Top-Six Forward Wanted in Newark
It’s that time of year again. The dog days of summer when the hockey news slows to a crawl, and all we can do is analyze our team’s roster up and down. When the Devils’ Rookie Camp concluded a couple weeks ago, I had a hard time focusing on the players over the larger situation of our prospect pool. The farm system is overflowing with talent on the blue line while we have an extremely limited number of forwards with real NHL potential.
Just how deep is this defensive stockpile, you ask? Deep enough that it has Devil fans buzzing over the possibility of picking up a forward to replace some of the scoring lost in the Zach Parise departure.
Right now, the Devils have eight defensemen on their NHL roster: Anton Volchenkov, Marek Zidlicky, Henrik Tallinder, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, Mark Fayne, Adam Larsson, and Peter Harrold. On top of that, Alexander Urbom and Eric Gelinas are waiting in the wings, and should be competing for an NHL spot at some time this season. On top of that, top prospect, Jon Merrill, looks only a year away from leaving the University of Michigan and turning professional. He has the makings of a stud, two-way defenseman comparable to Ryan Suter (wishful thinking, I know). Throw all of this together, and you have more NHL-caliber defensemen than any organization needs.
So who is on the chopping block? That all depends on the needs of our trade partner, but the Devils have less options than it would appear. I’ve heard Devils’ fans call for Volchenkov to be moved after his streaky playoff performance, but his contract features a No Trade Clause. I’m also a believer that he still has some good hockey left in him, and that his “leave it all on the ice” mentality goes a long way in the locker room. Larsson is out of the question, Harrold doesn’t have a market, Salvador just resigned, and it’s hard to see Zidlicky getting moved again with just a year left on his deal. The most convenient players to ship off from a Devils’ perspective would either be Henrik Tallinder or Andy Greene. They are signed on for two and three years, respectively, and both have the experience to make an immediate impact on another team’s defensive corps.
Edmonton is a team looking for proven D-men to counterweight their young guns. Like the Devils, they have a disproportionate prospect pool, only this time in the forwards department. The problem with that is the Devils don’t exactly need prospects as much as they need forwards who can make an impact right now. Last year the Devils had few forwards who could fill the net on a nightly basis. With Parise and Ponikarovsky gone, Elias a year older, and Clarkson coming off a career year which will be tough to match, the Devils are in a crunch for goal scorers. Ales Hemsky always seems to be involved in trade talks. He might fit in well on a stable organization that features fellow Czechs, Patrik Elias, Marek Zidlicky, and possibly Petr Sykora. The problem is that he has an important role as a mentor to the developing forwards over there in Oil Country. Because of that, I’m not sure the Oilers would move him at a price the Devils would want to match. Young Swedes, Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi, would be cheaper alternatives, but they are also raw and unproven. The Devils have enough of that on their plate this year with Mattias Tedenby. Neither of them are worthy of an Andy Greene or Henrik Tallinder, and the Oilers have little need for another young project like Gelinas.
Philadelphia has a real defensive problem after the recent injury of Andrej Meszaros, the Chris Pronger uncertainty, the Matt Carle departure, and the failure to land Shea Weber this offseason. They may be interested in a stopgap like Henrik Tallinder to slide right into their second pairing. But what could we expect in return? There aren’t many good matches in terms of equal value. The Flyer have a ton of talented, young forwards who are developing around each other to form a scary core a year or two down the road. Because of that, it won’t be easy to pry one of them from GM, Paul Holmgren. Add that to the fact that GM’s seldom trade within the division, and I just don’t see the Devils moving someone to the Flyers.
Minnesota (cringe) has some good prospects on their blue line, but doesn’t have many guys who can play right now. They would certainly be in the market for guys like Tallinder or Greene to balance out their defensive unit. Their forward draft picks are beginning to mature and we’re going to see the first of the highly touted, Mikael Granlund this year. With Granlund up and Charlie Coyle following closely behind, their top-nine is going to be crowded in the near future. The offer of established D-men with playoff experience might just be tempting enough for the Devils to come away with one of their wingers. Not to mention, adding a couple Devils in Minnesota will provide a comfort factor for Parise in his new environment.
Devin Setoguchi is 25, and already has 39 playoff games under his belt. He plays the right wing, which would allow Ilya Kovalchuck to move back to his natural position on the left side. Setoguchi’s best season came in 2008-09 when he racked up 65 points, and he’s had trouble reaching that total, since. The fact that he was the centerpiece of a trade for Brent Burns last summer shows how highly Minnesota regards him. He might yield both Greene and Tallinder, but even if that were the case, I think Lamoriello should pull the trigger. We’d get an injection of youth into our top-six and we’d be creating room for our wealth of young defensemen to reach the NHL roster. We desperately need a scorer who can play on right side to fill out the depth chart. Right now, David Clarkson, Steve Bernier, Krys Barch, and Stephen Gionta are the natural right-wingers on our roster. Solid hockey players, but which one of these guys is going to be on the score sheet at the end of the night?
It’s a high price to pay to deal two solid NHL defensemen, but the Devils need the production, plain and simple. These are not the neutral-zone trap Devils of ten years ago. Under DeBoer, the Devils built their run to the Cup Finals on aggressive forechecking in the offensive zone. If they can’t score, I don’t see them competing in a division that has improved over the offseason. They also have consistently found a way to make a no-name unit of defensemen work. It was not long ago that Andy Greene was a call-up from the AHL, and he was never as highly regarded as the prospects we have now. I trust Scott Stevens to turn our prospects into defensemen capable of handling the NHL workload. The Devils would be well suited to take this risk and lighten the offensive load on of Ilya Kovalchuk. I am confident enough in their drafting and development that they can sustain the loss of both of these D-men, and still put out a team that can make it back into the playoffs and make a splash.
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