Even after the Devils’ victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night in Newark, this seems remote. They’re 23-26-9, seventh in the Metropolitan Division, and the March 2 trade deadline is looming. That puts Lamoriello and his team in strange waters – once reality sinks in.
It’s possible that the Devils will be among the league’s many sellers come the trade deadline. They have a lot of older players up for free agency and could push out some valuable tools, like Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder. New Jersey has a lot to offer teams looking for a rental push into the post-season, so you have to think Jagr might be at the top of many lists.
Lamoriello insists this is no rebuild. He’s been using the same formula with the Devils since day one and that doesn’t seem likely to change. They have their solid goaltender in Cory Schneider and seem to be building outward from there, with a young-ish defence and an aging forward core.
Defensively, the Devils have a lot to build on. The likes of Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson are key components to the blueline in the near future, but there are some holes and there are some players – like Eric Gelinas – who could use a hand up from an experienced player. Andy Greene can play that part to some extent, but it’s nice to have more options.
Up front, it’s a little harder to take. The Devils are thin at just about every forward position. Down the middle, they’ve got Travis Zajac locked up as the cornerstone but things kind of taper off after that. He was the sort of player to be more productive with more capable forward counterparts, but it’s hard to imagine him leading the franchise.
Adam Henrique is a potential leader for the top line centre position, but he’s been slotting in on the wing a lot and that’s changed the potential dynamics of the team.
On the wing, it’s even more dismal.
Their left wingers include Patrik Elias (38), Dainius Zubrus (36), Tuomo Ruutu (32), and Mike Cammalleri (32). Spotting a trend? At right wing, it’s not much better in terms of youth. Martin Havlat has been awful in stretches this season, while perhaps only Steve Bernier and Jordin Tootoo have done better than expected.
Jagr is, as mentioned, likely up on the blocks. So is Ryder. Havlat’s contract is among the many up at the end of the year, so it’s hard to imagine the Devils not waving goodbye to him as well.
So where does that leave them? The good news is that they could be at the beginning of something interesting. With a lot of old blood flushed from the system, there will be some opportunities. But is Lamoriello the guy to turn this ship around? Can he buck the defence-first trend and open things up? Or will it be more of the same for the Devils?