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Devils On The Move: Potential Trade Candidates To Clear Cap Space

Now that Ilya Kovalchuk’s 15-year, $100 million contract has been officially approved by the league, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello faces the daunting task of getting under the salary cap by October 6 – the day before the regular season starts.

Lou Lamoriello, Jeff Vanderbeek and Ilya Kovalchuk can laugh now that Kovalchuk is a Devil. But several tough moves lay ahead for Lamoriello to get New Jersey back under the salary cap. Photo Credit: Mel Evans/AP Photo

Clearly, the league didn’t leave Lamoriello much time to make decisions on veteran players. With the deal approved at 3 a.m. Saturday, the league gave Lamoriello 12 days until the Devils open training camp. It’s not a large window to negotiate with other teams, especially with some franchises going into training camp with some roster spots potentially finalized.

Compounding this issue is the fact that the league could still penalize the Devils. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has until September 17 to decide whether or not he will penalize the Devils for manipulating the CBA and attempting to expose a loophole with the first Kovalchuk contract. While the team wouldn’t face salary-cap penalties, the Devils could lose draft picks, a valuable trade piece during negotiations.

It won’t be easy, but Lamoriello needs to find a way to clear nearly $3 million in cap space just to fit Kovalchuk on the roster. NHL teams must have 23 active players on their roster, and the Devils are over the cap with 21 active players. So Lamoriello must create enough space to accommodate the contract of Kovalchuk and another two players.

With all that in mind, read after the jump for my list of candidates Lamoriello may look to trade before October 6.

1. Brian Rolston – 2 years, $10 million left on contract ($5,062,500 cap hit)

Rolston will be extremely difficult to move for two reasons – his cap hit and no-trade clause. Both make any move involving the left-winger hard to complete. First, Lamoriello would need to find a team willing to pay Rolston’s salary, and there’s not many teams willing to absorb his cap hit. The money isn’t the only issue. Rolston also has a no trade clause, which allows him to veto any potential deal. That clause gives the left-winger a huge bargaining chip.

Rolston's contract and declining production make him an undesirable trade candidate. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Rolston’s contract isn’t the only stumbling block for any possible trade. His production with the Devils also makes him difficult to move. When he signed his four year contract in 2008, Rolston was seen as the scorer who could boost the Devils offense, especially the powerplay. In his three seasons with the Minnesota Wild, Rolston averaged 67 points per season, with his goal total never falling under 30. The left-winger was solid on the powerplay, averaging 31 points per season with the man advantage.

The signing had so much potential, but it’s ultimately failed. In his second tour of duty with the Devils, Rolston hasn’t reached the 30-goal plateau or 40-point mark. Rolston has struggled on the powerplay, never reaching his 30-point potential on special teams either. Every team in the league knows this information, and can see the obvious – Rolston is in decline. No one will pay over $5 million for a declining “scorer” who can’t find the back of the net. As great as it would be to see Rolston go, he’ll stick with the Devils.

2. Jamie Langenbrunner – 1 year, $2.8 million left on contract ($2.8 million cap hit)

Next up on the block is the Devils’ captain. Many fans are still upset about the way Langenbrunner dealt with the coaching staff last season, and it seemed his antics helped disrupt team chemistry near the end of the season. While trading Langenbrunner wouldn’t be easy, he’s an easier candidate to move than Rolston. The captain’s contract is manageable for most teams, only bringing a $2.8 million cap hit. More teams would be able to manage that salary. Like Rolston, Langenbrunner has a no-trade clause, giving him a bargaining chip to bring to the table.

Langenbrunner has also produced throughout his contract. During his current five-year, $14 million contract, which began during the 2006-2007 season, the right-winger has averaged 57 points, falling below 60 points only once. It’s easy to forger the captain’s production, especially since he’s played with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac on the ZZ Pops line. For all his whining last season, Langenbrunner can still produce. He still holds the captaincy, and I don’t think we’ll see Langenbrunner changing sweaters anytime soon.

3. Bryce Salvador – 2 years, $5.8 million left on contract ($2.9 million cap hit)

Salvador's contract and durability puts him on the trading block leading up to October 6. Photo Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Salvador is one player who could realistically be moved in any trade. His cap hit and contract are both low, and he doesn’t have a no-trade clause, making him a desirable trade target. But it’s not only the contract that makes Salvador desirable to other teams. He’s a big body (6-2, 220 lbs.), who averages 61 games per season and brings a physical presence to the defense. He’s never going to stand out or be the best player, but Salvador is a solid NHL defenseman. The fact that his name is rarely said during a broadcast means he does his job well. Any team looking for blueline depth should be willing to explore a trade for Salvador, and getting his $2.9 million off the books would be great.

4. Dainius Zubrus – 3 years, $10.2 million left on contract ($3.9 million cap hit)

Zubrus is another name that’s been rumored to be on the trading block. The big center hasn’t seemed to fit in during his time in New Jersey. When Lamoriello signed Zubrus before the 2007-2008 season, he expected him to be a top-line center. Instead, Zubrus has bounced around the lineup, playing some center and wing. He’s never looked comfortable, and other than a four-goal game against Tampa Bay in 2009, he hasn’t been a steady offensive contributor.

Zubrus doesn’t have a no-trade clause, which makes him easier for the Devils to shop. But it’s that lack of production that will hurt the Devils’ argument. Maybe Lamoriello can talk some teams into Zubrus’ potential as a scorer. Zubrus would be a hard sell, but getting his contract off the books would be great.

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There are other names that have been thrown around, from Patrik Elias to Colin White. Both of those guys won’t move. Jason Arnott has chemistry with Elias, and I don’t believe Lamoriello would break up a pairing that will probably work well together this season. While White would be a nice move ($3 million cap hit the next two seasons), he has a no-trade clause and isn’t big trade bait.

Ultimately, deals involving Salvador and Zubrus seem to be the most likely of scenarios. Both have manageable contracts, and each does not have a no-trade clause. Moving those two players would open $3.9 million in cap space. The Devils would need to add four players to the roster, but could do that using AHL players with low-level contracts or signing players to the veteran’s minimum of $500,000. The Devils have several capable defenseman to replace Salvador, and I believe David Clarkson could easily fill Zubrus’ position as a physical winger. That would allow a young center to move into the lineup.

Obviously, getting rid of Rolston would be the most beneficial. But by trading Salvador and Zubrus, the Devils can open up the necessary cap space needed to fall under the cap for this season. It’ll be interesting to see who Lamoriello is able to move in the next few weeks.

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