When the Devils signed Schlemko to a one year, $625k deal last summer, not much was expected from him. Most thought he’d be a depth signing coming off a year where he struggled mightily and bounced around from the Coyotes, Stars and Flames. Like much of Ray Shero’s signings last summer, Schlemko was a low-risk, high-reward type signing and as it turned out, he played a very important part in helping the Devils take an unexpected step forward in 2015-16.
Much of Schlemko’s success this season came on the power play. Of defensemen who played 100+ minutes at 5v4, Schlemko was scoring at a rate 5.44 points per 60 minutes, which was seventh best in the league and ahead of players such as Roman Josi and Kris Letang. Schlemko’s assists per 60 was also good for fifth best in the league. If there was any doubt about Schlemko’s worth to the Devils, his performance with the man advantage is enough evidence of how important he was this season.
Schlemko’s play at even-strength was not nearly as productive as his play with the man-advantage. On the season, he finished with 19 points in 67 games, which would’ve been good for 23 points in a full 82 game season. However, 13 of those 19 points came on the power play. John Hynes largely chose to use Schlemko in offensive situations, with him only starting 26% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Despite his lower production at even-strength, Schlemko enjoyed a bounce back year with the Devils and could lead to a long-term deal going forward.
The Devils need depth defensively and with the struggles of Damon Severson and Jon Merrill this season, bringing back Schlemko on a deal similar to John Moore’s would benefit the Devils. Especially as prospects such as Steve Santini continue develop in Albany. Schlemko is a 5th-6th defenseman who can contribute on the power play. He won’t cost much and any type of deal he signs won’t be a cap burden to the Devils going forward. They have plenty of cap space to work with this summer, so affording him will not be an issue.
There aren’t a whole lot of downsides to bringing back Schlemko. A large part of his success came on the power play, so any dip in production could result in a drastic change in his overall totals if he isn’t able to pick up his play at even-strength. Despite that, he’s solid defensively and gives the Devils depth along their blueline. If the Devils don’t sign him, the free agent class of defensemen is not very strong, so they could be left with limited options to fill the void if he does choose to sign elsewhere.
As mentioned previously, the crop of defensemen in this year’s free agency class is nothing to get overly excited for. Brian Campbell and Keith Yandle will be out of the Devils price range. There’s Alex Goligoski, who could fit in nicely with New Jersey, but will also be expensive. After that, it’s slim pickings. Schlemko makes sense for a team that’s currently transitioning and has a relatively young defensive core, such as New Jersey’s.
With Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, and Steven Santini all continuing to develop, Schlemko would be the perfect fit for the Devils for the near future. With that in mind, I think it’s likely we see him back with the Devils in 2016-17 and possibly beyond.