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Archive for June, 2011

Devils Qualify Nine Restricted Free Agents

Corrente, a former first round pick, was qualified by the Devils today. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils entered today with 11 restricted free agents. Two of them may not return.

The organization sent qualifying offers to nine of their restricted free agents today. Matt Corrente, Matt Taormina, Vladimir Zharkov, Mark Fraser, Maxim Noreau, Jeff Frazee, Steve Zalewski and Nathan Perkovich all received offers.

Alexander Vasyunov, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, did not receive an offer. His agent informed the Devils that he signed a one-year contract for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL next season.

The players can still receive offer sheets from other teams, but the Devils can match that offer.

There were a few players who were locks for qualifying offers. Taormina led defenseman in goals until a high-ankle sprain ended his season. He was one of the few bright spots during the team’s abysmal first half, and will probably get a chance to earn his spot back next season. Corrente, a former-first round pick, has the support of the organization behind him. Like Taormina, injury limited him this season.

Other players seem to be skating on thin ice. Fraser followed a strong rookie campaign with a disappointing sophomore season. The Devils qualified him, but with the defensive depth moving through the organization, he needs to put together a solid season. The same goes for Frazee. The Devils have three strong goalie prospects in Scott Wedgewood, Maxime Clermont and Keith Kinkaid. They’re still a year or two away, but Frazee doesn’t have much time to prove himself.

The organization also did not issue a qualifying offer to defenseman Anssi Salmela. He played 48 games with the Devils, but failed to really make an impression. It doesn’t necessarily mean the team won’t sign him. Two years ago, New Jersey didn’t qualify Andy Greene, but re-signed him anyway.

Zach Parise entered this offseason a restricted free agent, but did not receive an offer. Instead, New Jersey elected to take the left-winger to arbitration. That eliminates the possibility of other team’s submitting an offer sheet and guarantees he will be a Devil next season.

Can Larsson Play In The NHL This Season?

Larsson, ranked number one among international skaters, became a New Jersey Devil in the first round of last night's NHL Entry Draft. Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils drafted the number one rated international skater, defenseman Adam Larsson, with the fourth overall pick in yesterday’s NHL Entry Draft.

The organization filled one of their biggest needs with a very talented prospect. He joins an impressive list of young blueline prospects that will form the defensive corps for years to come. But many of those players remain two to three years away from making the NHL. With the lack of offensive talent on the Devils’ blueline, one question remains – can Larsson make an immediate impact on the NHL level?

Many believe Larsson is the most NHL ready defenseman. The 18-year old began playing for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League two years ago, becoming the third 16-year old to break into the league. He finished the season with one goal, eight assists and a plus-12 rating. Don’t let those low offensive numbers fool you – Larsson posses some serious offensive potential. Skelleftea used him primarily in a defensive role last season, limiting his production.

Playing against men for two seasons prepared him for the physicality of the NHL. He still needs to add strength, like most other young players. Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said he’ll have every opportunity to make the team this season.

“We’ll have an opportunity to see him in the summer camp and training camp,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “All of that will determine it. He’s played two years in the elite league, so it’s not out of the question that he can do that.”

The Devils need immediate offensive help along the blueline. Last year, all defenseman who dressed for at least one game combined to record 88 points. Andy Greene led all defenseman with 23 points as the top offensive threat. That’s a pretty putrid number. New Jersey hasn’t had solid offense from a defenseman since Scott Niedermayer left. It’s a hole they’ve failed to fill year after year. Larsson could potentially be the answer to their never-ending problem.

“Larsson is going to be a top offensive defenseman,” New York Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark told Gulitti. “If a team feels that their priority is an offensive power-play D, if he goes one, it’s not a problem with me.”

The problems come with his experience. Like Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson, he needs to gain some experience on North American rinks. Both spent time in the AHL last season, learning how to adjust to the rink and playing style. Both came up and found success later in the season.

There’s no denying Larsson’s potential impact. Right now, he seems like one of the best options for offense along the blueline. His performance in both the prospect and training camp will ultimately decide his fate. He should play in the organization next season, and may see some NHL time.

Devils Need A Veteran Presence Behind The Bench

The Devils need a new coach, and Ken Hitchcock would bring a veteran presence and winning record to the team. Photo Credit: Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

It’s the offseason, which means the New Jersey Devils can only be doing one thing – looking for a new head coach.

Today, Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello announced the team would not hire a coach before the NHL Entry Draft Friday night. A few names are connected to the Devils, most notably Ken Hitchcock. There doesn’t seem to be a candidate on the horizon, and New Jersey appears doubtful to have a coach by the open of free agency. For a team that missed the playoffs, it’s incredible that this checklist item hasn’t been done.

There are several qualified and interesting candidates out there. Lamoriello could return to former Devil Kirk Muller, who is an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens. Mike Haviland, one of the hotter coaching prospects, could lead the team. Recently-fired Craig Ramsay would bring a veteran presence behind the bench.

With so many candidates, it’s a crapshoot as to who will become the organization’s next coach. There should be, however, one determining factor – the amount of actual NHL coaching experience. If the Devils want to return to the postseason, they need to hire a veteran coach.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea – just look at last season. John MacLean, the team’s assistant coach from 2002-2009, helped coach the Lowell Devils to a winning record during the 2009-2010 season. They finished fourth in the Atlantic Division and made the playoffs. They couldn’t advance past the first round, but he did exactly what the organization wanted – gain experience and show he could succeed as a coach.

Devils fans were excited to welcome one of the most successful former players to the bench. MacLean promised a more up-tempo system and a continued emphasis on “the Devils way.” After several first-round flameouts, he seemed to breath life into the organization. Many believed he would be the change this veteran team needed.

That optimism lasted until the end of October. MacLean promptly led the team into a tailspin. By December 23, the Devils were 9-22-2 and MacLean didn’t have a job. In rode Jacques Lemaire, leading the team on an incredible second half run.

The run proved something pivotal to the franchise’s success – the vital need to find a veteran coach. There’s no doubt the Devils are changing the guard. This isn’t the Devils of the early-2000s, with a large core of older players supplemented by younger call-ups. An AHL coach could find success with the various young players on this roster. The veterans, however, won’t respond to the unproven coach. It didn’t happen last year, and I’d seriously doubt it happening again.

I’m not going to guess on the team’s next head coach. With Lamoriello, playing the guessing game is an exercise in futility. But I will bet on one thing – the Devils next coach won’t be some hotshot assistant making his coaching debut. It’ll be an established veteran with a proven track record.

Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth: Right Wing

Perkovich headlines an underwhelming group of right-wingers at the AHL leve. Photo Credit: Christian Abraham/Connecticut Post

The New Jersey Devils need depth on the wings.

The team lacks great talent along both wings, with their great prospects manning center. The organization’s two best right-wingers, Mattias Tedenby and Nick Palmieri, both figure to remain in the NHL next season. Despite struggling offensively, Vladimir Zharkov also looks to be a virtual lock as a checking line forward. That leaves a gaping hole of talent needing to be filled.

There’s plenty of talented wingers at the NHL level, so this isn’t an immediate position of need for New Jersey. If the organization feels there’s a need for a right-winger, they can shop around for a decent free agent. They don’t need to use their first-round pick on a right-winger, but should address the issue in this year’s draft.

Without further adieu, The Devils Den presents the less-than-inspiring report on the organization’s right wingers. And here we go:

Albany Devils (AHL)

Nathan Perkovich – 40 GP, 17 points (8 G, 9 A), minus-3 rating

Perkovich slipped into a sophomore slump this season, failing to improve on the potential he showed as a rookie. He collected 33 points last season, including 19 goals. A high ankle sprain severely limited his production, which helped produce those low numbers. Unfortunately, Perkovich is a 26-year old AHLer. Time is running out for him to make an impact beyond the AHL level.

Darcy Zajac – 40 GP, 9 points (4 G, 5 A), minus-9 rating

Zajac struggled to find success at the AHL level this season. He played well with Trenton, collecting 23 points and a plus-8 rating. In Albany, those numbers dipped across the board. Zajac will never be a scorer like his older brother, Travis. He’s a third or fourth line checking forward at best. There’s already a ton of these guys throughout the organization, so Zajac will need to separate himself from the pack.

Trevor Kell – 21 GP, 3 points (1 G, 2 A), minus-8 rating

Kell seems destined to remain in the ECHL for next season. In four years with the organization, he’s failed to stick at the AHL level. He’s shown his offensive potential in the ECHL, where he collected 33 points in 37 games last season. Those numbers fail to transfer to the AHL level. He’s struggled to find any openings in the AHL, and he’s entering his fifth season with the organization. I would doubt his ability to move any higher than the AHL leve.

International Skaters

Mauro Jorg (Lugano) – 50 GP, 12 points (3 G, 9 A), minus-15 rating

The Devils selected Jorg in the seventh round last season, marking the first forward they selected. He doesn’t seem like anything special, considering his limited ability to produce offensively. He may still need some time to develop, and probably won’t turn pro for a few seasons.

Ed. Note: The Trenton Devils did not list player positions on the team’s roster. You can check a review of all of their forwards in this preview.

Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth – Center

Anderson led all Albany centers in points and represented them at the AHL All-Star game. Photo Credit: Hans Pennink/Times Union

The New Jersey Devils stockpiled impressive depth up the middle. The team’s brimming with talent, and many players are ready to take the next step to the NHL.

Travis Zajac leads the brigade, firmly entrenched as the team’s top center. Patrik Elias, a converted left-winger, seems destined to finish his career as the team’s number two center. Jacob Josefson‘s solid rookie debut will undoubtedly lead to a roster spot next season. Rod Pelley will look to fend off Adam Henrique, Tim Sestito, and others for a spot on the roster.

That talent flows right down into Albany. Seven of Albany’s top ten scorers were centerman, an astounding number that shows the true talent in the position. Most won’t develop into first line scorers. But the depth is pretty amazing, and should provide the team with solid players for the future.

Albany Devils (AHL)

Matt Anderson – 76 GP, 55 points (23 G, 32 A), minus-3 rating

Anderson was an All-Star this season, netting a goal in the midseason showcase. He led all centers in every significant category despite never playing with a consistent line. In his three AHL seasons, Anderson improved his performance, posting a career high in points last season. Henrique will get the call first, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anderson get a look in the prospect camp this summer.

Adam Henrique – 73 GP, 50 points (25 G, 25 A), minus-3 rating

Henrique had one hell of a rookie season. While his 50 points aren’t overly impressive, he managed to produce offensively without a consistent line combination. His 25 goals are a rookie record. He shifted to left-wing for the second half of the season, which probably helped his numbers. His 50 points put him sixth among rookie scorers. He won’t need any more time in the AHL and should compete for a spot next season.

Steve Zalewksi – 81 GP, 44 points (15 G, 29 A), minus-8 rating

Zalewski came to the Devils organization in a February trade, where he found his game. He posted 11 goals and 17 assists in 31 games after the trade. He’s had a taste of the NHL, playing three games with the San Jose Sharks last season. He’s had AHL success, but never found a foothold. He seems destined to be AHL fodder who may get a few games here and there.

Stephen Gionta – 54 GP, 30 points (10 G, 20 A), plus-7 rating

Gionta gained fame for playing against his older brother, Brian, this season. Other than that, he didn’t do much with his NHL callup. He found some success in the AHL, collecting 30 points. He’ll never be a scorer and probably wouldn’t move past the fourth line on the NHL level. He provides good depth but isn’t the first choice for a roster spot next season.

Brad Mills – 53 GP, 24 points (15 G, 9 A), minus-2 rating

Mills made his NHL debut this season, scoring a game-winning goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in November. He’s a decent centerman, but nothing to write home about. His 24 points ranked pretty low, which is odd considering he anchored the team’s top line. Like Gionta, he’s a depth player at this point.

Read more…

Evaluating The Devils Organizational Depth – Left Wing

June 15, 2011 1 comment

Vasyunov represents the best AHL left-winger, a statement to the lack of starpower among the group. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils enter the 2011 NHL Entry Draft with their left-wing depth in flux. There’s talent at the position, but it’s limited to just a few players.

Ilya Kovalchuk headlines the group of left-wingers. Despite a down season last year, he remains a premier scorer in the league. Everyone knows the skill Zach Parise can bring to the table. The restricted free agent has yet to negotiate a new deal, though, and will return from knee surgery next season. As of right now, the Devils young star can’t be considered an absolute shoe-in for the lineup. Brian Rolston rounds out the top talent on the left side. Although he experienced improved offensively last year, he can’t depend the same goal-scoring prowess he did last season.

After those three players, the talent thins considerably. Alexander Vasyunov played in 18 games last season, but didn’t make much of an impact. He also struggled in Albany, posting career lows across the board. With such talented wingers in the league right now, and the possibility of having two great ones on the team, left-wing isn’t a draft need. But if the Devils can manage to upgrade their depth with a later pick, it would help a position dying for a talented prospect.

Albany Devils (AHL)

Chad Wiseman – 48 GP, 44 points (16 G, 28 A), minus-8 rating

Wiseman can light the lamp, but hasn’t had his chance to show off in the NHL. He’s played in just nine games with NHL clubs, recording one goal and one assist. But he’s shown the ability to tear up AHL goaltending. This season, he set or tied Albany individual scoring records in one game. On March 9, he netted four goals against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 9:03, matching the record for most goals in a single period of play. He also tied the record of most goals scored in a game. Guess that Islanders goaltending is bad throughout the system.

Plenty of guys show their stuff in the AHL, but few have the talent to make it work in the NHL. Wiseman seems like one of those players. He’s a 30-year old career AHL player, and his best opportunities may be behind him. He’s a great depth piece, but not a legitimate NHL candidate right now.

Louis Robitaille – 50 GP, 8 points (2 G, 6 A), minus-2 rating

Robitaille never found a way to move through the organization, and ended his career last season with Albany. He was an enforcer, tallying an impressive 246 penalty minutes last season. But he never rose above the AHL ranks, and would never in today’s game. Enforcers need to possess some offensive skill, which Robitaille did not. He retired after the season to coach the QJAAAHL’s Valleyfield Braves.

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Amendment to Rule 48 Another Step In The Right Direction

Next year, the hit that knocked Nathan Horton out of the Stanley Cup Finals will be illegal. Photo Credit: Elisa/Getty Images

The general managers took yet another stride in removing and severely punishing hits to the head, proposing elimination of the word “blindside” from Rule 48.

While it continues to be muddled by politics and inconsistent suspensions, the proposed tweak takes yet another step in the right direction. The general managers need to keep players safe, and removing the designation of blindside adds yet another layer of protection. It’s a necessary step toward protecting players and making the game safer.

When the GMs met on June 8, they agreed to amend the rule to encompass all hits to the head. In the first season of Rule 48, several hits fell into a gray area, and former league disciplinarian Colin Campbell needed to make judgment calls. This amendment should eliminate some of that gray area and make these calls easier to make.

“It’s very similar to what we talked about at the GMs meeting in the sense of broadening the rule,” league executive Rob Blake told ESPN. “The exact interpretation will go forward. But we had a good understanding that the union, the players and the NHL together want to go forward for the safety of the players.”

One particular piece of that quote sticks out – “the exact interpretation will go forward.” Brendan Shanahan, Matthieu Schneider and the GMs need to carefully word the revised ruling. Leave no gray areas. Spell it out so the referees don’t need to make quick on-ice interpretations.

Rule 48 was the first major step taken to address player safety. This amendment should further strengthen the rule. Hopefully, the league doesn’t fumble the chance to make another great stride toward keeping the players safe.

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