I hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day weekend. I spent mine at the beaches of Wildwood, New Jersey, where I enjoyed the pleasantries of practically receiving sun poisoning, a painful bee sting (one of my biggest fears), almost breaking my nose, and seeing my days start early in the afternoon after spending the mornings recovering from the night before. I was able to catch the first two games of this year’s Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers and have to say they’ve been two of the most exciting games I may have seen all year. Both games had two completely different courses of events with the same outcome, but both games were at the same level of excitement and featured everything an ideal hockey game should have from intense physical play to a stellar display of skill from players on both teams playing all positions. Two games in, you can see why these teams are the final two standing and that they deserve to continue playing at this time of year. Although Chicago is off to a good start, I don’t think this series is close to being over if the first two games are any indication.
As of late, the New Jersey Devils have been one of the more irrelevant teams in the broad spectrum of the hockey world but as a blogger for the team, I’m inclined to focus on an aspect of Devil Land to discuss. As I was making my daily browse through my online news outlets on anything regarding the Devils or that would be of interest in the hockey world, I came across a very unsettling article in the New York Post…it appears the Devils are close to an agreement with one of their pending unrestricted free agents. It isn’t Illya Kovalchuk, it isn’t Paul Martin, but defenseman Mike Mottau…yes…Mike Mottau. To read the article, click here.
In his third season with the Devils, Mottau had two goals, eighteen points, went plus four in seventy-nine games and averaged around eighteen minutes of ice time per game. Mottau, a scapegoat of blame for Devils fans, who many, including myself, felt safe in saying his last time in a Devil’s jersey was game five in which the Philadelphia Flyers handed this team their third consecutive first round playoff exit, sadly finished second in scoring amongst Devil’s defensemen as well. If the reports are accurate and Mottau will return for his fourth season with the Devils, during which he’ll likely continue to be a regular in the lineup and his frustrating partnership with Colin White, a third defensive pairing at best that logs second pairing and sometimes first pairing minutes on a nightly basis, I’m sure the two biggest questions amongst Devils fans are “why?” and “what is Lou thinking?”
Mottau can be described as a general defenseman at best as he doesn’t truly excel in the offensive or defensive aspect of the position. Until he came to New Jersey, who at the time was likely desperate to occupy their roster spots after Lamoriello failed or refused to address his team’s needs and properly replace his summer losses, he spent most of his career as a depth defenseman that made frequent trips to and from the AHL. He made a decent first impression and for some reason stuck with the team three seasons, three first round exits, and two coaches later. If you were to ask Lou, Sutter, or Lemaire to justify why a player such as Mottau has had the role and ice time throughout his time with the Devil’s, they’ll say he’s a depth player that can log heavy minutes…after you finish sighing and rubbing your eyes with your fingers, you should counter that by asking what he specifically does that makes his time on the ice effective and like I just mentioned, why he logs second and first pair minutes when he’s clearly a third pairing defenseman at best. Since the defense has remained stagnant since Rafalski left, I guess Mottau has slipped through the cracks.
The article goes on to explain how Lamoriello and defenseman Paul Martin agreed they won’t initiate contract talks until the Devils hire a coach and if that’s any indication, I won’t expect the Devils to name their next head coach until mid-late July so perhaps Lamoriello is basically implying Martin and the Devils are going their separate ways. What I want to know is why Lou is intent on re-signing an overplayed depth player, while the likes of Paul Martin, Illya Kovalchuk, and David Clarkson remain unsigned. The Devils fans addicted to the kool-aid will excuse this by saying it takes more time and effort to re-sign the more skilled members of the upcoming free agent class or express their alleged disinterest in seeing them return next year at all. What makes me laugh is these same fans will defend Lou’s re-signing of Mottau because of the general fact the move was made…even if they were amongst those that relentlessly bashed him throughout the season and prayed to see him off the team in any way possible.
Mottau returning isn’t the worst thing to happen but I’m more than willing to admit you shouldn’t expect a massive contribution from him that makes a difference. Sure he’s more or less a decent depth player and role players like that win championships but the Devils an unhealthy surplus of those…and just because he’s in Lou’s good graces doesn’t mean you have to automatically discount the countless errors and mishaps he’s made this year let alone throughout his tenure in Jersey. With Mottau likely staying, he occupies a roster spot and possesses a skill level that could easily be replaced with one of the kids in the system or an acquired defenseman via trade or free agency (don’t laugh I’m just being hypothetical) of equal or greater talent. You can counter that by crediting Mottau with having experience but I say if you choose an underachiever over a promising prospect based on NHL experience, it ultimately defeats the purpose of developing the kids because they need NHL experience to prove themselves and adapt to the NHL style of play instead of wasting their youth in the minors, although Lou seems to have made a habit of dealing his prospects away for rental players he won’t re-sign so at least they’re of some remote use to the organization.
If Paul Martin signs elsewhere and Mottau stays, it leaves the Devils with Mike Mottau, Andy Greene, Colin White, and Bryce Salvador as returning defensemen on next year’s squad. Even if Martin returns, there isn’t much room for improvement on a defense that hasn’t been able to get this team out of the first round for three consecutive seasons of which they’ve struggled to finish strongly. I don’t want to hear how well the team played during Martin’s absence because their struggles started in January and Martin returned in mid-March, which didn’t lift the team out of their funk. I’d be very surprised if Lamoriello actually acquires defensemen that improve the blue line; and where does that leave the likes of Mark Fraser and Anssi Salmela, who I thought were solid contributors this year with a lot of potential along with prospects such as Tyler Eckford and Matthew Corrente? We could be in for the same old Devils team that hasn’t gotten past the first round for three years now, which Lamoriello seems content with based on his lack of effort in trying to appropriately improving this team.
To sum everything up, the point of this write up is to figure out why Lamoriello seems quick on keeping players of less quality, effortlessly lets his talented players go when they receive an opportunity to play elsewhere, and does little or nothing to replace the talent voids they leave. Hopefully I’m wrong about my attitude towards the likely re-signing of Mottau. I remember I wasn’t happy when the Devils re-signed Salvador and I think he’s the team’s best defensive defensemen and Andy Greene is turning out alright. The difference with Mottau is three seasons should be a long enough trial to prove how much a player can contribute and how replicable they are. If Lamoriello values a player like Mottau over someone like Kovalchuk or Martin…well it should speak for itself.
UPDATE: Per Rich Chere of the Star Ledger, defenseman Mike Mottau debunked claims that he and Lamoriello were anywhere near close to agreeing on a new deal. Mottau said he’s spoken to Lamoriello once between now and the end of the season with regards to the Devil’s interest on having him back. While there is alleged mutual interest in seeing Mottau return, it is unclear if or when official negotiations will start. Click here for Chere’s article.
About the Author
Written by Mike Luciano