General Manager Lou Lamoriello has until 3 PM EST on Wednesday to make the necessary moves to get his team under the $59.4 million salary cap. Since signing Ilya Kovalchuk to the fifteen-year deal that put the Devils approximately $2-3 million over in September, there’s been endless speculation as to who will become a cap casualty on the current roster. Inevitably, it’s going to be someone with a hefty salary that’s been a lineup regular throughout their time in New Jersey. Their absence won’t go unnoticed but it’s uncertain whether Lamoriello can find a trade partner or resort to burying contracts of NHL-worthy veterans in the minors. For all I know, Lamoriello could be executing a move as I work on this write up or while you’re reading it. Defenseman Anssi Salmela is starting the season on long term injury reserve and it looks like Bryce Salvador is joining him. Their combined cap hit is about $3.5 million, but the Devils still need to shed additional space to get under and have wiggle room should they find the need to make trades or mid-season signings.
Whatever move Lamoriello ends up making will affect the team one way or another. Whether it creates a roster or leadership void that’s hard to replace or the Devils lose depth and versatility, moving any of the mentioned trade candidates will noticeably change the roster’s look. As I’ve mentioned in previous write ups, most of the movable candidates are ultimately replaceable as far as role, skill, and production are concerned. It’s the adjustment period after a move is made when the Devils will feel the extreme effects that could factor in the team’s play and attitude on and off the ice. Taking a look at a narrowed list of players that can be potentially moved, each one’s departure would have a different effect on the team.
Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, $2.8 million cap hit…Consider this a power phrasing of my previous write up. Out of the realistic trade candidates, Langenbrunner’s the most desirable considering the role he’s capable of playing, generous cap hit, and being in a contract year. The Devils would lose an 18-25 goal scorer, capable of posting around sixty points. In addition to losing their only natural right wing on the roster, the Devils also lose their captain and an occasional clutch goal scorer. Like I’ve said, I think his numbers are replaceable, but his absence in the locker room is something that may leave a bad taste in the team’s mouth for a long time.
Brian Rolston, LW, $5.2 million cap hit…In a perfect world, the Devils would have already traded Rolston to a team needy of a veteran top six forward and their cap issues would disappear. At thirty-seven, Rolston is going into the third year of a four-year deal he signed with the Devils in 2008. Since he committed to the Devils long term when he was thirty-five, the Devils are stuck with his obnoxious $5.2 million cap hit even if he’s waived, bought out, or retires. Two years into his second stint with New Jersey, he hasn’t scored more than twenty goals and never flourished as a power play quarterback he was bought in to become. He wasn’t featured in the three lines MacLean set up in the beginning of training camp so if Rolston can be moved, I can’t see his departure having that big of an effect. Considering his no-trade clause, too many factors have to be in line for the Devils if they want to dump Rolston by the 3 PM deadline.
Danius Zubrus, LW, $3.4 million cap hit…Zubrus lacks a restricted movement clause of any kind, which makes him a leading trade candidate. He’s a little overpaid and never built on back-to-back twenty goal seasons with Washington before coming to the Devils, but his versatility to play any position on any part of the offense gives him enough value where the Devils might hesitate to move him, as Devils beat writer Rich Chere noted in a recent Star Ledger article. While his output expectancy of 13-17 goals can easily be replaced, his flexibility, work ethic, and little doings that don’t show on the score sheet such as complimenting plays, effectiveness in front of the net, and in the corners are traits most role players on the team lack. One positive coming out of dealing Zubrus is it could open a top nine spot for a rookie hopeful such as Mattias Tedenby or fully secure Rolston into the mix, who can contribute more offensively than Zubrus.
Colin White, D, $3 million cap hit…Bryce Salvador would have been placed on this list before White, but with him likely being placed on LTIR, White is next in line. In this article from Rich Chere of the Star Ledger, he mentions how moving White is more of a possibility than originally sought even if he isn’t willing to waive his no-trade clause, let alone find a team willing to take on his contract considering how he is as a contributor at this stage in his career. As the article notes, White’s best years appear to be behind him ever since he sustained his eye injury. Nonetheless, White has experience, is capable of playing heavy minutes when relied upon, and can at least go with the motions as a stay at home defenseman, despite the mistakes he’s perceived to make. Whether he’s traded or waived, which will likely be the route the Devils take if they decide to move White, they lose an experienced defenseman that’s provided stability on a mediocre defense the past few seasons, not to mention a long time team face. Although his departure creates a huge gap for the kids to fill, how that pans out is ultimately shrouded in uncertainty.
As we draw closer to finding out who Lamoriello is going to have to sacrifice for the better of the cap, we as fans are mostly restricted to speculation and theorization. Personally, I trust that Lamoriello will make the right move and he and coach John MacLean have a backup plan to counteract any negative backlash. I still think the Devils will be a competitive team this season and any wounds the move we’re anticipating may make will heal as the season picks up and sights are set on redeeming the legitimacy of calling the Devils a true contender.
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Written by Mike Luciano