With the clock quickly approaching noon, months of speculation will come to an end as this summer’s top free agents decide which teams they’ll want to play for this fall. As is the case leading up to every free agent frenzy, some notable names have already come off the market. Earlier this week, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos returned to the only team he’s ever played for, signing an eight-year $68 million contract. Earlier this June, the summer’s top-two defensemen Alex Goligoski and Keith Yandle’s rights were respectively traded to the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers. Goligoski was eventually awarded a five-year, $5.5 million AAV deal, while Yandle signed a lucrative seven-year, $44.5 million contract.
New Jersey rocked the hockey world on Wednesday, when they traded their top-pair defenseman Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers for all-star forward Taylor Hall. While this irrefutably improves the Devil’s offense, the void Larsson leaves on the blue line (that wasn’t much worth raving about to begin with) is astronomical. The ramifications of the aforementioned transactions sent shockwaves throughout the NHL, and will profoundly impact how things will pan out this afternoon. Having said that, there’s one person on the Devils who might have benefited more than anyone from these early offseason moves…
In 67 contests, Schlemko led the Devils defense with six goals and finished second in points (19). There were five defensemen who scored a minimum 19 goals on their own this season, which makes Schlemko’s numbers seem miniscule at first glance. In retrospect, the 29-year old played a pivotal role on the Devil’s defense. 12 out of Schlemko’s 16 points came on the power play, finished behind John Moore in shots amongst defensemen (104), and led with Moore in game-winning goals (three). Schlemko also led in shots per game (1.6), had the second-highest shot percentage, and led Devils defenders in power play time.
Despite how the Devil’s season ultimately turned out, there’s no denying that David Schlemko’s play was one of its few bright spots. The attention he’s drawn from around the league probably making some general managers wonder what Schlemko could do on a more goal-savvy team, and a defense that endures far less suppression in their own zone. This is something the Schlemko camp has likely considered, which along with the pre-July 1st signings of Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski, made Schlemko one of the more enticing free agent defensemen set to hit the market.
Other than a previously acknowledged mutual desire to strike a deal between Schlemko and the Devils, news on this front has been bleak in recent weeks. Defensemen have been cashing in over the past few summers with this offseason already being no exception. After making just $850,000 in 2015-2016, Schlemko is inevitably due for a substantial raise. Unless Schlemko has ultimately been dead set on testing the market, it’s not inconceivable to assume Schlemko could have been brought back on a salary in the $2-2.5 million range. With the top-two defensemen of the offseason already off the table, who’s to say Schlemko’s camp hasn’t increased their salary demand to the $3-3.5 million range with the Devils, knowing very well Schlemko could make around (or over) $4 million somewhere else?
Just something for us Devils fans to ponder as we wait for the clock to strike noon today.