As of July 1st the Devils will have twelve free agents to re-sign, eleven of which are unrestricted. Not to mention that Boulton, Sykora, Zidlicky, Salvador, and Brodeur are all over the age of thirty-five. Remember to add in the possible cap reductions and-heaven forbid-a lockout, and the only logical assumption is that someone is going to have to sell their soul to keep the old band together.
The first thing we will notice on locker clean out day is the senile old man in the corner, yelling about how he wants to go out on another walk. The nurses are telling him to hold on, while his friends and family whisper in his ear how good he has looked lately. In his post game interview after Game 6, Brodeur answered the retirement question with this statement, “I don’t think so, this season answered a lot of questions about where my game’s at, and I’m really happy to hopefully continue.” (Quote from sportsnet.ca)
The good news: the Devils don't have a Brett Farve situation; the bad news: they have a forty year old man who thinks he can play goalie for them. Looking at the playoff numbers, it would be a better decision than the Casey Anthony trial. On the other hand, Brodeur's regular season resembled those of his first couple of years in the league. Games played were down to fifty-nine, save percentage is hovering around .908, and GAA is up to 2.41. For his career, Brodeur played about sixty-six games a year, posting a save percentage of .913 and a GAA of 2.23.
It may not be time for Brodeur to retire, but if the Devils can find a suitable replacement, it will be time to hand over the reigns. Jonas Hedberg, Brodeur's back up this year, will be an unrestricted free agent. He is not the long term answer, but he and Brodeur could run a competitive 1A/1B system until an heir to the throne can be found. Michael Leighton and Dan Ellis are both available if talks break down with either Brodeur or Hedberg. Both are over thirty and have worked in goalie by committee situations before. Luongo replaced Brodeur for team Canada, will he replace him in New Jersey too? The move might help Luongo, for example he would only have to hear Chelsea Dagger once a year. But really Luongo is past his prime and not the answer for New Jersey. St. Louis may need to move Brian Elliot, but their asking price will probably be high and that is not something New Jersey is prepared for. The name that New Jersey should concern themselves with? Anders Lindback of Nashville. The kid is six feet six inches and was trained by Mitch Korn, a man who could teach cats about reflexes.
There are two blue whales swimming around this summer's free agent pool. One of them is Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter. Suter would be New Jersey's golden ticket. He would automatically improve the defense and at that point Brodeur could stay another year. Zach Parise and Suter have also become buddies through international play, and it is rumored that the two superstars may be consulting each other on their decisions. Which leads us to the other big name in free agency: the Devil's Captain Zach Parise. Parise is the key to all of this, if he walks the Devils are in major trouble. Parise, a perennial all star, is due for a big paycheck, especially with the money the Devils are paying Ilya Kovalchuk.
It would be hard for me to walk away from a team that just lost in the Cup finals, but Parise is going to see some serious offers on the market. The Devils do have the cap room to match any offer made, which by current free agent trends means Parise's next cap hit will probably be around seven million. If the Devils can re-sign him, that will wrap up twenty million of New Jersey's cap in Parise, Kovalchuk and Patrick Elias. If they add Suter, that number jumps up to twenty-seven million among four players and the team still won't have a goalie.
Parise and Brodeur are the keystones to New Jersey's offseason plans. Once the future of their stars is known the Devils can move on to the other free agents. In my book, Mark Fayne (the only RFA), Petr Sykora, and Alexei Ponikarovsky are all no brainers. The Devils could probably get each of them for a million to 1.5 million. Salvador is aging, but can still serve a role for this team. Stephen Gionta would be nice to have back and would probably come cheap, but if he is not, it is time to let him go.
Looking around the division, neither Philly or New York has a lot of work this summer. Philly only has four unrestricted free agents, the biggest names being Jamomir Jagr and Matt Carle. The Rangers will have seven, but none of them play above the third line. The good news, Zach Parise has said that he will not sign with the Rangers, but the Rangers do have the money to go get someone including Ryan Suter.
The Devils have more questions than a scantron. Free Agency could tear this team to pieces, while their competition is only making improvements. By the end of the summer the Devils will either be ready for another cup run or in rebuilding.