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New Jersey Devils Summer Playbook

Posted By Matt Pellicane On Jun 29 2011 @ 6:15 pm In New Jersey Devils | No Comments

The New Jersey Devils summer began just the way they had hoped it would.  They were able to snag Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson with the fourth selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.  Many pundits believe he could be the steal of the draft, and he might also be ready to step into the Devils starting lineup this fall.

Although Larsson is only 18-years-old, he has been playing for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League over the past two seasons.  By playing in Sweden’s top league, he has been able to hone his skills against men who are twice his age.  This experience could go a long way towards making Larsson a mainstay in the starting lineup this fall.

Now that the Devils can put a ‘check’ mark next to their first offseason priority, it is time to move on to the second item on the list: hiring a new head coach.  Again.

The hiring of John MacLean was a disaster to say the least.  However, Jacques Lemaire returned and righted what looked to be a sinking ship.  Now that Lemaire has gone back into retirement, the Devils are left to fill the void left behind the bench.  Various names have been mentioned to fill the Devils vacancy, with the most recent being former Atlanta Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay and University of Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves.

Personally, I would not like to see either of these men take over the reigns for the Devils.  Eaves, who to his credit has denied any interest in coaching the Devils, just does not have the necessary head coaching experience at the NHL level.  We all remember what happened the last time the Devils went down that road.  I’m not sold on Ramsay either, especially since he was not retained by Winnipeg, but it sounds like he is in the running for the job.

Other names that have been mentioned are experienced candidates such as Ken Hitchcock, Mike Keenan, and Marc Crawford.  If I had to endorse one candidate, I would probably throw my hat in the ring for Ken Hitchcock.  He has a vast array of experience, coaching both veterans and younger players.  He is also said to have an admiration for Ilya Kovalchuk, which certainly can’t hurt matters.

It’s no secret that Lou Lamoriello takes his time making decisions, but it would serve him well to have a head coach in place before the free agency period opens on July 1.  Any potential free agents would surely like to know who they will be playing for before they decide to sign with a team.

In terms of free agency, the Devils top priority needs to be signing Zach Parise to a long-term contract.  The team has already filed for team-elected arbitration with Parise, therefore protecting his rights and prohibiting other teams from signing him to an offer sheet.  The Devils have time to negotiate a multi-year deal with Parise up until the arbitration date, and they would be best served to do so in order to get this taken care of as soon as possible. 

Parise is a core member of this team, and he needs to be treated as such.  He might not like the fact that he was taken to arbitration, but if he gets a new deal out of it, it should be water under the bridge.

The Devils made qualifying offers to all of their restricted free agents, with the exception of defenseman Anssi Salmela.

The players who were qualified are: D Matthew Corrente, D Mark Fraser, G Jeff Frazee, D Maxim Noreau (obtained in a trade with Minnesota for AHL forward David McIntyre), RW Nathan Perkovich, D Matt Taormina, LW Alexander Vasyunov, C Steve Zalewski, and RW Vladimir Zharkov.

The Devils can match any offer sheet that these players may receive.

The Devils only have a few noteworthy unrestricted free agents hitting the market this summer.  Defenseman Andy Greene is at the top of the list, and he is said that he would like to return to the club.  However, it looks like he is going to be able to test the market.  The Devils would be wise to make an attempt to retain Greene, perhaps at a bit of a hometown discount.  I just don’t see Lamoriello overpaying for Greene, especially since he is coming off of a lackluster campaign.

Backup goaltender Johan Hedberg is an unrestricted free agent as well, but the Devils have already begun talks with his agent to get “Moose” resigned.  Hedberg played very well for the Devils this past season, filling in admirable when Martin Brodeur was banged up.  Hedberg had 15 wins, a 2.38 goals against average, a .912 save percentage, and three shutouts in 34 appearances.

When free agency opens on Friday July 1, I don’t expect the Devils to be making a big splash.  The areas that they need to address are within their own locker room, starting with hiring a head coach and getting Zach Parise signed to a long-term contract.  I think most Devils fans would consider that a successful offseason.

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