Time For Plan C: Re-Signing Summer 2013 Free Agents


The New Jersey Devils offseason is not going the way most fans thought it would.  Plan A was to re-sign Zach Parise.  That didn’t work out when he jumped to the Minnesota Wild with friend Ryan Suter.  Plan B was to add a piece or two up front, perhaps in the form of Shane Doan or Alexander Semin.  Semin has since signed with the Carolina Hurricanes and Doan cannot seem to make up his mind on where he wants to play.  That means it’s time for Plan C.  The Devils should start working out new deals for players whose contracts expire at the end of this upcoming season.

It’s not really a surprise that GM Lou Lamoriello hasn’t dabbled for bigger names on the free agent market.  That’s simply not his style.  What he can do though, is start taking care of the big names on his roster whose deals run out at the end of the 2012-2013 season.

This plan would be more so for the offense rather than the defense.  Due to the re-signings of Mark Fayne and Bryce Salvador, the Devils have six defenseman signed to contracts for the 2013-2014 year.

On offense, however, it is a much different story.  Right now, New Jersey only has four forwards on the books for 2013-2014.  Those guys are Ilya Kovalchuk and the whole fourth line; Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta.  That’s it!!

Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents come the conclusion of the upcoming campaign.  Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Adam Henrique will be restricted free agents and year’s end.

This could turn out to be a HUGE problem for Lamoriello.  Instead of scouring the free agent market, or taking a look into the young kids in the minors, he needs to re-sign some core guys right now.  He would run a huge risk of having an extremely meager lineup for Opening Night in October 2013.

For one, I don’t think Josefson or Tedenby will be getting offer sheets from any of the 29 other NHL teams at the end of this year.  In the case of Henrique, though, who knows?  Would it really be that surprising if a team goes after the promising 22-year old center?  He’s just as big a priority as any of the unrestricted free agents.

I think at this point it is safe to say that Elias is going to end his career here.  After nearly going to the New York Rangers six years ago when he was a free agent, I would assume it would mean a lot for the Czech winger to stay in Newark and perhaps one day see his jersey number hanging from the rafters.  Elias made $5 million this past year and was a salary cap hit of $6 million.  At age 36, one could make the argument that the franchise’s all-time leader in points and goals had his best season since the lockout.  It is fair to say his next payday may be in that $5 million range again.

Most Devils fans know that Zajac is really good friends with Parise.  That could lead to quite an issue.  The 27-year old center has plenty of good years left and just showed how important he is to this club in the postseason, despite playing in only 15 regular season games.  If he gets to unrestricted free agency, I think he’s gone.  Could Lou sign him to a fair extension right now, coming off a small sample size of a season?  Or would the Winnipeg native want to establish his open market value with this upcoming season?  Zajac made $4.5 million last year and will get a bump to $4.8 million this year.  His overall cap hit is just under $3.9 million.  I see him being a Scott Gomez situation where a big market team could see him as a gamebreaking player and give him a big check, while the Devils hold their ground and won’t budge from the offer they make him.

Zubrus is an interesting case.  He just turned 34 and while he didn’t have great numbers (44 points in 82 games), he was one of the team’s most consistent players this past season.  He was constantly in the mix of the forecheck, cycling and digging pucks out of the corner.  Sometimes, you can’t put a price on that.  The Lithuanian will earn $3.4 million this season.  If Lou could bring him back for a slightly reduced price, most Devils fans would likely approve of that signing.  The fact that he is flexible and can play both center and winger, as well as the power play and penalty kill, makes him a really valuable guy.  I think he’ll come back.

Clarkson is coming off his best year as a Devil.  He scored 30 goals this past year, besting a previous career-high of 17.  The 28-year old is excellent around the goal mouth and works well in the corners, but does not possess much skill beyond that.  Clarkson will make $3 million this season while his cap hit is just under $2.7 million.  This season is extremely important for his value.  If he puts up another 30 spot, he can expect to make a nice chunk of change.  If he underwhelms, the Devils may be able to keep him on similar value to his salary for this season.

So this now needs to be the plan of attack for Lou.  Parise didn’t sign?  Ok, he wanted Minnesota and his good buddy.  Nothing the Devils could do.  Didn’t go after Doan or Semin?  Ok, it is still challenging to lure big name FA’s to Jersey.  Re-upping his core guys before their contracts expire this season?  That is something he CAN control and needs to do if he wants this franchise to be a Stanley Cup contender over the next several years.

Thanks for reading.  All feedback is appreciated.

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