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Rolston Shouldn’t Be The “Sacrificial Lamb”

Only four months after the “Ilya Kovalchuk Saga”, the Devils are entangled in another mess with a player.

This mess, however, doesn’t involve arbitration cases and collective bargaining agreements. It involves Brian Rolston, and the team’s decision to make an example out of the left-winger. While his play has all but earned him the stamp of failure, the Devils’ shouldn’t make Rolston their sacrificial lamb.

Brian Rolston has been dragged through the waiver process the past two weeks. Photo Credit: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

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We all know the story of Rolston’s second go-around with the Devils. It’s been an abysmal failure. A 30-goal scorer with the Minnesota Wild, Rolston has failed to sniff that plateau while with New Jersey. His ability to quarterback the powerplay seems non-existent as well. In short, the team expected a top-flight winger and received a fourth line producer. But that’s not all Rolston’s fault. Injuries have cost him over 30 games, and he’s spent most of his time on the third line. That’s not the best place to produce 30 goals.

The Devils also never built around Rolston. They’ve failed to acquire or sign a playmaking center to play with Rolston. Instead, he’s suffered through playing with Rod Pelley, Dainius Zubrus, etc. With no solution in the minors and no one to set him up, numbers were expected to drop. It shouldn’t have been such a precipitous drop-off, but he couldn’t have expected to produce the same numbers.

Also, let’s remember Rolston’s age when he signed the contract. He was 35 and, even though a productive goal scorer, was showing a decline in points. Age was catching up with Rolston. And while he was productive, the numbers indicated that his game was slowing down.

I don’t believe the initial signing of Rolston was a mistake. The Devils needed a proven veteran scorer and powerplay producer, and they believed they found one. It just hasn’t worked out, and the organization is now paying a $5,062,500 cap hit for a left-winger who’s past his prime.

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In an attempt to shed his dead weight, Devils’ general manager and president Lou Lamoriello placed Rolston on waivers December 15. He cleared waivers once and remained with the Devils. That should have been enough to show the lack of interest in Rolston.

But Lamoriello continued to dangle his left-winger. The Devils’ G.M. placed Rolston on re-entry waivers Wednesday, hoping another team would take on half of Rolston’s contract. He even allowed Rolston and his agent, Steve Bartlett, to talk to teams about trading for Rolston or claiming him. But nobody did. Rolston returned to the team and could suit up for tomorrow night’s game against the Thrashers.

Rolston, who wanted a fresh start, expressed disappointment at the result of the move.

“It’s disappointing I didn’t get picked up for sure,” Rolston told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “The fact of the matter is my second year was the sticking point at $2.5 (million). You saw in free agency this summer that teams aren’t really willing. I think they ask about the money before they ask about who the player is. It’s the economic times. It’s disappointing for sure. I was hoping to get a new start somewhere, but I’m just going to continue on here.”

For more of the story, follow the jump.

Of course, the moves brought bad blood into the mix. Head coach Jacques Lemaire now needs to find a way to placate Rolston, who clearly isn’t happy with the organization.

“I’m not sure if this is all necessary, but it’s the business,” Rolston told Gulitti.

As expected, players have rallied to his side.

“I received texts and calls from players,” he said to Gulitti. “They’re very supportive. There’s not a guy in our dressing room that’s not feeling some pain. Let’s put it that way. I’ve been put out there as the sacrificial lamb so to speak. It’s disappointing for sure, but it comes with the business and I make a lot of money, so you grin and bear it and just take it day by day.”

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Lamoriello needed a scapegoat, and Rolston became the easy target. Putting him on waivers sent a message to his players. But he’s been the only one paying for sub-par play. No one else has faced any consequences. The organization needs to hold all it’s players responsible. Rolston’s play has surely earned him a trip through the waiver system. But he shouldn’t be the only one paying for his poor play. The Devils need to spread the blame around and not place it squarely on the shoulders of Rolston.

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For my preview of tonight’s game, check out SB Nation New York.

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  1. May 6, 2011 at 9:21 pm

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