The New Jersey Devils announced two very important bits of news this morning. First, and relevant to the season that starts on Thursday for the Devils, the team made a transaction. They sent down defenseman Simon Nemec to Utica and recalled defenseman Kevin Bahl. Nemec was on the New Jersey roster as of Monday night while Bahl was sent down. Why?
As it turned out, it was due to the salary cap. As best explained in the comments to my post about the Monday night roster, thanks to NJMetal15 and dr(d)evil, here is the summary. Simon Nemec is on an entry-level contract with a total salary of $950,000. However, because he is on an ELC, he is eligible for performance bonuses that can add up to $3.25 million if all are met. And if the Devils are cap compliant because of their use of long term injured reserve - which they are due to Jonathan Bernier - then any call up’s cap hit would be the total amount of the contract and not just what their salary would be. Basically, If Nemec was on the initial roster - which he was - then his cap hit for the season would just be based on his total salary of $950,000. If Nemec was not on the initial roster and he is called up, then the Devils have to have the room to include his potential bonuses - which means Nemec’s cap hit becomes $4.2 million (salary plus bonuses).
In other words, Nemec was on Monday’s roster so the Devils can better afford to call him up later in the season. If he was not, the $4.2 million cap hit would make it near impossible for the Devils to call him up. Since Bahl was waiver ineligible, the decision was made to have Nemec on the initial roster, demote Bahl to meet the roster requirements, and then switch them before the team’s first game. Which is exactly what happened. Again, thanks to NJMetal15 and dr(d)evil for explaining this to me. This is a detail of the salary cap I was not aware of. From a playing standpoint, this move made today makes sense. Nemec did not impress in preseason and can stand to learn a lot in Utica. Bahl did impress in preseason and really needs to show the organization if he is a NHL player or not. I presume Bahl will get his chance later this week.
The second bit of news involves a defenseman of the team’s recent past: Andy Greene. The near-lifelong Devil signed a one-day contract today with the intention to retire as a New Jersey Devil. For the unaware, the Devils signed Greene as an undrafted free agent right out of college. They took a chance in 2006 on this defender out of Miami (of Ohio) University, who had a fantastic four years in the CCHA. Greene gave the Devils 14 seasons, 923 regular season games, and 50 playoff games worth in his pro career. Greene rose from the depth to essentially taking over Paul Martin as the team’s top defenseman, and became the leader of the blueline - and the team - in the 2010s. While his production numbers were never gaudy - his most productive season was in 2009-10 with 37 points, his 5-on-5 on-ice rates were very good prior to the team’s re-build. Greene was legitimately a top defender in the early part of last decade, was a crucial part of the team’s Cup run in 2012, helped Mark Fayne get a fat contract from Edmonton in 2014, arguably snubbed from the US Olympic team in 2014 because someone at USA Hockey loved Brooks Orpik that much more, and was a mainstay of the Devils until he was traded to the Islanders in February 2020 by Tom Fitzgerald.
As controversial as this may seem to some of you, I would regard Greene as a defensive defenseman. These kinds of players, when they are good, tend to get tagged with terms like “they’re steady,” “they make few mistakes,” “they know where to be,” and “if you don’t notice them, then you know they’re doing their job.” These are all terms that fit Greene’s game to a T - even when the team’s quality fell off into their rebuild. This kind of role tends to get relegated to describing big, physical defenseman who may have limited offensive skills. Greene certainly was neither with an official height and weight of 5’11” and 190 pounds; and while he was not productive, Greene could handle a puck and make a pass. But how else can we describe how he played? Greene played a clean game as he took few penalties in a season. Greene played for the vast majority of his seasons for New Jersey, with 4 straight full campaigns with no games missed. Greene was able to win battles, win pucks, and defuse attacks by knowing where to be, how to position himself, and when to take action on defense. Greene did not throw highlight reel worthy hits or joined attacks as a fourth forward or just get a reputation for being good. Greene was just effective at what he did, which was playing defense. Greene was a very effective defensive defenseman. Even if some did not recognize it, be they some of the People Who Matter or the decision makers at USA Hockey back in 2014, some in the game understood. Hence, he kept getting contracts. Thus, he kept playing and playing a lot. His presence was enough to wear an ‘A’ for three seasons in New Jersey and then a ‘C’ for nearly five seasons in New Jersey. Ultimately playing over 1,000 NHL games. It is a remarkable achievement. One made more impressive by the fact that he was undrafted.
Greene clearly valued his long time in New Jersey. He did continue to play for the Islanders for two more seasons in a depth role for 134 regular season games and 40 playoff games. I’m sure playing for Lou helped as well as being somewhat close to New Jersey. The 39 year old became a free agent again this Summer and opted to hang it up. In doing so, he chose to sign a one-day deal with the Devils to reflect his preference for the red, white, and black. He wrote this open letter, which the Devils’ official website published, which describes his feelings in the wake of his retirement.
It will not be long for the Devils to honor Greene’s time with the team. In the announcement of Greene’s one-day contract, the Devils stated that he will be acknowledged at the team’s home opener on Saturday, October 15. Greene and his family will perform a ceremonial puck drop at the game, Greene will be interviewed in the first intermission, and there will be further content. The announcement also stated that Greene, who lives in New Jersey, will work with the organization throughout the season as his schedule allows. We shall see whether that leads to any kind of formal role.
All the same, congratulations to Andy Greene for a long and very successful NHL career. Just 121 defensemen in the history of the NHL played in at least 1,000 NHL season games. The vast majority of those were for the Devils; making Greene the third-most prolific defenseman in team history. I, along with many of the People Who Matter, thank Greene for what he gave to the game and to the franchise. I hope he is able to enjoy his retirement as a player; and I hope he finds a future endeavor that he can be content with.