The Devils finally made a major move this summer, 20 days after free agency started. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, usually one to make bold moves, has been very quiet to start the summer. He has only made two minor trades, acquiring a fifth round pick from Calgary for PierreLuc Letourneau-Leblond and David McIntyre from Minnesota for Maxim Noreau, and the only free agents signed were Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton, certainly not enough to improve a team that missed that playoffs last year for the first time since 1996.
Though Peter DeBoer has yet to make the playoffs in the NHL, he took the Florida Panthers to within one point of making the playoffs in 2008-09, which is about as good as it gets for that franchise. When he has had proper talent to work with, he has had success. DeBoer had a 539-248-60-31 record in the Ontario League and won the Memorial Cup with the Kitchener Rangers in 2003.
Now they just have to work on getting Zach Parise under contract. But with just under $5.5 million in cap space, they don’t have nearly enough room to fit him in. Any multi-year contract he signs will surely have a cap hit of over $6 million. He would consider a one-year deal to avoid arbitration on Aug. 3. That deal could be worth $4-$5 million and he can sign a much richer contract next summer when the Devils have over $27 million in cap space.
The tricky thing is ensuring he signs again next summer. A one-year deal will make him a UFA in a year and eligible for any team to poach and the Devils wouldn’t necessarily keep him by matching. They could perhaps make him their captain, a position he will likely hold soon anyway as New Jersey’s best player, and hope that makes him want to stay in the fold.
The top line of the forward unit will largely be set with Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, David Clarkson, Mattias Tedenby, and Jacob Josefson to provide the offense. Lamoriello will have to spend next summer shoring up his defense and figuring what the crease will look like when Martin Brodeur retires. They managed to steal Adam Larsson with the fourth overall pick in June which will help rebuilt what used to be their strength.
Their back end used to boast Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko and Brian Rafalski. Now they rely on Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, Colin White and Andy Greene. The latter group just doesn’t strike nearly as much fear as the former and they need an upgrade.
Only three, Volchenkov, Tallinder and Greene, are signed past this season, so they will have plenty of space after resigning Parise to recreate a formidable blueline. John-Michael Liles, Brent Burns, Dennis Wideman, Ryan Suter, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn are all free agents next summer, so they have a good shot at finding a young player or two to build around.
And all of this doesn’t begin to deal with their situation in goal. Brodeur’s decision to either stay and take a possible pay cut or retire will have tremendous implications on what moves come next year. The gap he leaves will instantly be their number one hole to fill. Rebuilding for the first time in two decades will definitely not end this year, insufficient cap space simply won’t let them, but they can certainly get the ball rolling towards becoming a contender again.