Despite losing David Clarkson, who parted ways with the Devils for greener pastures and a chance to play for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, the Devils efficiently utilized the opening of the unrestricted free agent period by supplementing their offensive depth. As we all know, the Devils brought in wingers Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder, and Rostislav Olesz, respectively signing them to five, two, and one-year deals.
It should already be common knowledge amongst the Devils community by now what roles these players were specifically brought in for and what their individual player types are. With that taken into consideration, I won't spend time relaying player or statistical information that is well in circulation among different Devils-related pieces.
We know what these guys were brought in to do. As far as how they factor into the Devil's success in the coming season, we're only left to speculate. It remains to be seen if the Devils return to playoff contention but Lamoriello definitely has his on the right track.
The length and salary cap hit of winger Ryan Clowe's contract has been subjected to a lot of scrutiny that Lamoriello openly addressed. If you dissect the circumstances that facilitated the formation of the deal, it becomes clear that a contract of that nature for Clowe was inevitable whether he was going to the Devils or not.
The quality of talent in this year's unrestricted free agent class was comparatively shallow to unrestricted free agent classes of recent years, which is why I found the plethora of signings yesterday to be extremely ironic. Players like Clowe, Clarkson, and their agents identified that particular characteristic of the open market and were smart to take advantage. While the value of these players is ideally no more than $3.5-4 million per season, the high demand for forward talent caused their market value to increase.
It's basic economics (see laws of supply and demand) and even if Lamoriello didn’t sign Clowe, Devils fans would be crying about how Lamoriello didn’t sign anyone to address Clarkson’s departure. In the end, having something to complain about seems to be a human need that is up there with food, water, and shelter.
For some reason, many Devils fans are not satisfied with the Clowe signing because of his age and prior injury history. Clowe will be just 31 when the regular season begins, while Clarkson is going to turn 30 in March…that’s just silliness right there. The injury history is an understandable worry but Lamoriello did affirm that Clowe was examined and issued a “clean bill of health” prior to his signing. To give the more simple-minded readers something to relate this to, if Clowe was a used car, Lamoriello looked up the car facts before purchasing it.
Here’s something to take to heart about the length of the contract…if healthy and used properly, I think Clowe can be a productive asset for the Devils through the majority of those five years. That time gives highly touted prospects like Stephane Matteau, who falls under the same classification of player type as Clowe and Clarkson, more time to develop without the pressure of rushing him; something that many are concerned may have happened to fellow first-round draft picks Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson.
As just mentioned with Clowe, a similar case can be said for bringing in Michael Ryder. While Ryder helps round out the top-six, his acquisition takes the pressure off a highly touted prospect like Reid Boucher to continue his development in the minors at a steady pace. Having played for three different teams throughout his nine-year career, Ryder has become an established goal-scorer, and find himself in a unique situation in New Jersey.
Including a Stanley Cup championship with the 2010-2011 Boston Bruins, Ryder has played on some competitive teams over the years. Despite his preference of playing right wing, I would like to see Pete DeBoer put a line featuring Ryder and Kovalchuk on a trial run during the preseason. If a shift to left wing does not work out, he can revert to right wing on a line anchored by Patrik Elias on the left side. Ryder has had productive seasons on teams with and without star-caliber talent and the different line combinations he can be part of in New Jersey puts him in a very convenient situation.
Lou Lamoriello said Rostislav Olesz is making an attempt to revive his career after spending most of the past two seasons in the minors. Throw stretches of missed time on the count of injuries and it’s clear that Olesz sorely needed the change of scenery that New Jersey has offered him. Despite Pete DeBoer’s rave reviews on the former first-round pick, Olesz never panned out into becoming the player he was projected to become.
Like Ryder, the Czech winger enters a situation in New Jersey unlike any he has ever been during his time with Chicago and Florida. He spent the majority of his career playing for a grossly underachieving Florida Panthers organization that’s failed to take advantage of its annual status as a top-ten drafting team for over a decade. Olesz could not crack the offensive lineup of a Chicago team that demonstrated this season how saturated their offensive depth continues to be with talented players.
I would put Olesz in the same category as players like Andrei Loktionov, Bobby Butler, and Ilkka Pikkarainen: Low-risk/high-reward. Sometimes these players work out, sometimes they don’t. Despite Lamoriello’s insinuation that he envisions Olesz to audition for a spot on the Devil’s third line, I hope DeBoer takes an experimental approach on Olesz’s potential role in the Devil’s lineup. If the success that Kovalchuk and Loktionov (two Russians) had together is any indication, I would like to see DeBoer give Olesz a trial period in a top-six role on a line with fellow Czech Patrik Elias.
Let the 2011-2012 season remind us how productive Elias and Petr Sykora were on a line together. A trial run of this nature ought to make one wonder how much the notion of keeping hockey players of the same nationality together is truly a factor, or if it is a mere coincidence.