Protecting the Blue Line
The New Jersey Devils have several important roster decisions to make over the course of the summer. The defensive unit is one area where a few roster decisions will have to take place; including the front office dealing with what many fans feel is the impending departure of Marek Zidlicky from the team.
I have also seen in the media coverage of the Devils lately a prevailing theory that Anton Volchenkov will be released by the team via the use of the amnesty clause provided by the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the players union and the owners.
This rumor has gained traction because of the high salary cap number that Volchenkov carries ($4.25 million), his age (31), and his years of experience (10), all of these factors have collided to create a case for his release (www.nhl.com).
The Devils have a log jam in the defensive unit with, if you include Zidlicky, ten players for the six defensive spots that are dressed for a game. Those players are: Mark Fayne, Eric Gelinas, Andy Greene, Peter Harrold, Adam Larsson, Bryce Salvador, Henrik Tallinder, Alexander Urbom, and Volchenkov.
During the course of the full regular season you have injuries, illnesses, or suspensions which could rule out any number of players at a given time. In that case, most teams feel comfortable carrying eight defensemen who can play in the top six spots on game night. The Devils have ten players on their roster in their defensive corps which did create some playing time issues in the shortened 2013 season.
The odd man out
In this situation if we assume that Zidlicky is no longer with the team, and that Volchenkov will remain on the roster then Fayne, Greene, Larsson, Salvador, Volchenkov, and Tallinder will probably see a lot of the action in the defensive zone next season.
However, the management of the Devils has indicated that they would like to take a long look at some of their younger players particularly Eric Gelinas and Peter Harrold. So, if we include those two players we have the eight primary guys that will play in the defensive corps for the team next season.
This all means that the odd man out given his salary and experience level is Alexander Urbom. Now, that could change given unforeseen circumstances such as a long term injury to one of the top six defensemen, or a mid season trade.
Devils roster – help wanted
I know that it has been well reported by both the media and the fans on the various blog sites that the Devils need an “offensive defenseman” or a “puck handling defenseman”. I do not disagree completely with that assessment; however my question is based on the Devils current roster makeup: where does that player fit?
I would think you would have to trade someone off of this roster to either acquire that type of player or to make room for that player on the roster. I know one thing is for sure that the player traded in that scenario is not likely to be Anton Volchenkov given his age and expensive contract.
I also think you need a player like Volchenkov because he is a tough player that mixes it up with the other team. The Devils need that role filled, and other than maybe Alexander Urbom, they do not have much size or an “enforcer” type defenseman on their roster if they amnestied Volchenkov.
I know many fans who think that Gelinas is the answer to the vacancy in the “puck handling defenseman” role, but I do not believe that is the case. I am not a proponent of younger, unproven players. In a scenario where I am given the choice between the unproven player and the veteran player, I would choose the veteran player. In this case, nobody knows what kind of player Gelinas will become once he is given substantial ice time.
A good example of my theory is Jacob Josefson, when he got drafted many in the fan base were very excited. I was never high on him, and look at the production; he has 6 goals in parts of 3 seasons (www.nhl.com). It is fair to state that was not the expectation when he was drafted. I would rather spend $1 million on a mid career veteran than to spend almost that much on an unproven commodity.
In addition, I think the Devils need another big, physical type of defenseman to remind the fan base of the days of Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, and Bruce Driver. That type of defensive play was the calling card of the Devils for many years.
Final Analysis – for now
The other argument for not using the amnesty clause on Volchenkov is that he is coming off a subpar season (which could have been related to the lockout and the disruption of the routine coupled with a condensed game schedule) and most of the time a player will bounce back with a solid year the next season.
In the hypothetical scenario that the Devils did use that clause and release him, the chances are high that Volchenkov could sign with a rival such as the Flyers or Rangers. Then you have to face off against him, and he will have an “axe to grind” too. That is a bad scenario for the Devils.
In the end I think they will keep Volchenkov, the Devils will get a solid year from Larsson, and a healthy Bryce Salvador would be a big boost to this unit. The defense had better be good, or else it could be another long season for the Devils and their loyal fans.