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NHL Free Agency: In-House Shopping For New Jersey Devils

The opening of free agency has come and gone, and the Devils have done exactly what they were expected to do.  Re-sign their own guys, and let the other teams make the flashy moves.  To that end, the Devils have made three moves so far this off-season, and it was to resign two of their defensemen and their backup goaltender. 

While some fans of the team may point to the lack of activity and say “We only resigned three players, meanwhile the Rangers are adding the top free agent on the market, and the Flyers have added an All-Star goalie, and one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history.”  While this is true, its worth noting that Andy Greene is a very underrated defenseman, who took less money to come back to the Devils, and Johan Hedberg performed very well when replacing Martin Brodeur.   Jay Leach is an organizational defenseman who will log a good number of healthy scratches. 

The truth is, this year was never the year the Devils planned on making moves.  The team is up tight against the cap, and it still has to come to terms on a contract agreement with Zach Parise as well as likely top four defenseman Adam Larsson.  With over 16 million dollars coming off the books next season, and all the big ticket signings last year, this was always going to be a “stay the course” season.  That isn’t a bad thing. 

Last year’s Devils team was the first to miss the playoffs since 1995-96 which gives this team’s aging core, additional rest.  In addition, they only missed the playoffs thanks to a truly abysmal start that cost John MacLean his job a lot earlier than anyone expected, and maybe a lot later than a guy who despite his long ties to the organization deserved. 

The Devils are currently set behind the pipes with the recently resigned Johan Hedberg and the future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.  The Devils would be well served though, to start Hedberg about 35 games, keeping Marty fresh for late in the season and protecting against injury.  The goalie of the future is currently tabbed as Jeff Frazee, but it’s the Devils hope he will spend the season starting in Albany, rather than traveling between Albany and Newark to back up Marty or Johan.

The Devils will likely be looking to sign one more veteran defenseman, possibly Stanley Cup Champion Tomas Kaberle, who will be taking a significant pay cut from the 4.25 million he made last year.  Kaberle struggled upon arriving in Boston in a trade from woeful Toronto, but played well in the post season. 

He is the type of player the Devils tend to go for, and should help to improve a dreadful New Jersey Power Play (last in goals, 3rd worst PP scoring percentage, and a dreadful eight shorthanded goals allowed).  Other names making the rounds for the Devils include ex-Ranger Bryan McCabe, ex-Devil David Hale, and ex-Flyer Nick Boynton.

Up front, the Devils would like to add one or two forwards for depth, and as is the Devils way, John Madden is a name that makes sense.  He’s been here before, he knows the system, he’s a proven winner (3 Stanley Cups) and at 38, he’s likely to be looking for a one year deal that won’t handcuff the team next year.  They could also look at Alexandre Picard, the number 8 overall pick in 2004, who has not yet performed as expected in the NHL, but for the right price, grabbing a 26 year old LW could be a move the Devils look into. 

I had planned on going in depth on the Devils draft here, but since four of the six have committed to going to the NCAA and playing there, I’ll instead just say that with the fourth overall pick, the Devils selected Swedish defenseman, Adam Larsson, who was projected early in the year, as the number one pick in the draft, before falling to a top three pick in the last Central Scouting Service.  Passed over by the top three teams choosing forwards, the Devils got in my opinion, the best player in the draft, and the probable number one on their board. 

At 6’3, and over 200 pounds, Larsson is a physically big defenseman, who was the best puck moving defensemen in Sweden, and despite only being 18 years old, likely become one of the best puck movers in the NHL very quickly.  Compared by some to fellow Swede, Nicklas Lidstrom (unfair for ANY player, let alone an 18 year old) for his ability to slow down the game, always be in position, and start a quick counterattack with a great pass, I expect Larsson to start the year in the NHL on the Devils last defense pairing, but I would expect him to be one of the team’s top four by seasons end, as well as logging minutes on the team’s second power play unit.. 

Larsson’s offensive game has not begun to blossom, but it is expected in time that he will be a double digit goal scorer from the blue line.  A year like Travis Hamonic from the Islanders isn’t out of the question, with five goals, 20 plus assists, and a decent +/-.

Given what is currently on the roster, here is how I expect the Devils depth chart to look next year:

Line 1: Parise, Zajac, Kovalchuck
Line 2: Elias, Josefson, Palmieri
Line 3: Rolston, Steckel, Clarkson
Line 4: Tedenby, Zurbus, Zharkov
Defense 1: Volchenkov and Fayne
Defense 2: White and Greene
Defense 3: Tallinder and Larsson

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