By Brian Bobal
The summer is very slowly coming to an end, and while many dread the end of warm summer days and cool nights around a fire, hockey fans have something to look forward. Training camp in the National Hockey League kicks off in about a month, and the New Jersey Devils still have a good share of roster spots that can be filled. This leaves room for some excitement for fans of Jersey’s Team as fall approaches. If GM Ray Shero wants to take the route of free agency to help fill in some of those holes as opposed to letting some young players get a shot, there are a number of players that he could consider bringing in either with a contract or as a tryout. The top five remaining free agents on the market that could best help the Devils are given below.
Brad Boyes – RW
Hard to believe it, but if the Devils sign this 33-year-old, he would only be the third-oldest player on the team. That is how much the team has changed in the past three months. Still, the only regular right winger with an offensive punch on the team is Kyle Palmieri. Adding Boyes would provide the Devils with a solid dependable right wing to play on the second or third line.
Boyes has eclipsed the 35-point mark in nine of his last ten seasons. His 38 points last season with the Florida Panthers would’ve put him third in scoring for New Jersey. The Mississauga native would definitely be affordable as he was slated to make $2.5 million before getting bought out by the Panthers earlier this summer. Based on his consistent point production, this would be a very safe signing by the Devils.
He has great hockey sense, a skillful touch around the net and has offensive instincts that are “first-rate across the board” according to The Hockey News. The Devils need somebody like this on the second line. Pairing him with great playmakers like Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique would help him thrive in a role with the Devils.
Martin Erat – RW
Here’s another 33-year-old with almost as consistent a scoring pedigree as Boyes. Erat is still looking to find his stride after leaving Nashville, where he compiled five seasons with 50 or more points. He’s turned into a 30 point scorer since.
He still has potential to climb into a top six role, but will Shero want to take a risk similar to the one Lou Lamoniello took in signing Michael Ryder? Bringing in Erat, a Czech Republic native, can also help mold Pavel Zacha’s game along with fellow countryman Patrik Elias. Erat’s price tag might be slightly higher than that of Boyes, but luckily the Devils have the most cap room in the NHL.
Erat has great playmaking abilities and can also play at LW if needed. He is a great open-ice player with a lot of quickness, which can help the Devils transition to a much faster team. His offensive ability plus being able to play any wing if needed would help him thrive as a second line winger regardless of who he plays with.
Curtis Glencross – LW
Glencross is still looking for a job after a brief disappointing stint with the Washington Capitals. Over his career, the 32-year-old has been a consistent 30-45 point scorer. As a left wing, he could slide nicely onto the Devils third line, unless he plays well enough to snatch a top-six spot — in which case it would be a steal for Shero.
At this point in Glencross’s career, he wouldn’t fetch more than $3 million so it might be worth offering him a contract.
Throughout his career, he’s been listed as an “industrious” player according to The Hockey News with the ability to score goals in bunches, something the Devils really do not have outside of Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri. He also has good speed and carries a strong physical game. His 103 hits would’ve put him third on the current Devils roster behind, obviously, Jordin Tootoo and surprisingly Tuomo Ruutu.
Having a physical, quick player like Glencross on the second line could definitely help open up room in the offensive zone for his line mates.
David Booth – LW
Here is a signing that would not be for a top-six player, but an upgrade to the third or fourth line. Booth had a great start to his career with Florida, but he’s bounced around since he left in 2011. The former Michigan State Spartan has eclipsed the 20-goal plateau three times in his career so a change of scenery will do the 30-year-old some good.
Booth is a solid player on each side of the puck who is also quick and aggressive on the forecheck, something coach John Hynes would certainly like. He’s also not afraid to drive the net. His offensive touch and two-way ability would help him be a great fit for the Devils. This would be a very low-risk, high-reward move for Ray Shero.
He would also be an upgrade over Tuomo Ruutu, both in the scoring department and in the form of a much lower cap hit. Ruutu will make $3.8 million this season. Signing Booth would cost a third of that.
Cody Franson – RHD
The only defenseman on this list should be one of the players the Devils try and target the most. Yes, the Devils have plenty of young defensemen, but Cody Franson would bring a more offensive game to the blue line. If the Devils want to get more scoring, they need to make the blue line a legitimate scoring threat.
The current Devils blue line combined for a futile 21 goals last season. Eric Gelinas led the squad with six goals, which tied for 66th in the NHL among defensemen. Adam Larsson had a nice season with 24 points, most among defensemen on the team but was tied for 63rd overall in the NHL.
Franson will not come in and put up league-leading numbers, but his 127 shots-on-goal and 36 points would’ve been tops on the Devils blue line. If the Devils pass on Franson, they will have made a big mistake similar to letting Anton Stralman walk after not signing him in training camp in 2011.
Not only is Franson a player that can put up some points on the back end, but he is also a big boy. He stands 6’5” tall and weighs in at 213lbs. When he first broke into the league, Franson did not use his big frame for what many would expect – physicality. However, in recent seasons he started putting a physical edge to his game and that is something that the Devils’ blue line will be lacking this season, especially if Seth Helgeson does not make the team.
With over $14 million in cap room to spend, sending a contract of around $4 million to Franson’s camp would not be a bad idea. Oh, and he’s only 28-years-old.
Offering any of these players a contract or even a training camp tryout would be a wise choice for the Devils. The team should have some players that they can call in to plug holes if young players like Reid Boucher or Stefan Matteau fail to impress yet again at the NHL level. These players, although many are older than what some argue the team needs, could provide leadership in the dressing room and points on the score sheet. That is an investment worth taking, even if only for a few seasons.
Note: This article solely reflects the views of Brian Bobal and not those of the Devils Army Blog.