By Dave Turner
After a season that saw the team fall short of a playoff spot, many expected that Lou Lamoriello would come out swinging when given the chance to bolster the Devils roster for 2013-14. Not only did the savvy GM improve the team for the upcoming season, but he may very well have improved the team for years to come.
Here’s an in-depth look at the new faces for this season:
Cory Schneider: [Acquired via trade with Vancouver for the Devils first round (9th overall) pick]
This was as much of a heist as you can get away with legally in this country. Though there was some good value with the 9th overall pick (with which Vancouver selected center Bo Horvat), the fact that New Jersey acquired an excellent goaltender in his prime for nothing but a pick is sheer genius.
The only bump in the road with this deal could be if Schneider decides not to re-sign when his contract is up in two years, but there’s no sense in debating that now.
What are the Devils getting in the talented net-minder from Massachusetts? They’re getting a goaltender who is primed and ready to take the baton from Martin Brodeur. Schneider has posted excellent numbers so far. As the “starter” over Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, he started 30 of the team’s 48 games. His numbers? A 2.11 goals against average, a .927 save percentage and five shutouts in 30 games for a 17-9-4 record. Yeah, where can I sign up for that?
Something that might be overlooked a midst all of this, is the idea of Schneider splitting time with Brodeur next year. Though Schneider deserves to be a starting goaltender in this league, this is still Brodeur’s team as long as he’s playing well. If there is anyone who can deal with the pressure of splitting time, it’s Schneider, because he’s used to it. It’s not like he’s going from starting 60-plus games a year to thirty-something.
Furthermore, the idea of following up Brodeur is something that might be looked at as a daunting task. Many players who have had to take the reigns from a Hall-Of-Famer tend to struggle to live up to the expectations. Just ask the Miami Dolphins about their quarterback situation from 1999 until last year where they might have found a winner in Ryan Tannehill.
Okay, enough football. The point is, Schneider has all of the tools to fit into this job mentally and that is a HUGE part of this. He knows his time is coming and he knows that he will get the chance to make a major name for himself in the years to come.
On the ice, he’s a monster when he’s on his game. The Boston College alum is a butterfly style goalie, so it’ll definitely be a change of pace for Devils fans who are used to seeing Brodeur, and even Hedberg, play the hybrid style. The ex-Canuck is quick and like many great butterfly goalies, tends to make hard saves look easy by being in position.
The only real knock on him is his inability to play the puck, which will certainly be something to watch. One would think that can be worked on with the tutelage of Brodeur.
Simply put, the Devils now have a franchise goalie to lead them into the post-Brodeur era. Schneider is someone who can be a stalwart between the pipes for the better part of the next decade. This is a great move, and will serve as a stabilizing factor for this franchise in the wake of Brodeur’s retirement.
Ryane Clowe [Acquired via free agency for 5 years and 4.85 million per season]
Initial thoughts on this deal were simple: Like this move, dislike the contract. But, if he plays up to his potential, why not just embrace it?
The best way to look at this deal is to treat it with cautious optimism.
Clowe at his best, is perhaps an equal to, if not better point producer than David Clarkson. His numbers in San Jose were pretty solid. Yes, he had no goals with the Sharks last season, but he picked it up when traded to the Rangers, finishing with eight points in twelve games. That’s pretty good.
Clowe is a hard nosed, physical player who uses his body to win pucks in the corners. The drawback is that he lacks speed. In the Devils system, with their hard forecheck, he should be able to overcome that.
The biggest red flag on Clowe has to be his concussion history. It is reported that he suffered three concussions during the past season and who knows how many more before then. Is that something that might scare you away from a long-term deal? Sure, but look at Bryce Salvador. He came back from a major concussion and was fine. It’s a risk that the Devils were willing to take.
For those who are wondering why the price was so high for a player who’s stats might not indicate such a deal, you have to consider the free agent market for this year as a direct reason for the large deal. There weren’t a ton of players out there, so a lot of players got overpaid; it happens. Just look at the mega seven-year deal that Clarkson got with Toronto. There are a lot of discussions that go on behind the scenes that we have no idea about. We don’t know how many other teams were bidding for Clowe and that probably resulted in his price being high.
The fact is, despite the large cap hit, if Clowe is healthy, he’s a very solid player. He should be someone that helps round out the top-six, and will certainly help give the Devils grit and scoring production, something that they could use every bit of.
Contract aside, I think the former Blueshirt will do just fine across the river. A reasonable season for him would be something along the lines of 15 goals and 25 assists. If he can get to around that number, I’d consider that a good season from him.
Michael Ryder [Acquired via free agency for two years at 3.5 million per season]
This deal was a no-brainer. The Devils were in need of a talented winger to play alongside Ilya Kovalchuk. Though there was a lot of depth on this roster prior to signing Ryder, there was no one who really jumped out as being a first line winger to go a long with Kovalchuk, something that the team missed in the wake of Zach Parise’s departure last season. Now, they get a proven goal scorer who immediately fills the void at the top line.
This move instantly makes the Devils a much stronger offensive team. Though Ryder is not a 40-goal type of player, he is someone who can score 30 when in the right system, as he’s hit the 30-goal mark three times in his career. The 33-year old Newfoundland product had 35 points last season, which would translate to roughly 60 points in an 82-game season.
If Ryder were to approach that total next year with the Devils, it would be a huge boost to the team’s offensive production.
One of the other reasons why the acquisition of Ryder may prove to a success is what Ryder can do for Travis Zajac. #19 struggled at times last year after signing his big contract extension, so he’s in need of a bounce-back season. With the possibility of Kovalchuk and Ryder as his wingers, he should be able to be a major point producer again this year.
The fact that this deal is for only two years and $3.5 million per season made this a slam dunk. The team is getting an older, but still effective player, with a contract that doesn’t hurt in terms of cap hit or length. If Ryder produces, he could easily justify the cap hit, but even if he doesn’t, this deal doesn’t put the Devils in any sort of financial strain.
Another area where the former Montreal Canadien might help, is on the power play. With Dallas and Montreal last year, Ryder tallied 17 points (8g, 9a) in 46 games. Considering the struggles of the Devils power-play last year, you can only expect that Ryder will make an impact with the man advantage.
Rostislav Olesz (signed via free agency for one year and one million dollars)
This is a very low risk, possible high reward signing. Olesz was the next big thing in Florida, when the Panthers drafted him 7th overall back in 2004. He never really panned out to be the kind of player they were hoping, so he jumped ship to the Chicago Blackhawks last season.
He played under Pete Deboer in Florida and according to a quote from Lamoriello via Tom Gulitti, DeBoer spoke “very highly” of Olesz.
He has a career high of 14 goals, which he hit twice. If he’s able to do that again, that’d be excellent production from a third line winger. The problem is, with more moves to be made and players like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson vying for ice time, there is no guarantee that Olesz will see that many games.
With that being said, the fact that it’s a one-year deal for only a million dollars, the Devils are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, much like they did with Andrei Loktionov. Olesz is older that Loktionov, but perhaps a change of scenery and a chance for some ice time might bring out the best in the talented Czech.
At best, he becomes a solid third liner that can chip in some offense. If he could reach double digits in goals scored, it’d be well worth the contract. At worst, he gets outplayed by other players on the roster and is a healthy scratch for a majority of the season. Or he gets sent down to the AHL. Regardless of the outcome, taking a flyer on a player who had a huge amount of potential isn’t a bad thing.
Henrik Tallinder TRADED to Buffalo for Riley Boychuk
With all due respect to Riley Boychuk, this move was about one thing, and one thing only: clearing more cap space.
With Tallinder’s 3.375 million cap hit off the books, the Devils now have $7.18 million in cap space, which can be used to sign Adam Henrique, Josefson and perhaps even Marek Zidlicky or another free agent.
Tallinder was plagued by injuries and poor play for much of the last two years with the team. He committed far too many turnovers at times and was a liability on defense. The Devils are a better team defensively without him in the lineup.
With the Swedish defenseman gone, New Jersey may look to bring up a young d-man out of camp. This is a great chance for some of the prospects to shine and fight for a roster spot.
The best bet for that seems to be Eric Gelinas. Gelinas is 6’4” and has a ton of offensive upside. He could come up and be the best offensive defenseman on the team the minute he gets here. Others who may warrant a look are Alex Urbom and Jon Merrill.
Which ever way Lou uses the money gained by trading Tallinder, it’ll be to better this team and there may be more to come.
This team is without a doubt a far superior club today than they were prior to the entry draft. What was a fringe playoff team at best, is now a team that may have a shot at competing for home ice in the first round. It’s definitely playoffs or bust with this roster as it stands.
With this year perhaps being the final chapter of Brodeur’s incredible career, Lou went out and made every move possible to make this team competitive, in order to give Brodeur one last chance at a Cup.
Through some shrewd moves by Lou, this team improved greatly over last year’s team that failed to make the playoffs. The expectations are high in New Jersey once again, and that’s where they should be.