Because in their infinite wisdom the New Jersey Devils have decided to wed the next 10 years or so of their existence to a very dynamic but very one-dimensional scorer, their GM Lou Lamoriello has a bit of a cap problem on his hands. It's not a Dale Tallon-Blackhawks-sized problem, but it's a problem and, unlike Tallon's successor, the Devils don't have all summer to figure it out.
Being the benevolent
Patrick Atlantic rivals that we are, it behooves us to kick the tires on the Good Ship Devil and see if there aren't some carcasses we might take a liking to. (We did this exercise in June with the Hawks and Flyers, but much like Emmett Fitz-Hume attending the reading of a will before that FSO exam...we got nothing.)
LHH-er Altosax suggested one option in comments over the weekend: Trent Hunter for Jamie Langenbrunner, saving Lou about $800k according to CapGeek. Problem is, $800k helps but Lou actually needs to shed almost $3 million to fit under the cap ($2.97 by most calculations). Worse for Lou, Hunter is signed for three more seasons at $2 million per, while next summer Zach Parise will be in need of a major raise, creating more cap issues. As I replied then, Lou probably needs to shed a real salary or two and replace them with near-minimum wage players to make it work.
Devils blog In Lou We Trust has a primer on what they need to do. After the jump, we'll look at the candidates and you tell me if any of them smell like fresh meat you could sink your teeth into.
I'll say one thing right off: If Garth Snow is even remotely considering this carcass, he should be doing it from a position of ruthlessness. Think James Wisniewski for a 3rd or worse. Lou's hand is somewhat tied here -- we know he's not going to give away anything really good, but at minimum he should have to do something generous (like give away a player for peanuts) or cold (like demote a veteran to the minors). There is no reason to be going all charity case for him, even if his influence within the league is mighty.
Brian Rolston, $5,062,500 cap X 2, NTC, 35+ deal, generally spent shell casing
This is the dream scenario for Lou, which is why it isn't happening. Not only is Rolston a shell of his former self, he also has a no-trade clause (How in the hell...), and he is a 35+ contract, which means even if he retired this year or next his cap hit would still be on the books [Edit: and even if he were demoted, all but 100k would be]. This is one of those rare big mistakes Lou makes but few mainstream pundits note, because people like to stick to narrative (Did you know DiPietro has a 15-year deal? Did you know Snow was a backup goalie? I know, right!) and God knows Lou as Genius is the overriding narrative.
Rolston managed 20 goals last year at age 37, which is five more than he scored in Year 1 of his deal. But had Lou not signed Rolston to that contract, he wouldn't have a cap problem at all.
Bryce Salvador, $2.9 million X 2, similar to what the Isles have
Salvador is a nice defenseman. Generally reliable in his own end, a little physical but not intimidating, he'll get the job done. He also makes more than every Isles defenseman outside of Mark Streit and Wis'. Would he be an upgrade to the Isles blueline depth? Probably, depending on who gets shipped out. But with the Islanders eyeing some promising blueline talent in the pipeline, I'm not sure even Salvador would be a fit. Certainly not a "gotta have him" situation.
Dainius Zubrus, $3.4 million X 3, generally devoid of oomph
Okay, sure. You want 31-year-old Zubrus and his 12-17 goals per season in the Islanders C/wing slot because...because why again? His salary and term is simply out of whack. That contract is another chink in the Lou Is Infallible armor. I pass, unless Lou is also throwing in their best prospect in exchange for a Fishsticks jersey.
Jamie Langenbrunner, $2.8 million X 1, Devils outcast but also a Captain America
Nobody who writes literate words really knows what happened with Langenbrunner last season. (Well, maybe the Devils beatwriters have a strong clue, but they're probably wise to tread lightly there.) At 35 he still has something left in the tank, although Parise and Travis Zajac are sure to do just fine without him. His salary alone nearly cures Lou's cap issue. If he was offered to the Isles for virtually free, I'd definitely take him with just one year left on his deal.
Parise, Zajac, David Clarkson, Colin White: Not happening, not happening, not happening
Sure, we've seen in under a 1,000 words how Lou is far from infallible. But he's no idiot. None of the above are leaving Jersey. I'm sure Lou would sooner try to force one of his vets to the minors than hurt his franchise so severely by shedding one of those guys.
Who Do You Like, Baby?
So, those are the main candidates. If you want to play along for more, check out the Devils cap lineup at CapGeek. And do tell: Do you pick over the Devils (and if so, for what?), or do you say "Nah, good luck with your domestic problem, Lou. Oh, and have fun when Ilya cherry-picks through December."?