Much like a good portion of the playoffs last spring, New Jersey Devils defensemen Adam Larsson watched the game from the players’ suite as a healthy scratch against the New York Islanders on Saturday night.
Last season, it was understandable. Larsson had never played more than 40 games in a season before, so an 82-game stretch, plus a 24-game postseason, might be a bit much, even for a first round draft pick.
But this season, with a defensive mess in New Jersey — in terms of eight potential players filling six slots — Larsson deserves to be in the lineup each and every game. It could be argued that his goal in game two against the Philadelphia Flyers was the spark that sent the Devils on their way to a five-game victory into the Eastern Conference Final last May.
Against the Islanders, newly-named captain Bryce Salvador played with Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene and Mark Fayne stayed together from last season and Henrik Tallinder was paired with Anton Volchenkov. For the most part, the first two pairings work well together. Zidlicky is a puck-mover and Salvador is as responsible, defensively, as they come. Fayne and Greene can both move the puck when they need to and have played together for some time.
The last pairing, however, raises some questions. It’s been well-documented over the past few years that Volchenkov can’t move the puck and he’s losing speed by the day. Tallinder, on the other hand, is coming off a serious injury last season that sidelined him for nearly the entire playoffs. If a move is made, expect it to be there.
Volchenkov is making $4.25 million this season, and will continue to do so until 2015-2016. If he’s losing his legs now, who knows what he’ll be like in three years.
If Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello can find a place for Volchenkov elsewhere, he’ll likely make that move. He’s said since day one that he believes Larsson is an everyday player on this team, and that move would make the most sense. Not to mention, of course, Larsson is making much less money over the next two years and is much younger, moves the puck well and is smarter defensively, than Volchenkov.
It’s hard to imagine that the Devils would keep this predicament going forward throughout the season. Depth is always good in hockey, but having to scratch two defensemen every night is something that likely won’t continue.
Meanwhile, if teams start losing games early and are in need of defensive help, Lamoriello and the Devils will listen to calls, probably referring to all eight defensemen they have. In the end, a move has to be made somewhere.