Perhaps the best thing about the playoffs finally ending is that teams can begin their offseason moves in earnest. With the draft next weekend and free agency in two weeks, we’ll finally get some clues as to what GM Ray Shero and the organization is planning for the 2016-17 Devils. So far the Devils’ only move of consequence was acquiring the dead cap hit of Marc Savard from Florida and a 2018 2nd-round pick for two marginal AHL players, which is at least an indicator the Devils plan to use their cap space to acquire assets if nothing else. You would think that with Lou Lamoriello now in Toronto it’d be easier for fans to get info and rumors, but with the Devils’ only two real beat writers both leaving in the span of weeks (Tom Gulutti of the Record went to NHL.com while longtime Star-Ledger writer Rich Chere quietly retired), it’s led to a vaccum of news in Jersey that must be making Lou envious. Of course in a way it might be best that it’s not public knowledge who the Devils are interviewing and showing particular interest in at the draft combine, but if anything teams also use the media to throw out disinformation too.
We would no doubt have more info on all the Devils’ upcoming UFA’s though, since Shero was remarkably transparent about not wanting Scott Gomez and Steve Bernier back last offseason and in both cases that proved the correct decision, even if Gomez still would have been better than most of our fourth-liners last year you still had to find out what you had on this roster. Hopefully this offseason will see a real shuffling of the deck with a bottom six that was straight trash last year. Granted many of the solutions could come from within with prospects and young players like Pavel Zacha, Reid Boucher, Miles Wood and Joseph Blandisi but they’ll still need to supplement the bottom six with one or two vets that are not Stephen Gionta.
Even the bottom six woes last year are cosmetic to the real issues that need to be addressed – needing another top six right wing, another top four left-handed defenseman and another top nine (I maintain top six) center. Perhaps the center void can be filled by Zacha, clearly the Devils are going to have to give him every opportunity to succeed there considering left wing is more crowded with vet Mike Cammalleri still signed for the next three years and prospects Boucher, Blandisi and Wood all LH wings. Not to mention the specter of a possible Patrik Elias return although after his most recent knee surgery it seemed as if any decision on that will be deferred till the start of camp or just before it. Despite the acquisitions of Kyle Palmieri – who the team hopes to sign to a long-term extension this offseason – and Devante Smith-Pelly last year, the team still needs more RW depth and specifically another top six winger. As effective as DSP was once arriving from Montreal last year, ideally he’s more of a third-liner at this point. Addressing RW is probably the single most important thing Shero has to do this offseason. I also maintain the Devils team that makes the next step has Travis Zajac as it’s #3 and not #1 or #2 center.
I think if anything both center and LHD become wait-and-see propositions for different reasons…center because of Zacha’s presence while acquiring a LHD is complicated by the impending expansion draft next offseason. Let’s say the Devils splurge and sign a Keith Yandle to fill that role this offseason. Then who do you leave unprotected next offseason? Captain and #1 defenseman Andy Greene still signed to an affordable deal for the next few years? Damon Severson who’ll still be 22 going into the expansion draft? Adam Larsson, who’s been a reliable first-pair defenseman for the last year and a half and is still quite young himself? You’re not leaving any of them unprotected. But you might have to trade one if you sign Yandle or Alex Goligoski, especially if he insists on a NMC which ensures him of not being exposed. And trading one would just mitigate the impact of signing a UFA. Now I could see the Devils investing in a short-term solution for the top four D, maybe even trade for someone like Tampa’s Jason Garrison.
As far as the draft I’m not even going to pretend to be an expert but from what it sounds like, the Devils should be in position to draft one of the second tier of forwards (re: outside the top three, the next 6-8 guys are all on that tier) or top tier of defensemen. Unlike last offseason it’s not imperative that the Devils pick a forward at all costs but adding to the depth there is still crucial. However pretty much the only positions I want to see the Devils draft are forwards and LH defensemen, where they’re pretty weak overall. They’re strong at RHD and just used a high pick on a goalie last year, so between having Mackenzie Blackwood who had a solid first season in the WHL, and Cory Schneider still in his prime with the Devils, it isn’t imperative by any means that the Devils address goaltender in this year’s draft. With nine picks including two third and two fourth-rounders, the Devils are positioned to stock the cupboard or make moves next weekend to address needs more immediately.
This draft will also bring all the changes of the past year into full light since this will be the first draft in decades without Lou or longtime director of scouting David Conte at the draft table. While Lou’s busy helping to remake the Leafs, Conte remains out of the NHL. Last year’s draft with Lou and Shero was a bit of a pass the torch moment (see photo). However, this spring showed the Devils should be in good hands going forward with Shero’s former organization winning the Stanley Cup in part cause of contributions from players he drafted and assets he acquired at Pittsburgh, while new scouting director Paul Castron came over from the Columbus organization, who has this season’s Calder Cup to show for their recent years of drafting and player acquisition under Castron the last several years.