(caption: NJ.com – a goal by now ex-Devil Mike Cammalleri in 2015, an occurence too infrequent in his three seasons as a Devil)
When Devils GM Ray Shero made critical comments about the team’s heart and desire after the 2016-17 season it was obvious changes were going to be made, especially armed with the most cap space of any team in the league. Today’s buyouts of forwards Mike Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly added even more cushion to that cap space, and represented two of the culture changes that Shero strongly hinted at. In the case of Cammalleri a buyout was only a mild surprise after a dissapointing 2016-17 (10 goals and 31 points in 61 GP) given he had two years left on his contract at big money, though with a cap hit that expired after next season. With the buyout the Devils absorb a much smaller cap hit, but for a longer term ($1.67 million per season for four seasons). Although it would have been nice to work out a trade for Cammalleri, apparently there was no deal to be had.
Smith-Pelly’s 2016-17 was also a dissapointment (nine points and a -19 in 53 GP), but he was only signed for one year so his salary and cap hit were negligible, it was just a matter of he – like Cammalleri – didn’t fit into the future plans of the team.
With both buyouts coming on the eve of free agency, speculation’s swirling what this means in regards to the Devils’ plans for tomorrow and the rest of the offseason. Personally I don’t think these buyouts had anything to do with whatever additions Shero makes this offseason given the amount of cap space that already existed, it was more about making a statement and clearing a couple more spots for a myriad of younger players (led by #1 overall Nico Hischier and other potential rookie additions like recent first-rounders John Quenneville and Michael McLeod).
According to CapFriendly, the Devils have nearly $28 million of cap space, with Ryane Clowe’s IR contract providing another $4.8 million cushion on top of that. However, not counting Clowe the Devils only have five forwards under contract. Even if you figure RFA’s Miles Wood and Stefan Noesen and UFA Beau Bennett all get re-signed, along with adding in Hischier’s ELC that still leaves 4-5 open spots at forward for guys like McLeod, Quennevillle, recent third-rounder Blake Speers and other TBD additions to fight for spots on the 2017-18 roster.
If the Devils take a chunk out of their cap space tomorrow, I’m not expecting it to come in a forward addition although the Alex Galchenyuk rumors are intriguing and you never know if Shero decides to bring another Jersey boy home in James Van Riemsdyk, just to name a couple of possible trade targets. As far as free agency goes, I’m not expecting any big splash there. Especially with the insane demands of Alex Radulov, who would fit into the top six at RW but I wouldn’t want to be the team to give him the six-year deal he wants. To me Radulov screams Alex Semin in terms of a post-big money risk. Perhaps they add a bottom six player or two to complement the young guns and make an acquisition to bolster their horrible offense via trade.
In goal the Devils are seemingly set for the next couple years at least after re-upping with backup Keith Kinkaid on a two-year deal at $1.25 million per season. With starter Cory Schneider signed for five years at $6 million per, potential goalie of the future Mackenzie Blackwood can continue to develop in Bridgeport after a promising first pro season at age 20, leading the then-Albany Devils to the AHL playoffs.
For most Devil fans, they’re hoping for big changes to a horrid D core still lacking in top-end talent. Does that mean Kevin Shattenkirk will make his way home and be a Devil by tomorrow evening at this time? Shattenkirk certainly has the offensive capability to make a difference on the blueline and I like that he apparently wants the responsibility of being a top-pairing defenseman, though there are certainly questions over how well he’ll handle it and whether he’ll get overpaid – he did turn down a 7 year, $42 million offer from Tampa Bay at the trading deadline. Not that Shatty’s salary is of any immediate concern but in a cap world, Shero has to be mindful of the impact any long-term signing can have on the cap in future seasons. While Shatty being a LD would be more ideal than being a RD, he’d still help the blueline and let’s face it – sooner or later the Devils are going to have to use their cap space for something more than an empty promise to a better tomorrow.
I’m not as big on other possible UFA targets like plodder Karl Alzner, for people suspect on Shattenkirk, Alzner is REALLY a bad contract waiting to happen. Perhaps Shero also works out another trade to upgrade the blueline, although each addition is probably going to lead to at least one subtraction since the Devils currently have five d-men signed on one-way deals, plus RFA’s Mirco Mueller and Damon Severson who’ll both be in the top six, as well as second-year man Steven Santini, who was serviceable in his rookie season but could always use more seasoning in Binghamton if the situation called for it. Not that subtracting many of these guys would be an issue with the way the D played last year.
And I haven’t even touched on the potential Ilya Kovalchuk resolution (finally?), although late rumors had him talking to SKA about a potential return to the KHL – again. If something’s to happen you’d think it would be known tomorrow either way given Kovalchuk and his agent Jay Grossman have been talking to other teams trying to facilitate a contract agreement/trade. Of course it’s never usually that neat and clean with this player and his constant drama. It’s probably best for all parties that tomorrow be the last day we have to deal with the Russian hamlet.
Whatever happens – good or bad – it won’t be dull tomorrow. Thankfully this year July 1 is on a Saturday so I can stay home and see what happens with Shattenkirk, Kovalchuk, trades, etc. Of course like a lot of things, the hype might outweight the actuality, especially if Shattenkirk and Kovalchuk aren’t day one resolutions. Or if Shattenkirk signs elsewhere, Kovalchuk stays in Russia and we’re left holding the bag it’ll be a gloomy day in Devils nation. If things break the other way though, we do sign Shattenkirk, trade Kovalchuk and trade for an impact player this could be the best July 1 since…shudder…2010. Our unusual spending spree that year didn’t turn out so well. But I’m not asking the Devils to go full-on Glen Sather pre-lockout. Just show me some sign that you’re in this to improve and not just ‘trust the process’ and hope for lottery luck for five years like a certain NBA team owned by the same duo who happen to own the Devils.