(Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE)

Forward Thinking

Okay, everybody- it’s time to get over Zach Parise taking off for Minnesota and start thinking about who’s going to make the best roster insertion now that he is gone.

While the chemistry from last year is going to have to calibrate anew, the team is going to have to browse through the market‘s availability and select the best choice for the upcoming season. However, the word “best choice” is an extremely broad one thinking in favor of Devils’ team-perspective. While it would be great to find someone who can statistically match Parise on paper (or Tv/monitor,) there are some elements to consider if you may be leaning on that thought too heavily.

Firstly, the Devils did make it to the Stanley Cup Championship last year, but they lost. It would be naive to think that Parise had nothing to do with them reaching that much unexpected level of playoff stature, but it would also be naive to think there isn’t a free agent available that can scratch the performances left behind. Taking a look at NHL.com’s list of the top 30 Forwards still available (seen here,) it doesn’t appear there are many who can post 31-38-69 on the Stats page by the end of 2012-2012.

But therein lays the danger of limited thinking. The missing piece to the Stanley Cup last year could have been a bigger, more physical forward who has the size-able prowess to fend off bigger defenders. There is also the thought that someone with a little more playoff experience, perhaps, Stanley Cup Championship experience needed to remove the kinks. Otherwise, someone who has played with the Devils before (as well as ventured to the Stanley Cup with them in prior years) could have also been a missing factor. But there is quite an unexplainable dynamic to each available free agent’s talent, style, and personality that could provoke a breakout year with the Devils they never had before.

Consider free agent, Alexander Semin, who has quite possibly come to the end of his career playing for the Capitals in Washington, DC. Semin is an extremely talented forward who has played in the shadow of Alexander Ovechkin for much of his career with the Capitals. If numbers are a must-consider for you, he has put up consistent 54 point seasons. In 2010, he went 40-44-84. It is likely Ilya Kovalchuk is to be another fellow Russian to cast some kind of shadow on Semin, but considering the attention Ovechkin has received over Kovalchuk on a league-wide basis, Semin is likely to get more appreciation as a New Jersey Devil. Semin is also 6’2, 206 lbs; a good 3 inches and 11 lbs larger than our former team captain.

Is size really what the Devils are missing? Perhaps not, but then perhaps they need to regain a speedy and relentless puck pursuer. A top choice would be Kyle Wellwood. Wellwood is a bit trimmer than Parise at 181 lbs (though just as tall.) His 47 point, prior-season with Winnipeg was his best in 7 years as an NHL pro. Of those 47 points, 29 were assists. Though we do not want to pressure the likes of our current scorers capable of 30+ goals per season, but maybe Wellwood could be the agile player needed to make the passes to those players and make the 40+ goal scorers.

Going back to points made earlier about a potential need to bring back former Devils, as well as former Devils with playoff/Stanley Cup Championship experience, there are currently four on the free agent market. Brian Rolston, who made his rookie debut in 1994-1995, was a part of the Devils’ first Stanley Cup Championship and has 6 total years of playoff experience with the club. Also available: former Center, Jason Arnott. Arnott was a part of the 1999-2000 championship team, and has 4 years of playoff experience with the Devils. Next, there is Jamie Langenbrunner who not only has a Stanley Cup victory with the Devils in 2003, but won another with the Dallas Stars in 1999. Langenbrunner has more experience in the playoffs with the Devils than any other team he’s played for (8 playoff years with the Devils.) Petr Sykora may not have as many playoff years as Langenbrunner, but he is a member of last year’s Stanley Cup run, and has three total seasons of reaching the Stanley Cup Championship with the Devils. It wasn’t until a 4th game adjustment last year that Sykora became part of the Devils Stanley Cup roster, but his 6 total Stanley Cup visits are significantly considerable for encouraging his return.

All former Devils mentioned above are quite far from their prime (respectively 39, 37, 36, and 35,) but turning a cheek on any of them because of their age could prove to be an ignorant mistake. Any and/or all of these players could have a passion for hockey in their soul to prove they can still skate with the best. The Devils did bring back Martin Brodeur who was the goalie for each of these players when they won a cup with the New Jersey. He, himself, is older than all four at 40 years of age.

While it seemed to be a dandy idea to bring back as much of last year’s team as possible because it was a re-visit to the Stanley Cup Championship the Devils they had not seen since 2003. Again, it was a lost Stanley Cup to the Kings. The thorough reminder of former Devils available on the free agent market opens up the thought of possibly fusing members of last year’s squad with a member or two from a former, winning team. Bringing back Sykora would obviously, but not so obviously, stick to the original game plan because he was already a part of the team for much of 2011-2012. Signing him now may be difficult because of DeBoer’s choice to keep him off the roster until falling to an 0-3 Stanley Cup deficit. He may or may not have had some unsettled feelings, but in the event he must go, there is still the notion of bringing back another to reclaim the glory of winning with Brodeur at net.

In any case, the simple hint of finding someone equal to Parise is bad for chemistry. There isn’t a player in the entire NHL who would like to be compared to or expected to play like any former player. However, if it is the signing of a current free-agent or simply calling up a top-prospect, the team and the fans must look to encourage whomever it may be to feel comfortable with their own niche. As a matter of fact, forgetting last year altogether may help any new arrivals with forming a newer mold.

New members of a team make the team newer as a whole, and the transition is undoubtedly defined by finding ways of winning that are newer than the year before.

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