Needing to add a spark to an offense that ranked 27th in the NHL in goals scored a season ago, Lou Lamoriello had some work to do coming into this off-season. But like Lamoriello has done time and time again, he came through.
Although Lou succeeded in improving the Devils’ offense, a new dilemma arose as a result: what to do with the excess of forwards currently on the roster?
The Devils re-signed last season’s leading scorer Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. They then made a splash in free agency, inking former Flames sniper Mike Cammelleri to a five-year, $25 million contract, and also added former Sharks forward Martin Havlat to a one-year deal on July 1.
A day later, however, Lamoriello turned some heads by re-signing fourth-line forwards Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. While the moves deepened the roster, they also created a logjam of players who will be looking for ice time come October, as New Jersey currently has 14 forwards signed to one-way deals. Adding to the confusion was yesterday’s announcement that free agent forward and former Devils’ first-round draft pick Scott Gomez will be vying for a roster spot. Gomez was invited to training camp on an unsigned tryout basis, adding yet another piece to the Devils’ glut of forwards.
The Devils’ top-six is almost certain to consist of a combination featuring Cammelleri, Jagr, and Havlat, along with Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, and Travis Zajac. This leaves eight players (or more) battling for the remaining six spots.
The crowded lineup leaves open the possibility that more than one forward on the current roster may find themselves elsewhere once the season commences, so lets take a look at who may be the odd man out and why.
Ryder was an enigma during the 2013-14 season. He came out firing, finding the net 16 times in the team’s first 46 games. But Ryder then failed to tally a goal in New Jersey’s next 25 games, and finished with a respectable but very disappointing total of 18 for the season. Ryder has consistently shown he can score in the NHL, scoring 231 times in 759 career games. But at age 34 and coming off a season in which he was at times relegated to the fourth line, Ryder’s $3.5 million cap hit may be a burden the Devils don’t wish to carry.
Brunner was a late addition to the Devils roster last summer and was thought to be the final piece in the puzzle that was replacing Ilya Kovalchuk. Brunner was coming off a season in Detroit in which he scored 12 goals in 44 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, adding another five in 12 playoff games for the Red Wings. But fans’ excitement over the Brunner signing quickly faded as the Swiss-native totaled a mere 25 points in 60 games that were marred by multiple injuries. With Brunner still in his prime at age 28, the Devils may be able to move him and his $1.35 million cap hit prior to Opening Night.
Ruutu was acquired at the trade deadline last season from Carolina in exchange for Andrei Loktionov. In 19 games with New Jersey, the 31 year old scored three goals and added five assists and proved to be a solid addition for a team struggling to score. Although Ruutu played on the Devils’ first line given the state of their roster last season, he may find himself demoted to a bottom-six role, if not fourth line role this upcoming season as a result of the additions of Cammelleri and Havlat. If Ruutu does indeed find himself on the fourth line, the Devils may look to move his $4.75 million cap hit elsewhere.
Dark Horse Trade Candidates
A logical candidate would also be Ryane Clowe, who is coming off a season in which he missed time with multiple concussions, scoring seven goals in 43 games, while tallying an abysmal -11 plus/minus rating. But given Clowe’s cap hit of $4.85 million cap hit for each of the next four seasons, it would be difficult to find a buyer. Jacob Josefson, who signed a two year, one-way contract with the Devils in July may also find himself on the trading block if Gomez or another wild card earn a roster spot coming out of pre-season.
Which forwards do you think will find themselves off the roster come Opening Night? Who would you like to see moved? Leave your comments below.
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