Crickets and tumbleweeds swirling around Newark

Last night the Devils concluded their preseason by losing to Rick DiPietro and the Islanders 2-1 in Nassau, dropping their overall exhibition record to 2-1-3. Of course with the actual season starting Friday against the Dallas Stars at the Rock, nobody cares about preseason results now. What does matter – for the moment – is that our cap zero hour is fast approaching – either two or three days away depending on what you believe (right now it looks like the Devils have to be under the cap by Wednesday 3 PM). With the exhibition season finally over, expect to hear something very soon, perhaps later today in fact.

For now though, crickets and tumbleweeds continue to swirl. What do I mean by that? Well all Devil fans like to kid about our GM Lou Lamoriello and his propensity for eliminating leaks better than the government, but in this case we’re all going stir-crazy wondering what’s going to happen next and there hasn’t been a single rumor lately, not even the remote hint of a rumor. Eventually in the next three days something has to break but in the meantime, we’re all left to play a guessing game (no doubt the players themselves are doing the same).

Oh, sure the Post continues to try to intimate that Travis Zajac might be moved but come on, let’s be real. We wouldn’t be playing him with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, getting everyone excited about our Fantasy Line if we were just going to trade our number one pivot, and also thereby taking Jason Arnott away from Patrik Elias and moving him up to the top center spot. And the Colorado Avalanche are supposedly interested in captain Jamie Langenbrunner, but there’s hardly any indication over whether Lou would even deal the captain at this point.

What is for certain is that defenseman Bryce Salvador (one of our most likely candidates to be moved) suffered a concussion a few nights ago against the Flyers, and is out indefinitely with no timetable for a return. Although he hasn’t officially been put on LTIR yet that might be inevitable at this point. His $2.9 million salary alone wouldn’t be enough to get us under the cap – unless the Devils decide to go with a bare bones roster and have as many cheap contracts on the team as possible – which means no Alexander Urbom, Matthew Corrente or Jacob Josefson on the team until someone else gets hurt or traded. And no ready replacement in the event of short-term injuries or sickness.

Assuming we don’t go that route, one more player has to go at least. If someone gets traded now, maybe Lou can keep Salvador on LTIR for a while and then take him off when we’ve banked enough cap space to pay for whoever we want on the roster, including said prospects above and maybe whatever vet we sign like ex-Sabre Adam Mair who impressed in camp and is likely to win a job and contract once we clear cap space. Technically going that route might enable us to keep Salvador after all and only send one other player packing.

Who might that player be? Everyone knows the usual suspects by now, headed by Danius Zubrus who only played in two preseason games and as much as I want him around for this year I realize he’s overpaid for his skill set (a good third-line player who scores 40-45 points making $3.4 million is overpaid, heart or not). Given the fact he doesn’t have a no-trade and is signed for multiple years, he looks to be the most likely candidate out the door. Captain Langenbrunner and his $2.9 million salary is another option though he has a partial no-trade. In any case I don’t think Lou will deal his captain on the eve of the season opener, especially given that he has an expiring contract anyway, which will serve us well when we have cap issues next year, after a likely extension for Zach Parise and new deal for defenseman Andy Greene.

Another Lou favorite is gritty David Clarkson, who just got signed to a three year, $8 million deal this offseason and despite the trade rumors that were swirling around him last year I don’t see Lou dealing him off either, especially given he brings an element we don’t have much of on our top three forward lines. Even though Brian Rolston‘s actually scored a couple of goals in the preseason and has seemingly been on showcase for most of the games, I doubt there’s any way we really can move him with two years left at $5 million per. Probably better to ride him out for a year, then trade him next offseason when he becomes more valuable as an expiring contract – especially if he somehow has a rebound year although a long-shot option is to send Rolston down then get him claimed on waivers (thereby eliminating half his cap hit over the next two years) the way the Stars did with Sean Avery.

There’s also defenseman Colin White and his nearly $3 million salary but with Mike Mottau (looked on as a possible fallback if we dealt defensemen) having inked a deal on Long Island, there’s pretty much no way we go into the season with three rookies on defense. Especially with each one having shown they’re not quite a finished product yet – though what young kid is anyway? With Salvador hurt, that’s exactly what we’d be facing if we dealt off White as well so it’s likely he’ll stay at this point – never mind the no-trade even.

So clearly the smart money’s on either a bare bones roster to postpone the inevitable even longer, or Zubrus being on the move – either by waivers or trade, far less likely. As much as I don’t want to see it, if the staff really believes Josefson’s ready to center the third line you could more than get by with having him, Clarkson and Rolston on that line, behind the Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk and Elias-Arnott-Langs first two lines, with Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, Greene and White as your top four on defense.

Whatever happens, expect announcements soon. They can’t come soon enough for me though, I’m going stir-crazy knowing something’s likely to break today in the midst of the Jets playing at one, the MLB playoff races and then Sunday night programming with the Amazing Race and Dexter. Or worse, it’ll break tomorrow while I’m at work then I’ll need a cliff notes version to sort it all out.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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