COMMENTARY | For the second time in the last three seasons, the New Jersey Devils will not be one of the 16 teams playing in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. Although the team made the Stanley Cup Finals last year, missing the playoffs twice in three years is troubling considering the team last missed in 1996 before 2011.
General manager Lou Lamoriello has a big offseason ahead of him as the Devils have several free agents and changes that need to be made in order to get the Devils back into the playoffs next year. Lamoriello must look not only towards the 2013-14 season but to the future, as well.
The following is a list of the free agents for the New Jersey Devils:
Restricted: Matt D'Agostini, Adam Henrique, Jacob Josefson, Andrei Loktionov
With that in mind, here are 10 things that the New Jersey Devils need to do this offseason to get themselves back in the playoffs next year and beyond.
1. Re-sign Patrik Elias
This is first and foremost. Elias is the best forward in franchise history and it would be a crushing blow to lose the veteran. Elias is still very productive at age 37 and the fan base would be devastated if Lamoriello did not re-sign him. It would be quite a shock if Elias played elsewhere.
2. Acquire a goal scorer through trade or free agency
Lamoriello must add a goal scorer to the roster. He never replaced Zach Parise's production after Parise left for his hometown Minnesota Wild last July. That mistake quite possibly cost the Devils the playoffs this year. Acquiring a legitimate top-six, goal scoring forward has to be a priority this offseason. Impending free agents such as Michael Ryder of the Montreal Canadiens and Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins sort of fit the bill but both forwards are more complementary players than anything. Lamoriello needs to be creative. If I were general manager, I would go all in for Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars. Eriksson is a consistent goal scorer (he had scored at least 25 goals in four straight seasons prior to this year's shortened season) and he is signed for three more seasons. The Devils will have a high pick in this year's draft and have plenty of prospects on defense to make an enticing deal.
Enough is enough of attempting to have players play over their heads in roles that they are not accustomed to. This was a downfall of the team this year. Again, I cannot say it enough: Lamoriello must acquire a proven goal scorer.
3. Re-sign Dainius Zubrus…at the right price
I love Zubrus' game. He does all the little necessary things to help the team win. He is also a perfect fit for coach Pete DeBoer's forechecking system. The big forward should be re-signed for three years at around $3.5 million per year. As long as his price is not too steep, Zubrus must be brought back.
4. Re-sign David Clarkson…at the right price
Whether or not to re-sign Clarkson may actually become the biggest hot button issue this offseason. Clarkson scored 30 goals for the team last year but he is not a prototypical goal scorer. When asked to play more minutes this year, Clarkson struggled. Although he has come a very long way, Clarkson's game can be limited since he is not a great skater and since he cannot pass very well. As a result, the rugged winger is best suited for the third line and he has to play there for the Devils and he to be most successful. The most I would pay him is $4 million per year. Lamoriello simply cannot afford to pay him anything more than that. Ultimately, I think the Devils want him back but we will see just how much they do when all is said and done.
5. Let the rest of the unrestricted free agents walk
The only player who I might bring back from the rest of the first list is defenseman Marek Zidlicky. I would only bring him back on a one year deal, however. There is no need for any of the others in 2013-14.
6. Bring back the restricted free agents
All of the players in the restricted free agent category should be brought back. I would try to sign Adam Henrique to a long term contract, as well.
7. Use the amnesty buyout on Anton Volchenkov
The amnesty buyout was instilled in the last NHL collective bargaining agreement. It allows teams to buy out a player by paying them two-thirds of the rest of their contract. Their cap hit would not be reflected on the salary cap. Volchenkov's best days are behind him and he is signed for three more seasons. It is time for Volchenkov's run in New Jersey to come to an end.
8. Loosen the reins on Adam Larsson
Larsson will be entering his third season with the team in 2013-14. There should be no reason for him to be a healthy scratch anymore. He should also start getting minutes on the power play to continue his development on the offensive side of the game. Let the kid play.
9. Keep getting younger
The Devils have gotten younger over the last couple of years and must continue to do so. This is one of the reasons why I would let most of the unrestricted free agents walk. A young defenseman, such as Alexander Urbom, should make the Devils next season, as well.
10. Think towards the future in net
Legend Martin Brodeur will be 41 by the time next season starts. Backup Johan Hedberg will be 40. Hedberg really struggled this season when Brodeur was injured and there could be a chance that the Devils may find a way to not bring him back. Both goalies are signed for one more year but Lamoriello needs to seriously consider the future. Acquiring a young goalie should be on his checklist.
When all is said and done, us fans will judge this offseason on whether or not general manager Lou Lamoriello acquires a legitimate goal scorer to help superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk. If he does not do this, the New Jersey Devils could struggle to make the playoffs again next season which would, unfortunately, likely signal the end of Lamoriello's stay in New Jersey, as a result.
Michael Pellegrini has been a fan of the New Jersey Devils since the mid to late 1990s when they had players like Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk in the later stages of their career.
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