietila, you have a stoic and (seemingly) serious alternate captain who also has offensive prowess. BOTH of these players finished with the two lowest +/- ratings on the team, near league bottom for both.

Out of 1,257 players, Pietila with -24 at 1,246th and Lappin at -26 for 1,249th. Having completed their fourth season in the NJ system, I can say it’s time to move them along. Hoped one of them would have been traded near the deadline. Return for either of them would have been sufficient, I’m sure.

Gryba/Saracino/Baddock - Bye. Don’t care where you go next.

Lack/Johnson - Here’s the one situation that has me the most perplexed going into next season. Eddie Lack was almost forced into retirement with his hip surgery this season, as it has been a recurring issue for him the last few years. Cam Johnson came in and proved himself to be an inconsistent yet hard-working goaltender, as well as the nicest and most humble player on the team in my eyes.

I’m unsure if Lack will be healthy to play and be worth the risk of a two way re-signing to lead as the B-Devils star goalie as he would be slated to be the veteran tandem to rookie Evan Cormier next season; a college prospect signed this year who shows promise but is in dire need of training. New Jersey inked goalie prospect Gillies Senn recently, and that will likely sent him to Glens Falls next year. So where does this leave the charismatic Cam Johnson?

If Lack isn’t healthy, we’re down a veteran goalie to nurture the green Cormier. If we sign Lack and Johnson, the latter will get the short stick to ADK with Cormier on an AHL contract. If Lack is signed and not Johnson, we rely on two very young goalies at the risk of Lack remaining healthy.

It’s a lot to weave through but Fitzgerald (BDevils’ GM Tom Fitzgerald) has got to play his cards carefully here. The goalie situation is going to be the most crucial part of Binghamton’s next two seasons and it needs to be solved now with the future in mind. A Senn/Cormier tandem is bound to crumble adjusting to a full pro season.


Dave Rogan

In - Quenneville, Jacobs, Ramage, Schmelzer, Popugaev

Out - Baddock, Murphy, Lappin, Pietila, Tangradi, Saracino, Gryba

Undecided - Johnson, Lack, Hammond

Quenneville: I think NJD resigns him, but he’ll probably have to accept one of those deals where it will be two-way next year, and a one-way the second. Risky, but I don’t think NJD wants to cut ties with him yet.

Baddock: Do not re-sign

Jacobs: Bring him back on a two-way deal. The AHL team needs righty d-men.

Murphy: Let him walk. Not needed in NJ, and we can do better with a vet slot at the AHL level.

Johnson: If he’ll take an AHL/ECHL deal, re-sign him, but he belongs in Adirondack.

Lappin/Pietila: Leftovers from the last regime. Bye-bye.

Tangradi: Had a tough year due to injuries, which on a better team may garner a second chance, but I say cut him loose.

Gryba: I have a rule that if you were on the ‘11 Binghamton Cup team, you have a lifetime pass in my book. That being said, its time for Eric to raise his family in Western Canada.

Ramage: Lot of tough miles this year, and didn’t get the credit he may have deserved. I’d take him back as again, we need right side D. Also would make a good captain IMO.

Lack: His season as well cut short by injury. He deserves a lot of credit for getting Blackwood on track. His hip injury concerns me, and although I feel it’s imperative they sign a veteran goalie for Binghamton, I think they should test the waters for a healthy upgrade.

Schmelzer: Wasn’t high on him initially, but he grew on me as he did whatever was asked of him. Played on the top line as well as killed penalties. I believe on a “healthy” team, he would be a solid 2nd/3rd liner. He’s earned an AHL deal.

Saracino: No way. ECHL player.

Hammond: Like Schmelzer, forced into on the job training for roles he wasn’t ready for. I wouldn’t mind having him around on an AHL/ECHL deal, but with Groleau & Davies coming in, there is a glut of lefty defensemen.

Popugaev: Sample size too small, but I’d give him an AHL/ECHL deal.

Not trying to be harsh, but the team needs an overhaul after back to back 63 point seasons. Another strong vet (2) defensemen, a vet playmaking center, and a vet winger who is a sniper is what this team needs to compliment the kids. I expect Bastian to make the big club out of camp, and maybe McLeod, depending on who NJD takes with the first pick.

I also believe they have jumped the gun giving Cormier an AHL deal. As we saw this year, you can never have enough depth in net, but I would think the organization wants Senn to get the bulk of the starts. A veteran backup (and #3 for NJD) is what they need for that to succeed.


Tino

In - Quenneville, Jacobs, Ramage, Schmelzer, Popugaev

Out - Baddock, Murphy, Lappin, Pietila, Tangradi, Saracino, Gryba

Undecided - Johnson, Lack, Hammond

After the trade of Keith Kinkaid, NJ accomplished the goal (no pun intended) of shedding some salary, but left themselves incredibly thin at the most important position on the ice. I don’t see NJ going into next season without a veteran option in the minors in case of an injury up top to either Mackenzie Blackwood or Cory Schneider.

With the idea that NJ could be developing a young goaltender that would leave, most likely Evan Cormier and Cam Johnson competing for the starting job in Binghamton with the “loser” ticketed for Adirondack to get regular playing time. The back up job in Binghamton will most likely be given to a vet; with the names Eddie Lack or maybe Zane McIntyre being atop the list. The veteran with be there as a mentor to the young starter and added depth for NJ.

Jeremy Davies, Jeremy Groleau, Colton White and Brian Strait are in for next year. Davies, Groleau and White are still on rookie deals and Strait has another year on his 2-year deal. Davies and Groleau are prospects so they are for sure ticketed for Binghamton. Strait will fill 1 of up to 3 veteran spots on the blue line.

White showed a lot of promise last year and earned a full time spot in Binghamton and could be an early potential call up for NJ if there is an injury or trade. After that, it gets a little murky. Eric Gryba, who was brought in as a depth signing will most likely move on to another club. Ryan Murphy never seemed to mesh in our system and will likely be signed elsewhere as well. Josh Jacobs, who I feel was our best defenseman last year, earned a full time NHL job, so, hopefully, he won’t be back as he has landed that NHL job. That leaves 3 spots open on our defense.

You would have to think that NJ would like to have AT LEAST 2 and possibly a 3rd veteran available for call up. John Ramage did an admirable job as the veteran anchor of our defense last year and he could be back. A veteran puck moving (PP) defenseman is important as well. I bring up names of TJ Brennan and Andre Benoit as those are 2 guys that fill that spot as good as anyone, but both neither are available.

Someone comparable to these 2 would be a nice fit. You would have to think the last spot will go to Tariq Hammond as he played respectably down the stretch and has good size to be a good 3rd pairing AHL defenseman at this point. It would be beneficial for Colby Sissons’ development to get top pairing minutes in the ECHL next year.

Forward positions are where we could see the biggest turnover.

Young scorers Marian Studenic, Ryan Schmelzer and Brandon Gignac are all ticketed for Binghamton next year. Brett Seney could benefit from a full season in the AHL, but NJ could keep him up next year. A year to work with Studenic and a vet (Tangradi?) could do him a lot of good, especially giving him top line minutes and some PK time. It could be imperative to get a veteran center on the 2nd line to center a line with Gignac and Schmelzer who both have an excellent nose for the net, but haven’t had a lot of help. This is where a veteran center could really pay off (as well as give NJ some depth).

Egor Sharangovich and Blake Pietila will be the anchor of the ever important 3rd line where defensive responsibility is of upmost importance. Pietila is skilled enough to play in the top 6, but his defensive ability and leadership is most valuable as a 3rd line mate with Sharangovich, who is still developing his offensive game, along with Popugeyev. The 4th line will most likely include Brandon Baddock who brings good size and energy to the team as well as some more veteran leadership.

A third veteran could be brought in to play on the 4th line with some size and grit as well as some PK ability to play with Baddock and most likely another rookie. Mike McLeod, Joey Anderson, Nathan Bastian and Kevin Rooney have all most likely earned a full time spot in Newark. Nick Lappin will most likely move on to another club where he may have a better shot at making the NHL club.

I really can’t see Quenneville returning unless NJ offers him a deal that gives him an inside track to making the big club. Saracino belongs in the ECHL at this point and Speers has never reached his full potential and is time for him to move on. Gabriel is a great locker room guy that brings size and grit, but doesn’t really fit with what we need (more PKers).


Parting Words From Fitzgerald

BDevils’ GM Tom Fitzgerald voices his displeasure in an interview on the second season in Binghamton and what needs to be done to improve the product on the ice for the upcoming 2019-’20 affair.

Thanks for checking out this featured post with the help from The Panel as I look forward to your responses in the comment’s section below!

See you during the off-season!