Ray Shero and The New Jersey Devils, by all accounts, had a successful draft-weekend. On paper, anyway. They filled some glaring needs by drafting talented Czech center Pavel Zacha along with their top ranked Goalie (Mackenzie Blackwood), a promising D-man (Colton White), and a few more forwards (Blake Speers, Brett Sensy) with a lot of upside to help replenish their system. Time will tell how they pan out.
The trade for NJ native Kyle Palmirei scored high-marks as he instantly becomes a top-6 FWD and cost very little by comparison. He’ll have the opportunity to play more minutes and create more offense (20+ goals is a very realistic expectation with increased ice time) that never came to fruition in Anaheim playing behind such talent and depth.
I’m really excited for his arrival and think this is a good situation for him to reach his full potential.
Now comes Phase 2 of this transition and Ray Shero’s second big trip to the plate as free agency begins to potentially score some UFA’s to help round out the roster. But given their state of flux and the fact that they’re not quite “one player away” from a deep Stanley Cup Playoff run…what is Shero’s game plan for July 1?
He recently spoke with fans at a post-draft Q&A and had some interesting things to say regarding their approach (per Tom Gulitti @ Fire & Ice):
(TG) What do you see as your needs heading into unrestricted free agency?
(Shero): “…adding Palmieri has filled a hole for us on the right side that certainly was somewhat glaring, so we’ll continue to look at that whether it’s through free agency or maybe even the trade route, but with free agency maybe to supplement our forward group a little bit. Maybe we’ll take a look at available defensemen, but pretty much committed to kind of going with these younger players to a certain extent and seeing what they can do. But, if there’s a certain player, (in) free agency at the right age that makes sense for us we think can make a difference for us over the next few years we’ll certainly look at that.”
(TG) How do you view this class of UFAs as a whole? It’s regarded as pretty thin.
(Shero): “Overpriced, probably, but that’s the way it is with free agency now. But, sometimes it’s not, particularly with guys on those one-year deals. You try to identify those value type players and maybe it’s a one-year deal like that that might feel a need in a certain role or how we want to play, so we’ll look at those guys as well.”
[ Allow me to interpret: I’m interested in shoring up our forwards and possibly adding a steady D-man but not with slow, again veterans and overpaying on long-term deals for guys who will have no value to the team beyond the first 2 years of their contract. I will will more likely go the trade route to find the right type of player who can be had as a result of a cap/depth circumstance (see Palmieri). ]
Shero, to his credit, is going about this the right way. He’s stated more than a few times, that this isn’t just about now, but how what we do now affects us down the road. Fortunately, that road looks like it will be properly maintained.
That said, the Devils have $23.5MM in cap space so there’sdefinitely money to spend. But that’s not the real cost. Shero & Co. have touted (and started to implement) their plan to get younger, and find players which fit that “fast, attacking, supportive” mold he and his staff are trying to create. The decision not to bring back Gomez and Bernier for the 2015-16 campaign is a testament to that in order to take a better look at what they really have in their farm system.
There are still a few holes to be filled and those youngsters aren’t going to be handed spots—they’ll need to be earned. Here are a few names that have been linked to the Devils having interest:
– Defenseman Mike Green (Washington Capitals): Solid offensive defenseman and still just 29. Has proven he could be a 50 to 60-point defenseman if he signs with the right team in the right system…but will be expensive both in price and term.
– Left wing Matt Beleskey (Anaheim Ducks): After this season (and playoffs) he’s the bell of the free agent ball—and he’ll be rewarded handsomely. He was rumored that Shero has traded for his negotiating rights as a part of the Palmieri deal but hat wasn’t true. No doubt he’d look great in a Devils uniform, and at 28, Beleskey is in the prime of his career. He scored 22 goals last season, but his previous high was 11. So was this his break out season or just an anomaly and the result of playing with Kesler and Getzlaf? Someone’s gonna pay big money to find out.
– Right wing Michael Frolik (Winnipeg Jets): Arguably the best FWD available, Frolik is a good all-around hockey player who potted 19 goals last season. Solid two-way player that would fit the Devils system nicely. Unfortunately, he’ll have no shortage of suitors.
– Defenseman Cody Franson (Predators): Big guy with a lot of potential. His stint in Nashville was something of a disappointment, but has shown he can be a 40- to 50-point defenseman.
– Right wing Martin St. Louis (New York Rangers): I can see the appeal on a Jagr-like one-year incentive laden deal. Fact is, he’s old and declining and that’s everything the Devils are trying not to become. Pass.
– Defenseman Johnny Oduya (Blackhawks): An ex-Devil, Oduya is a very smart, effective defensive defenseman. He’s slower and offers nothing offensively, but he can anchor the second pair as a nice veteran partner to a still blossoming John Merrill. But at 33, term is a question. If he could be had for 2 years/ $4MM per that would be worth kicking the tires on.
– Defenseman Paul Martin (Penguins): See Oduya (with more offensive capabilities).
Personally, I don’t think there are too many free agents NJ should break the bank for. Outside of a few defenseman, the class is weak at best and generally provides veteran stopgaps and 3rd and 4th line role players—the opposite of what the Devils need.
Don’t forget, the other side of the free agency coin is that as much as we might want certain players, the New Jersey Devils as currently constituted, might not be the most attractive situation to potential UFAs.
I think the Devils will be in a better position come March, having given time for players to acclimate to their new system and to assess the development of their youngsters, to make a play for a particular need. Next summer, the Devs should find themselves in a better place to make a splash for that big missing piece. This road is paved with opportunity here and Shero seems to be in the right, if not fast, lane.
That’s good news for Devils fans.