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5 Burning Off-Season Questions For the New Jersey Devils

by Photo of Gil Santos

John Fischer of In Lou We Trust discusses Martin Brodeur, the goaltending situation, the draft, and more.

5 Burning Off-Season Questions For the New Jersey Devils

In this article…

Missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons is not something general manager Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils are used to. It's actually the first time under Lamoriello that the Devils have not been in the postseason for two straight years. The Devils were a model of consistency in the NHL over the past two decades. From 1990 to 2010, the Devils made the playoffs in 19 of 20 seasons and won three Stanley Cups. With no playoffs in 2014, the Devils have not played postseason hockey in three of the last four years. 

Age, subpar drafting, and the departures of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk can be attributed as reasons why the Devils have struggled to make the postseason recently. While the Devils' defense remains among the best in the league, they do not have enough offensive firepower to win consistently. The face of the Devils, Martin Brodeur, has suffered a major decline in his play and was given too many starts last year. In addition, they can't win a shootout if their lives depended on it. 

Lamoriello will do all he can this off-season to make his Devils into a playoff contender again, but he will have his work cut out for him. The free agency pool doesn't look strong and they don't have many assets to acquire a top-six forward. To preview the Devils' off-season, we talked to John Fischer of In Lou We Trust:

1. It was very tough season for the Devils as they missed the playoffs for the second straight year for the first time under general manager Lou Lamoriello. What do you think the Devils need to do this off-season to get back to the playoffs next season? Who are some players, whether it's via free agency or trade, you would like to see Lou target?

First and foremost, they need to make sure Martin Brodeur does not return next season. He is 41, his save percentage was barely above 90%, which is below league average, and his presence last season got him many more starts than his play deserved. Cory Schneider is better and by having a better backup in place of Brodeur, the Devils will likely give up fewer goals. 

Second, the Devils need to shore up the wings. The right wing position is particularly thin after Jaromir Jagr, which is saying a lot since he's 42. With plenty of defensemen, this may be the season where some of that defense gets moved for forwards. 

As much as fans may want the Devils to make a big splash in free agency, I think the Devils will stay mostly quiet. They spent a lot last season, didn't get full value outside of the Jagr signing, and they have plenty of players already under contract. I think they'll be making their other moves during the season. If the Devils do go into the free market, look for them to get a backup goaltender and a winger with some additional skill for the second and third lines. Radim Vrbata comes to mind as a possibility, but that is a guess.

2. The longtime face of the Devils, Martin Brodeur, likely will be in another uniform next season as he intends on testing the free agent market. Did you ever think you’d see the day Brodeur plays for a different team? Also, when it comes to the back-up goaltending job behind Cory Schneider, do you think the Devils go with an in-house candidate or look outside of the organization?

All good things must come to an end. Brodeur is a legend and one of the best to have ever played goaltender. But he's not that player anymore - hasn't been for years - and his poor 2013-14 season really drove that reality home in the minds of a lot of fans. So I cannot be surprised if he plays for another team. I'm not sure who would think he could help their team this summer, but stranger things have happened. 

As for the #2 goaltender, I think the Devils do go outside of their organization. Keith Kinkaid has been the starter in Albany and he just posted his best save percentage yet in the AHL. It's 91.2%, which is around league average. That doesn't instill a lot of confidence in me as the #2 goalie in New Jersey will likely play 15-20 games due to back-to-back games alone. I'd want Kinkaid to be one of the league's better goalies before giving him that many games. A league veteran would be a safer choice in my opinion. It would also guarantee that Brodeur does not return to play in New Jersey.

3. The compliance buyout period started on Monday and the Devils still have one more left to use. Do you think the Devils use their final compliance buyout and if so, who are the prime candidates?

I think they will and the target is pretty clear: defenseman Anton Volchenkov. He's the highest paid defenseman on New Jersey. Yet, he averaged fewer minutes than all other Devils defenseman last season. He has consistently been put on the third pairing ever since he was signed. He did not face tough competition. He has not been a "shut down" defenseman nor given significant responsibilities beyond playing on the first penalty killing unit. Volchenkov was good in his role but his role isn't tough to fill. Jon Merrill, Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, and Peter Harrold can all fill it while being more offensive than Volchenkov. He's certainly not worth $4.25 million per year for another two years; I think he'll get bought out with the compliance buyout. Bryce Salvador is a popular option, but the Devils don't think he's all that bad; and with one year left on his deal, I think the team just eats it.

4. Jaromir Jagr and Marek Zidlicky were re-signed to reasonable one-year deals last month. Signing Jagr was no-brainer in my eyes, but what do you think about Zidlicky coming back? In addition, do you think his signing will prevent the Devils from bringing back Mark Fayne, who I believe was the second best d-man behind Andy Greene last season?

Marek Zidlicky comes with a lot of baggage. His defensive coverage is spotty, which isn't good on a low-scoring team. He's prone to taking plenty of penalties, as he led the Devils in minor penalties and penalty minutes last season. He is in his late 30s, so a decline is on the horizon. Zidlicky produced so much last season that it's hard to think he can repeat it. 

 However, Zidlicky did one thing really well last season: passing the puck. No other Devils defenseman made more passes than him. He moves it forward and often successfully. He makes mistakes with his reads but it's a function of doing it so much. No other Devils defenseman nearly made as many passes at him. Given how the Devils are a low-scoring team, losing that would make the offense suffer greatly. So I understand the decision to retain him and hope he has enough left in the proverbial tank for another year.

As for Mark Fayne, I think what would prevent the Devils from keeping him is Mark Fayne and his agent. Fayne is 27 and will hit unrestrictred free agency if he is not re-signed. While he is not a flashy, productive, or even a physical defenseman, he's very effective. He won't command a lot of money but I think there will be plenty of interest in Fayne from other teams. As this may be one of his best times to maximize his earning power, I can't fault him for wanting to the test the market if he and his representation want to do so. 

 I would like to see Fayne stay because he's very good on defense against tough competition without being an one-dimensional albatross like Salvador and Volchenkov. It's not easy to find players like that. However, the Devils have plenty of young defensemen in the system. Fayne going elsewhere in conjunction with a potential compliance buy out of Volchenkov creates space for them. Perhaps Larsson or Merrill can potentially and quickly fill in what Fayne was doing to ease the potential loss.

5. Finally, The draft is coming up next Friday and the Devils hold the 30th pick in the first round. Can you throw out some names of prospects you would like to see the Devils consider at 30?

In a draft class like this, there are plenty of prospects that I think will be available. Personally, I think the Devils should choose a forward. They have a dearth of them in the system, especially ones with offensive upside. 

I would be pleased if they are able to get Brayden Point, who is small but was a point-machine for two-seasons with Moose Jaw (WHL) and can play well at both ends. Conner Bleackley of Red Deer (WHL) wasn't as productive, but he's considered to be a safer pick as a two-way center. Nikolay Goldobin of Sarnia (OHL) is another offensively talented forward; he was a massive producer on a bad Sarnia team. He may not be available at 30th overall, but he might be. 

Brendan Lemieux is Claude's son and has been a nasty agitator with Barrie (OHL). He has some skill to go with being a pest, but he's a player with a high floor so to speak. Vladislav Kamenev is a good two-way forward who got to play with the men in the KHL for a bit, which is a high accomplishment for a 18-year old even if it was limited minutes. Similarly, Jakub Vrana got time in the SHL with Linkoping; he was more productive at a lower level, but he skates real well and he's skilled on the puck. There will also be plenty of defensemen, but given the Devils' needs in the system as well as on the team for offensive talent, I think they should be looking at forwards with their 30th and 41st overall picks.

John Fischer is the lead writer for SB Nation blog, In Lou We Trust. You can follow him on twitter @JKFischer.

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