NHL Offseason: Do the New Jersey Devils Have a “Plan B”?
By: Mike Luciano (@MikeLuci)
After the dust settled in the wake of 2012 free agent frenzy and the outcome of the Zach Parise sweepstakes, it reflected the continuation of a turbulent offseason for Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils.
It’s been a field day for the members of the hockey world possessing any form of dislike for the Devils as they’ve lost both of their assistant coaches, unveiled news that Patrik Elias has undergone surgery, still have an ownership situation clouded in uncertainty, and worst of all, lost their captain and franchise face.
While I agree with Lamoriello when he proclaimed how you don’t just replace a player like Zach Parise, a player like that is irreplaceable in terms of heart and work ethic. His skill set and offensive output is expendable to a certain extent but nothing you can just realistically bounce back from overnight.
With this kept in mind, it begs the question as to what Lou Lamoriello meant when he said the Devils will move onto “Plan B” when Zach Parise chose to commit the duration of his NHL career to the Minnesota Wild, his home state team. In the midst of the inception of the post-Parise era in New Jersey, the majority of the Devils faithful, disappointed and/or outraged by Parise’s fated departure, are looking at the way Lamoriello should handle handle his loss with a cause-effect perspective. When Lamoriello’s acknowledgement of a “Plan B” circulated through the hockey blogosphere, the majority of Devils fans anticipated that immediate action would be taken. Even now more than a week in the fallout of Parise’s departure, many Devils fans are clinging to the hope that news of Lamoriello’s implementation of “Plan B” is just a refresh click away on Twitter or comprises the content of their next text message that they hope is from their hockey or sports news update service.
What none of these fiending Devils fans realize is they’re giving into the desire to see Lamoriello make a move solely for appeasement.
Whatever Lamoriello meant by when he said “Plan B”, I’m very skeptical that we’re going to its unraveling any time soon. Although the Devils sit comfortably under the $70 million salary cap with a current payroll just a smidgen north of $54 million, they’ll be constrained by budgetary restrictions this coming season. This of course ultimately reflects the true nature of the Devil’s financial mishaps and their lack of ownership stability. The only flexibility this situation has, rides on a change in ownership or if Devil’s owner Jeff Vanderbeek indemnifies his financial struggles in the near future. My skepticism that either of those scenarios will manifest into the real world is derived from conversations I’ve had with a source that’s very close to the situation. As of now, Lamoriello is probably going to have utilize what wiggle room he is authorized to have.
The biggest factor contributing the the unlikeliness that Parise’s departure will be properly addressed this offseason is the lack of compatibility among the unrestricted free agent and trade market. In simpler terms, there are very few players that would constitute a proper fit on the team’s roster that compare to the caliber of skill Parise possessed.
One of the popularized names that’s been recently added to Devils fan’s wishlists is right wing Alex Semin. Given his shot and offensive skills are a spectacle, if Semin is actually demanding the $5 million plus, I can see that being out of Lamoriello’s willing price range. It’s very possible he could click with Russian counterpart Ilya Kovalchuk, undergo the same transformation, and benefit from a change in scenery. Keep in mind Lamoriello marches to the beat of his own drum when it comes to his philosophy on improving his hockey team. Outside of Semin, the best available forwards are fourth to ninth players of which the Devils have a comfortable supply of.
The trade market has produced names such as Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, and most recently, Brendan Morrow. The Devils swapping assets for either of those players is probably a case of wishful thinking. Even for either of those teams to consider the Devils, Lou would have to dangle one of Zajac, Henrique, Josefson, or Clarkson and a first round pick for them to listen. In addition to further dismembering an already rattled core, the Devils have to surrender one of their next two first round draft picks and with the 2013 NHL Entry Draft being held in New Jersey, it limits Lamoriello’s flexibility in resorting to the trade market.
“Plan B” could very well stretch into next offseason for a few additional reasons. The Devils aren’t as good a team without Parise but it doesn’t automatically make them a bottom dweller, contrary to what many in the hockey world want to see happen. Their offense still features the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, and Adam Henrique. Mattias Tedenby will enter this coming season with a clean slate and we’ve yet to see Jacob Josefson have a full healthy season. By standing pat, it’s going to require the younger players to step up and an adjustment of the roles of certain players. The Devils would endure some growing pains similarly to what they went through last year but keep in mind utilizing internal means to address the void Parise left won’t happen overnight.
Many also forget (or refuse to acknowledge) the Devil’s remarkable performance during the second-half of the 2010-2011 regular season, of which Parise did not participate in because he was sidelined due to injury.
With the draft back on topic, one also has to wonder if “Plan B” might involve the Devils pulling something similar to what the Pittsburgh Penguins did at this year’s draft. Lamoriello don’t prioritize pleasing his fans in that aspect but the flurry of signings and trades he’s made in recent years is considerably uncharacteristic of him. That same offseason, the Devils have Patrik Elias, Danius Zubrus, Marek Zidlicky, Travis Zajac, and David Clarkson all slated to become unrestricted free agents. That combines for a whopping $21.8 million in cap space off the books in addition to the $15 million the Devils already have. Given Lamoriello would like to retain the majority of those players, it remains to be seen what opportunities Lamoriello already sees between now and then.