The coaching situation is interesting and as far as the demands of the fan base and media are concerned, there appears to be a conflict between hiring a coach with experience, and what type of system they’ll instill. I’ve heard the usual group of names such as Ken Hitchcock, Mike Haviland, John MacLean, Guy Carbonneau, even Mike Keenan and Mario Tremblay as potential candidates, but it seems you’ll find just as many flaws in each one as you would pluses. It would be my preference to hire a coach with a respectable amount of experience under his belt that plays an offensive-oriented system with keen defensive knowledge (kind of like a 60/40 thing). I want a coach good to stay long term, and is good with balancing out youth and veteran skill on the roster, but isn’t afraid to experiment with the lineup when he feels it’s necessary. It’s easy to talk about, but seeing it happen is on a whole other plateau. If it isn’t MacLean, I believe Lamoriello will bring someone in under the radar nobody’s heard of or expected. I really can’t say how long it could take because I think Lou’s dead set on truly hiring “the right guy” this time that will do the job for more than a season or two. Who do you think it should be?
Next, we have the Devil’s 2010 unrestricted free agency class. Lamoriello clearly has a few options as to who he can keep and who’s hitting the road. The Devils have approximately $14-16 million (a little more, a little less) in cap space to play around with this summer. I’ll go through the Devil’s 2010 unrestricted free agent class and quickly evaluate each player…
Illya Kovalchuk, 27, left wing…Clearly this year’s big fish. It’s likely Kovalchuk will test the market and this is the same player that turned down a 12-year deal from the Thrashers for over $100 million. Kovy said he wants long term security on a team that will play beyond the regular season on a regular basis, but was “open” to negotiating with the Devils. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays or signs elsewhere, although a primal concern amongst Devils fans and media outlets is how the outcome of the Kovalchuk situation could affect the fate of seeing Parise in New Jersey long term.
Rob Niedermayer, 35, center…An early season addition, Niedermayer was playing stellar hockey until he was sidelined for eleven games with an upper body injury. Nonetheless, Nieds was a serviceable third line center and penalty killer, but considering his age, role on the team, and potential integration of youth that could bestow the roster, I think the sequel to the Niedermayer era in New Jersey has concluded. If the Devils feel they need a defensive forward to center the third line, think Pelley’s ready to fulfill that role?
Dean McAmmond, 37, center…I liked McAmmond…when he was used appropriately. I was annoyed a few times when Lemaire had him on the second line between Elias and Rolston, but thought he was an ideal and experienced fourth line center that did what he was asked of. McAmmond talked retirement late in the season and after the Devils were eliminated and like Niedermayer, he was another late addition I think we’ve seen the last of, but could be brought back for experienced depth.
Paul Martin, 29, defenseman…He was appointed the Devil’s top defender when Brian Rafalski left in 2007. Martin has been a valuable defender in New Jersey and I think it’s all about how much Martin demands that determines if he stays or goes. Both Lamoriello and Martin have mutual interest in working out a deal and keeping Martin can be a smart move if Lou can bulk up the quality of his defense corps to take the pressure off him. The Devils have gone through the same course of events from October to April since Martin was deemed the top guy and I always felt every Devils team for the past three seasons was a top four defenseman or two away from making a deeper playoff run.
Martin Skoula, 31, defenseman…Lou’s annual trade deadline acquisition for depth purposes. He played a serviceable game, but wasn’t much of a difference maker and was likely to be nothing more than a rental. He did those little things that didn’t show up on the score sheet most of the time and while I wouldn’t hate it if he stays, he has had some good years in the past so would it be fair to say he has some potential to be a regular second or third pair defenseman that can chip in a point here and there? Overall though, if drastic changes are coming to New Jersey, I’m skeptical about Skoula’s return.
Yann Danis, 29, goaltender…For the few games he played, I thought Yann was a great backup and he’s expressed interest in coming back to New Jersey…and playing more. I think Danis proved in the 2008-2009 season he’s capable of starting 15-20 games, but the whole goaltending dispute seems like a lost cause to discuss. I can see Lou bringing him back for a year or two and I want to say he could be a solid insurance policy if Brodeur gets sidelined.
Considering the Devil’s upcoming UFA class, it leaves a few voids on offense and gives Lou a chance to give the defense a significant makeover. While the Devils lose a substantial quantity of skill should Kovalchuk sign elsewhere, most of which I believe Lemaire was unable to tap into during his time in New Jersey, I think the Devils are solid at left wing with Zach Parise and Patrik Elias manning the top two lines. If the Devils don’t aggressively address their blue line needs, Paul Martin’s loss could bring down an already average defense corps a notch or two, while the rest of the remaining unrestricted free agents could be replaced by a simple signing or an integration of homegrown youth.
Now the fun begins…what does this team need? I can’t stress the need for a top three defenseman and top two center enough, two things the Devils lacked over the past three seasons, haven’t properly been addressed, and were exploited greatly. I’ve always said the defense had its puck movers and stay at home defensemen, but the problem was all have been of moderate quality at their position type and nobody truly excels. I can live with a combination of Colin White, Bryce Salvador, and Mark Fraser playing the roles of defensive defensemen, but the blue line’s lack of goal scoring is bothersome. Regardless of what kind of system the Devils play, I feel the blue line won’t abandon its defensive traditions (which doesn’t mean they’ll be entirely defensive minded) so I think it’d be appropriate for Lou to add some offensive punch. Now as easy as it is to say, I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I hope to see a defenseman or two arrive in Jersey with offensive upside that fulfill their responsibilities in the defensive zone. This year’s free agent crop is relatively weak compared to recent years and the trade market is entirely speculation, but the Devils do have options.
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Written by Mike Luciano