New Jersey Devils Free Agency: Class of 2016

Apr 9, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils left wing Patrik Elias (26) celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at Prudential Center. The Devils defeated the Maple Leafs 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils left wing Patrik Elias (26) celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at Prudential Center. The Devils defeated the Maple Leafs 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

With yet another season of no playoff hockey in Newark, the New Jersey Devils will be looking for answers this offseason.

Heading into this past season, there was not much hype or promise around the roster. Most “experts” picked the Devils to finish in the bottom of the league and not contend anywhere close to a playoff spot. First year head coach John Hynes turned some heads and was able to rally this roster around that underdog mentality and string together a fairly successful season. There were plenty of positives to pick out from this season and there is a lot to build on moving forward. That being said, any true New Jersey Devils fan will tell you that no playoff hockey is never acceptable in this organization and that changes need to be made.

Some of the biggest questions facing the New Jersey Devils in the upcoming offseason revolve around the current free agent class. With $34 million in cap space, Ray Shero has some important personnel decisions to make with a few members of last years roster. After putting together an extremely successful first offseason with the acquisition of Kyle Palmieri and the bargain signings of David Schlemko and Lee Stempniak, Shero will be charged with yet another difficult task in assessing the thin free agent class as well as the trade market. In this post, we will take a deeper look into the Unrestricted and Restricted free agents from the Devils current roster.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Patrik Elias:

The one burning question on every Devils fans’ mind this offseason is whether they are going to bring their beloved #26 back for another year. After a year of struggling through injury, it was looking like Patrik wasn’t going to be able to get the proper send off that he deserved. Elias was able to come back for the last three games of the season and in doing so showed that he can still play in the NHL. In the last home game of the season, and what very well could have been Elias’ last game in a Devils uniform, he scored his first goal back with under a minute to go and sent the Rock into a frenzy. It was a moment no Devils fan will forget as Patrik was subsequently given the #1 star of the game. In speaking about his impending free agency, Elias has mentioned that he needs to have a discussion with Shero and Hynes and that it’s ultimately up to them. He has said that he felt great in the last few games and maybe proved to himself that he can handle another year.

With all of the history and records aside, I believe Elias should be retained on a one year deal that is cost-friendly to the Devils. Patrik showed in the last few games of the season that he can still play in this league and when healthy he can slide in perfectly on the third line. He can also contribute on the powerplay and help mentor the Devils blue chip prospect Pavel Zacha, who has mentioned numerous times how much he has looked up to his fellow countryman Elias.

Tuomo Ruutu

This one is a fairly easier answer than the Elias decision. Ruutu’s best days are clearly behind him and after only having one point in 33 games, he may be looking at the end of the road in his career. Ruutu was a good player for the Hurricanes for a long time and always seemed to score big goals against the Devils. I didn’t necessarily hate the deal when Lou acquired him from Carolina, but it is now time to say farewell.

Stephen Gionta

The case of Stephen Gionta is not as easy of a decision as it may seem. With his point totals and time on ice underwhelming, it would seem to be an easy choice to let him walk and save the money for a capable NHL player. Gionta seems to be a great locker room guy and his hustle on the penalty kill and in important situations is something you wish every player would have. The memories of the 4th line in 2012 of Ryan Carter-Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier also makes this a tough decision as he had shown he was capable of contributing. All things considered, Gionta may find time on another NHL team looking for a PK specialist and grinding forward. But, for this New Jersey Devils team starving for offense, the bottom 6 needs to be gutted and contribute on offense next season. Due to this, I would say it is time to let Gionta walk.

Jordin Tootoo

What a story Jordin Tootoo was for the 2014-2015 Devils. He was playing top line minutes with Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri and had his most productive season in years. Devils fans had grown an affection toward Tootoo and his hard nosed style of play. Any of that success he had seen was lost this season, as Tootoo had a rather unsuccessful year muddled by injury and overall ineffective play. He was often caught in his own zone on defense and with 9 points over 66 games, there isn’t enough to justify bringing him back. He is an excellent person and it’s hard not to admire the personal battles he has been through during his career, but in this time of transition it looks as if the Devils and Tootoo need to part ways.

Jiri Tlusty

A late addition to the roster before the season, you could see the reasons why no team wanted to bite on bringing in Jiri Tlusty. He was only able to play in 30 games this season after suffering an injury sidelining him the remainder of the year. While in the lineup, Tlusty did not have much of an impact, only racking up 4 points. This will be an easy decision for Shero.

David Schlemko

Maybe the biggest surprise of the year was the play of David Schlemko. Schlemko was a confusing signing as the Devils were already full of defenseman looking to break into the NHL and attempting to make the big club. Between the AHL and free agents, the defense was a logjam. Throughout the season, Schlemko emerged as a key part of the team. Consistent and steady defensive zone play, the ability to carry the puck up the ice, the ability to make the first pass up ice, and quarterbacking the powerplay were all qualities Schlemko showed throughout the year. He is the perfect #6 defenseman. For these reasons, I believe it is a no-brainer to bring back Schlemko on a short term deal to see if he can replicate his success.

Tyler Kennedy

Another late addition to the roster, Tyler Kennedy was thrown into pretty much every situation. We saw Kennedy on the powerplay, penalty kill, first line, 4th line, healthy scratch. He never really proved to be extremely effective in any of these situations and seems as if he’s lost a step over the last few years of his career. This is another guy who can’t be a part of the plan moving forward as he’s a fringe NHL’er whose point total can’t justify a spot on this roster moving forward.

Bobby Farnham

After being picked up off waivers from Pittsburgh, Farnham made an impression right away. Scoring a goal in his first game against the Islanders was just the start as Farnham would go on to become a fan favorite in New Jersey. His speed, tenacity and ability to pot the occasional goal led to the nickname “Wild Thing”, which was as accurate as could be. Farnham often seemed reckless, sometimes to a fault, while flying around the ice wreaking havoc. His biggest knock was the mindless penalties he would take after the whistle, which often led to him sitting in the box. His hustle and ability to pester the opponent is something every team looks for, and is the reason I’d bring Farnham back as a 4th liner.

Restricted Free Agents

Kyle Palmieri

30 goals. 27 assists. Powerplay weapon. Speed. Heart. Part of this core. Sign this man for a very long time.

Devante Smith-Pelley

The trade of Stephane Matteau for Devante Smith-Pelley seemed like a low risk-somewhat high reward at the time. Matteau couldn’t get into the lineup and Pelley was having his own troubles in Montreal. DSP came in and made an impact right away, putting up 13 points in his limited stint with the Devils. We have heard about his inconsistent and often lazy play in the past, however DSP was a highlty touted propsect when first drafted and when put in the right situation seems to contribute. Bringing DSP back on a short “prove it” deal seems to be the route that Shero and Co. will be taking.

Sergey Kalinin

Kalinin showed flashes throughout his first season in New Jersey that he can contribute both offensively and defensively. Unfortunately, it really only came in flashes. His size and speed are both assets to this team, however his inconsistent play would occasionally overshadow his abilities. I believe bringing Kalinin back on another one year deal would be smart and to give him the chance to prove that he belongs in the lineup. When Kalinin was on and contributing, he seemed to be a force on the bottom 6.

Jon Merrill

Another young defenseman who has shown that he can play in the NHL, while also showing that he may not have what it takes to stick. What Merrill lacks in speed and strength he makes up for in decisions with the puck and defensive positioning and was what gave the Devils something to be excited about. He has seen some inconsistent play over his first few years in the league and has raised a few questions. With a few defenseman looking to break through from the prospect pool and AHL, Steve Santini is a name that comes to mind, Merrill will need to prove to the coaching staff why he belongs, which is why I’d give him a short term deal.

Jacob Josefson

Josefson showed his worth this season after coming back from yet another injury. The former 1st round pick has battled injuries throughout his career as well as inconsistent stretches of play. His speed and powerplay presence is something the Devils missed while he was out with injury, and may be just enough of a reason to keep Josefson around. If he was unrestricted, i’d probably say the Devils let him walk. Due to his age and the fact that he’s a a restricted free agent, I could see Shero bringing him back for another year or two to see if he can stick.

Next: The Future of Patrik Elias

It is sure to be an interesting offseason for the Devils and I think every fan is in the same mindset. Keep this rebuild moving positively, manage this cap space wisely and see if Shero can pull off another Palmieri-esque trade.