What a Difference a Year Makes

As the initial “free agency frenzy”of 2011 comes to an end, it’s difficult, as a Devils fan, to forget how nerve racking last year’s free agency frenzy on July 1st (and the ensuing months) was. During free agency in 2010, the Devils were locked in an epic battle (first, against the Los Angeles Kings and then against the NHL, itself) for the league’s most coveted free agent to, arguably, ever become available on the free agent market in the prime of his career. That player was, of course, Ilya Kovalchuk, and the Devils pursued him in typical Devils fashion – stealthily and secretly – leaving us fans on the edges of our seats and constantly refreshing webpages for the latest updates.

This year’s first day of free agency has certainly been a quieter one for the Devils and their fans. The Devils only signed two players. Actually, they were “re”-signings, ensuring that both Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg will remain Devils. Defenseman Andy Greene signed a 4 year/$12 million deal, and back-up goaltender Johan Hedberg inked a 1 year deal (the financial terms of which have yet to be disclosed). Both players signed their deals after 12pm today, so they were able to talk to other teams as unrestricted free agents. Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice (blogs.northjersey.com/fireice) reports that both Greene and Hedberg had a few offers from other teams and turned down more money to remain in New Jersey. It’s nice to know that these guys feel such a deep sense of loyalty to the Devils…but are their contracts worth it for the Devils?

I’ve already expressed my view of Hedberg’s deal in my earlier post from today, and I stand by it. As long as his salary isn’t ridiculously high, I feel that keeping Hedberg is a good thing for the Devils since there’s no doubt about his ability to back-up Brodeur. I would have much rather seen the Devils address their future goaltending issues by signing Brodeur’s successor, but since that didn’t happen, the signing of Hedberg for one more season is probably the next best thing.

The fact that Greene will be making $3 million/year for the next 4 years is a little more difficult for this fan to get her head around. His numbers from the 2010-2011 season don’t justify him receiving anywhere close to that, but to judge him on this past season (a season during which every Devil’s numbers were drastically lower than usual) isn’t exactly fair. Lou Lamoriello described Greene today as a top-four defenseman and chose the terms of his contract accordingly. Obviously, Lamoriello knows way more about these things than I do, but I would think that your top-four defenseman would be able to log a good number of minutes without sacrificing the quality of his play and maybe play on the power play once in a while. Greene’s numbers tend to decrease as his time on ice increases and vice-versa, and I don’t remember ever seeing him on the PP. We’ll find out soon enough if this contract was worth it…I just hope that Lamoriello didn’t make the mistake of granting him a no trade or no movement clause (a la so many other worthless contracts the Devils still have on their books).

So, the team’s roster hasn’t changed at all, really, from last year. The Devils’ 1st round draft pick, defenseman Adam Larsson, would be the only addition at this point…and that’s only if he makes the team. This leaves many fans scratching their heads. Is it wise to keep almost the same team as last season when that team didn’t make the playoffs?

Don’t worry…the Devils aren’t done. Lamoriello alluded to the fact that he will look to make a trade soon as long as he can dump salary to do so. One would have to think that this trade would be for the puck moving defenseman that the Devils so desperately need. And while this may be very close to the same team that missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons this past year, it is also closer (no Jamie Langenbrunner) to the same team that had the best record in the second half of the season and almost pulled off the greatest comeback in professional sports history. So, while the players may be the same more or less, it’s the coach that will make or break this team. Who the Devils hire as their next head coach could mean more to this upcoming season and the future of this franchise than any single player they did or didn’t sign. Look for the announcement of who the next head coach will be within a week or two. Finally, the Devils will once again be signing the best free agent out there – Zach Parise. True, he’s not a UFA and, since the Devils filed for salary arbitration, there won’t be any other teams fighting the Devils for him, but it’s pretty much widely agreed upon that if Parise was a UFA, he’d be the most coveted one this year. While it’s guaranteed that Parise will be playing for the Devils next season, Lamoriello once again insisted today that signing Parise to a long-term deal remains his top priority. When that deal is announced, the Devils, for the second time in two years, will once again find themselves emerging from free agency triumphant.

 

FUN FACT:

As mentioned above and as a friendly reminder, the Devils were essentially stuck in a bidding war for Kovalchuk during last year’s free agency market with the Los Angeles Kings. This year, the Kings have once again immersed themselves into a bidding war with numerous teams for the equivalent of this year’s Kovalchuk – center Brad Richards. Richards spent his day with his agent in Canada holding court as his various suitors lined up outside the building awaiting their turn to be granted an audience with Richards and present their offers to him. The Kings were among the suitors, of course, and after emerging from their meeting with Richards, Tim Leiweke (President and CEO of AEG, the parent company of the Kings) had an interesting quote for the hordes of reporters gathered outside. When asked about the meeting with Richards, Leiweke said, “This is not Kovalchuk. He (Richards) is a very smart kid, with some very smart agents.” (Read the entire interview here). Yikes. So, he’s basically saying that both Kovy and his agent, Jay Grossman, are stupid. Why? Because they chose the contract that offered more money…or because they chose the more consistently successful team who has won three Cups in 8 years? Leiweke certainly wasn’t saying this about Kovy a year ago. Think that maybe the Kings are still bitter about losing Kovy to the Devils, by any chance?

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