New Jersey Devils: Great Work Has Been Done, But The Need To Bolster The Blue Line Remains

Jan 26, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Andy Greene (6) skates on the ice during warm-up before playing the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 26, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Andy Greene (6) skates on the ice during warm-up before playing the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero received a solid B from NHL Radio for his moves this summer.  I’d actually give him an A for the  Taylor Hall home run alone. But the current crop of defensemen might be considered a bit worrisome.

Maybe it’s just me, but the six established veterans under contract (Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, John Moore, Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, I’m also choosing to include Yohann Auvitu in the list) don’t give me that good ol’ warm-and-fuzzy feeling that the New Jersey Devils‘ blue line corps is strongly positioned for the upcoming campaign.

Right off the bat, I don’t have complete faith all six are truly NHL quality players. Especially Merrill and Auvitu. Maybe five of the six, but not all six. That’s concern number one.

Concern number two is the quality of the current top six. Greene is a top pairing guy, no doubt about that. But who is his partner? Most feel Lovejoy is a good match on the kill, but can’t log the same number of minutes as Greene and Adam Larsson logged last season. Many feel Severson can do the job 5-on-5 given his good skating, puck moving and offensive abilities, but aren’t so sure about his performance while a man down. I tend to agree with these assessments, I don’t see a perfect solution to identifying a partner for the Devils’ captain in-house.

A third concern is depth. What happens if (when) any of these guys go down. Are either of the leading protagonists from Albany who made more than cameo appearances in a Devils’ sweater last year — Vojtech Mozik or Seth Helgeson — the answer?   Likewise, the signing of Brandon Gormley is a step in the right direction, but he’s more likely than not another borderline NHL/AHl’er.  My view is that all three are adequate short-term fill-ins, but probably don’t have skill set to secure a full-time role in the NHL.

Ray Shero did a great job this offseason. Finding one more NHL quality defenseman could be the final piece to the puzzle

I know, I know. I haven’t addressed the youth in our system — especially Steve Santini and to a lesser extent Josh Jabobs and Reece Scarlett — to complete the puzzle. Certainly, this is an option. But is it a certainty we can rely upon? I’m not so sure about that. I believe the law of averages and typical slightly slower path of progression and development for young defensemen might reasonably allow us to believe one of these three — Santini being the obvious front-runner — may secure a Top 6 defensive role on the Devils on opening night.

All in all, is this really enough depth for a full season? Should the Devils be comfortable with a potential group of Greene, Lovejoy, Moore, Severson, Merrill and Santini with players like Auvitu or Mozik waiting in the wings as extras? It’s not horrible, but far from ideal.

If the Devils wish to bolster the defense bit more, what are some of the issues and options? Here are some thoughts.


I totally agree with Ray Shero that July is not the time to act. Come mid-September, unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) may be more eager to accept team-friendly offers, or even professional tryouts (PTO’s).  Other clubs will have more urgent needs to address salary cap considerations.  Tom Petty may croon that “The Waiting Is The Hardest Part” but, in this case, waiting makes all the sense in the world.


Here I bow down to  Mr. Shero and extend both my arms into a Wayne’s World like “I’m Not Worthy” gesture. Bringing in Lee Stempniak and David Schlemko last year was a stroke of genius. In the past, Tampa’s Anton Stralman was a 2011 PTO with the Devils. Clearly, a knowledgeable GM working with his professional scouting department can find hidden gems via the PTO process. Pulling a defenseman or two out of a hat this September via a last minute invitation would be a great surprise!

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Trades With Cap Strapped Teams

I’m not going to blindly speculate on players and teams. But it is obvious that as clubs over or close to the cap ceiling need to get in compliance this autumn, opportunities may present themselves. Perhaps, a $2-3 million solid NHL defenseman could be had for very little in return. You never know. It is certainly an avenue worth exploring, at the appropriate time of course.

Mark Fayne

Okay, I admit it. This is a totally out-of-left-field thought. But give me a moment to explain.

Mark Fayne played quite well with Andy Greene during his time at the Rock. He, like John Hynes and many of the other defensemen, has deep hockey roots in New England. Fayne has the youth and skating skill which are valued and coveted by Shero and Hynes. It seems like he’d be a good fit in the organization.

Shifting our gaze northward and westward, something seems to be terribly wrong with the Mark Fayne Experiment in Alberta. As bad as the Oilers were defensively, they sent Fayne down to Bakersfield briefly last season. You have to be held in pretty low esteem to be sent packing by Edmonton.

Yes, I know Fayne’s CORSI and Fenwick analytical statistics aren’t great with the Oilers. But, as all Devils fans saw with our own eyes, Fayne skates well and was solid defensively during his time in Newark. You never know, Peter Chiarelli, the Oilers’ General Manager, might be all-too-willing to dump Mr. Fayne to a willing recipient for a song-and-a-dance. Fayne is not worth a $3.6M cap hit, that’s for sure, but the remaining term is short (2 years) and the Devils have the cap room, so that shouldn’t be a major issue.

Not saying it will happen, far from it, but it is an interesting thought.

Next: The Future of Mike Cammalleri

Hopefully, either via the Devils’ pipeline of talented young defensemen or a training camp move involving a veteran player or two, the Devils will be able to augment their blue line personnel.  If they are able to do that, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12 may be a very reasonable and achievable target.