First of all, let me introduce myself to this blog. I’ve been a Devils fan for about a decade, and am entering my senior year of high school in New York City (yeah, I hate the Rangers too). I have always loved the game of hockey, but have a large hatred for the rules brought about after the lockout, which you will probably find I will often vent about. As a devoted sports fan, I do find that the Devils have given me the most enjoyment of any team; I will usually look for positives to any move, as Lou has proven that he is smarter than me (and everyone else, for that matter) in producing a winning product on the ice; however, there will always be things to second guess (as there might have been more in the first half last year than in any full season). Through the ups and downs that I am sure will come next season (and in seasons to follow), I look forward to writing for Pucks and Pitchforks, and am thrilled by the great opportunity given to me. I look forward to talking/debating everything Devils (and hockey in general) in the future with all readers; we can also do so on Twitter (you can find me @ZachandKovy917).
Last Friday, along with the signing of Adam Larsson (which we will get to later), the Devils signed left wing Eric Boulton to a two-year deal worth $1.325 million (or $622,500 per year). Boulton, 34, had six goals (three of which came on a hat trick against the Devils) and four assists last year, to go along with 87 penalty minutes (including nine fighting majors), in 69 games last season for the now non-existent Thrashers, to go along with a fairly respectable plus/minus of 1. The veteran, who also registered 90 hits on the year, *believes “this team is very close”, and is “very happy to be a part of an organization like this.”
Certainly, this is an interesting signing. Personally, I was hoping Lou would sign a better scoring forward for the latter lines; with wingers David Clarkson and (the newly acquired, and welcomed back) Cam Janssen already on the roster, you wouldn’t think the Devils would necessarily be looking to add enforcers (the three of them, in fact, had a combined 39 fighting majors in 205 games in 2010-2011 with Janssen, most “impressively”, having 17 of those in just 54 games in St. Louis;). However, the Devils might be in need of a proven fourth-liner like Boulton, especially if the likes of Adam Henrique, among others, are not yet ready to perform in the NHL. This signing gives this team more options, as (whoever does become) the new head coach can decide to place Boulton and Janssen on the fourth line (or in the lineup, for that matter), or can decide to use just one, for any given game.
(A Janssen vs. Boulton fight from Janssen’s early Devil days; the two have always been well-respected fighters around the league)
As of now, it appears Boulton would be fourth on the depth chart at left wing, behind the returning Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Brian Rolston. I would think Patrik Elias would spend most of his shifts as a right wing this season, and thus would not include him on that list. With the Devils’ roster quickly filling up, players such as the aforementioned Henrique as well as Vladimir Zharkov (possibly among others) will have to fight for their further-slimming chances at cracking the opening night lineup. While David Steckel should make the team based on his faceoff success and penalty-killing ability, Adam Mair and Rod Pelley will also have to compete for what looks to be, at this point, the center job on the fourth line (potentially aside much size on both wings), although both could realistically be part of the lineup any given day. Finally, the Devils’ latest acquisitions, Boulton and Janssen, should not assume they will have everyday roles. Going into training camp, it will be interesting to see tandems develop, but with the large group of forwards further expanding, possibly even more interesting to see who impresses early. Youngsters and veterans alike will have to work in the coming months for roster spots, and with these recent signings, I would not be surprised if the Devils carry 13 or 14 forwards with the team this year.
Lastly, the Devils beat the deadline to sign Adam Larsson to a three-year entry level contract, worth $925,000 per year. Apparently, although no signing bonus was included, Larsson’s desire to play in North America was enough for him to sign this deal. It is definitely very nice to know he is a part of this team this year, and now we can all look forward to watching him develop in the coming days, months, and ultimately years. Speaking of the rookie, the Devils’ defensive situation will certainly be discussed, in much detail, in the coming days, as there are many toss-ups as to the defensemen who will crack the opening night lineup. While many will compete for a spot throughout the coming months, there will be one less defenseman in that mix than previously thought, as Anssi Salmela signed a deal to play overseas in the KHL. Salmela provided the Devils with more of an offensive touch from the blue line (although that isn’t saying very much for this team) than most of the other D-men contributed, but surely would have had to earn a spot on the roster in the eyes of management for this coming season.
There will be much more to come on these position battles, which should leave us all guessing for the next couple of months. However, it is very likely that we will not have to wait nearly this long for a new head coach, as this announcement should come very soon. There has been much speculation, as we have heard the likes of Therrien, Hitchcock, Carbonneau, and others as well as potential candidates, but we should have our answer in the near future. When we do, there will be much to discuss, and a thorough analysis will surely ensue.
Thanks for reading, and look forward to talking to all of you.
* Quotes are excerpts from Fire and Ice article (by Tom Gulitti)