This is the first post on P&P from our latest blogger Ben Fedder.
One of the big stories for the Devils offseason is whether General Manager Lou Lamoriello will sign unrestricted free agent Paul Martin. Paul Martin has been the marquee defensive player for the franchise since Brian Rafalski’s departure in 2007. A former third round draft pick, he has become the franchise defenseman for the Devils in these past few seasons.
However, the rest of the Devils defensive corps has been nothing more than mediocre these past few years, as was seen in the Devils disappointing end of the playoffs to rival Philadelphia. Martin himself was not very good in the series, registering no points with a minus one +/- rating through the five game series. So the question is: Is Paul Martin worth the money, and is he the best the Devils can get?
Paul Martin has a career high of six goals in one season and a high of 37 points. He does not have a great slap shot that is necessary for a strong power play quarterback. He is not a shutdown defensive player that every team needs. He is often considered soft and nonphysical. In his defense (no pun intended), he has a career +/- rating of 55, with a career high of +21 in the 08-09 season. However, he still has not been the shutdown defensive player the Devils have had to thrive off of throughout the club’s history. He has also been injured, only playing 22 games last season. I believe that, while Martin is a good defenseman overall, he is no more than a 3rd or 4th defenseman. Martin will be demanding at least four million dollars. Martin is certainly not worth that kind of money, and the four million dollars the Devils will save can be spent on signing other defenseman, or resigning Kovalchuk. Here are a few ideas of what the Devils can do.
1) Sign a free agent defenseman: Free agency may not be a favorite of Lamoriello, but this might be the best and easiest option for the Devils. However, the free agent pool for defenseman is relatively shallow. Top defenseman include Anton Volchenkov, Sergei Gonchar, Dan Hamhuis, and Scott Niedermayer, along with other serviceable defenseman. I believe that Volchenkov is the best shut down defenseman in this group and would probably sign a longer term contract. He would make a great pair with ever improving Andy Greene, who is starting to become a top offensive defenseman. If Volchenkov cannot be signed, Gonchar might be available, but he will probably not be available for a longer term contract because of his age. It is highly unlikely that Niedermayer will leave Anaheim, but if any team has a chance, it is New Jersey. I believe the Devils can make a very strong run at Hamhuis if necessary. He is a very good defenseman, and has enough offensive flair to make up for losing Martin. Other good options include Willie Mitchell, Pavel Kubina, and Zbynek Michalek. The Devils four million dollars they save from letting Martin go, plus the two million dollar increase in cap room this season might allow the Devils to sign a top free agent defenseman, or maybe two above average defenseman, which is another option.
2) Trade for a defenseman: Trades can make or break a team. Lamoriello has shown that he is willing to make a trade as long as it betters the team. There are a few defenseman out there that could be open for trade. The best and most available trade option is Tomas Kaberle. The leafs are looking to add a top six forward and a lower ranking player. However, I highly doubt that the Leafs will get even that much. If the Devils could make a trade for maybe Brian Rolston and a pick, or maybe David Clarkson, it might be worth it for the Devils. Kaberle would be a strong force at the point for the Devils and a good power play quarterback. He is also a good defensive defenseman as well.
3) Prospects are promoted to the NHL: This is by far the riskiest way to go about this. The reason the Devils would do this would be if they needed to increase cap room to sign Kovalchuk or save eventual room for Parise. The Devils have a lot of very good, but not great, defensive prospects. I would no longer consider Andy Greene, Mark Fraser, and Anssi Salmela as prospects, as all three, in my opinion, be in the lineup regularly next season, as long as Salmela’s surgery goes well. The top and most NHL ready defensive prospects include Matt Corrente, Alexander Urbom, and Tyler Eckford. Corrente, a first round pick in 2006, did spot duty as a forward for the Devils in the playoffs and towards the end of the season. He showed a lot of heart along with skill, something the Devils definitely were missing during the playoff series against the Flyers. He is probably ready for the NHL whether or not the Devils sign another defenseman. After Corrente, Urbom and Eckford will be fighting each other for the 2nd spot. Urbom is a defensive defenseman but has some offensive flair that could make him a good two way defenseman. Eckford is a converted forward and is also very good on the defensive side of the puck. While both might be a year away from making the team, it would not be surprising to see one of them in the NHL next year. Eckford is, in my opinion, a bit more NHL ready. However, using such young players is a very high risk, but could yield even greater reward.
I think the best option would be to go for a strong free agent. If the Devils cannot succeed here, I think Kaberle might end up being too costly. I think using a prospect as a third pair defenseman would be an excellent idea, and if it fails, the Devils can make a midseason trade.
Thank you for reading my blog article. Feel free to email me at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.