Despite missing the playoffs for the 5th time in 6 years, it’s hard to call this season a failure. In fact, it was anything but. Predicted by many NHL pundits and fans to be at the bottom of the standings, the Devils had been within striking distance of a playoff spot throughout most of the season which is particularly impressive given the Devils finished dead last in the league in scoring.
Collectively, their “success” emanates from a solid defensive system implemented by a new regime of coaches and staff, which the players have bought into—oh yah, and a world-class goalie named Cory Schneider (who was egregiously snubbed in the Vezina voting). While the rebuild is still in progress, that’s a pretty solid foundation. Suffice to say, there will be changes-a-plenty this offseason and important ones at that. While July 4th is still 6 weeks away, let’s try and get a sense of what the summer, and next season has in store.
First, our cap situation is plentiful (see below) which means Ray Shero should have somewhere north of $20M to spend toward shaping the team in his vision. The caveat being, “It has to be done at the right time and in the right way…”
That’s a good thing, as a large part of the current roster probably won’t be here for the start of 2016. There’ll be plenty of overhaul, which means lots of holes to fill.
First, let’s look at who’s under contract:
Zajac: 5 more years at $5.75M (Gulp)
Cammalleri: 3 more years at $5M
Henrique: 3 more years at $4M
Blandisi: 1year at $648k
Greene: 4 years at $5M
Larsson: 5 years at $4.16M
Moore: 2 years at $1.6M
Severson: 1 year at $605k
Helgeson: 1 year at $587k
Schneider: 6 years at $6M
Kindaid: 1 year at $725k
Clowe: Insurance 2 years at $4.85M
*Zubrus: $3.1M comes off cap
That’s only 11 roster players under contract and Zajac, Henrique and Cammalleri are the only 3 forwards signed for 16-17 who are on a one-way deal. Resigning Palmieri, Boucher and DSP are no doubt high on Shero’s list, but there are plenty of other vacancies.
Will probably be back:
Palmieri: 30-goal scorer who’s up for a big raise (as previously discussed). Shero’s top priority.
DSP: He seems to have found a home here in NJ and should be re-signed to play a potential top-6 role. Adds grit and seems to be capable of 15+ goals in a season.
Schlemko: 4 Game winners, responsible D, High value, low cost. Would like to see him back on a 2-3 year deal.
Kalinin: Slow to adjust but finally made the most of his time, even earning an occasional spot on the top line. Should come cheap, too.
Boucher: Young and hopefully a big part of the future.
TooToo: He’s a fan favorite and good soldier. Could see him coming back on a 1-yr deal to round out 4th line.
Gionta: Not quite the same magic he had as a valuable member of the 2012 Stanley Cup team but has proven serviceable as a 4th liner. Unlikely to be resigned.
Josephson: Has all the talent in the world but can’t seem to find the consistency needed to elevate his game.
Merrill: Once highly touted prospect has dipped in his play. Would love to see him part of a package for additional help—assuming he has value.
Elias: The Devils all-time leading everything would love to return for a final season. The money’s there, but is the need?
Kennedy: He’s been a solid player on the 3/4th line and decent on the PK. Shero’s familiarity with him doesn’t hurt either. Nor does his price tag.
Farnham: Again, something of a fan favorite but may be a victim of congestion.
Tlusty: Jiri Tlusky, we hardly knew ye.
Ruutu: Don’t let the Zamboni door hit you on the way out.
Warsofsky: Uh, who?
As of now, the top two lines will probably look something like this:
Cammalleri – Zajac – Palmieri
DSP – Henrique – Elias
(The bottom two gets a little messy. Scoring, particularly from the bottom 6, was a huge issue for the Devils this season and will likely be a big source of change).
Blandisi – Josephson – Pietila
Boucher – Zacha – Blandisi
Quenville – Kennedy – Tootoo/Wood
Greene – Larsson
Severson – Schlemko
Moore – Santini
Helgeson – ?
Clearly some more offense is needed. But I believe Shero would like to add another speedy, offensive-type D-man to the mix as well. So where will he find these pieces?
Well, some from within—there will be roster spots up for grabs in camp and there’s more than a few players who could contend for a spot on the big club, with Zacha, Santini, Wood, Helgeson, and Quennville atop that list. But not all will make it (at least to start) and Shero needs more NHL proven commodities.
There’s the UFA route…but here’s the thing: You’re overpaying for a players past generally on the wrong side of 30. Guys who pot 15 goals are making $4M a year. In fact, save for Stamkos (who will probably wind up anchoring a line with Austin Matthews and Mitch Marner for the next decade or so) there’s not one “premium” UFA under 30 worth the money they’ll ultimately be paid in this years crop. Perhaps next summer the Devils will be in position to make a splash in the UFA market, but for now it’s best to make some smart trades i.e. the “Palmieri deal.”
Those are hard to come by, but that said, the first ting I’d do is make a few calls to the teams that have cap trouble. Chicago, Pittsburgh, LA, Edmonton, Columbus, etc. Is Mike Hoffman available for a similar package of picks? What about Andrew Shaw or Teuvo Teravainen? Could we make a call to Jim Nill and see if Valeri Nichushkin is a feasible (affordable) part of their future?
I think Shero & Co. will be busiest around draft day than July 1 and for good reason. We’re heading in the right direction and this summer should prove to be a big catalyst towards continued success. Time will tell.