Rebuilding, back stepping, reloading, call it what you want. It is evident the Devils approached this off season with the intentions of instilling a youth movement and seem to be going through with it. Fans were outraged as players like Brian Gionta and John Madden signed elsewhere, while the Devils stood pat since July 1st. After realizing Lou Lamoriello's plans for the team, I am happy he is putting the Devils on a path to follow and is trying something new.
The return of Jacques Lemaire as Brent Sutter's successor baffled me at first. I figured the summer's theme of going young would play a role in the team's coaching selection and thought a fresh face would take over behind the bench long term. Lemaire's return may raise a few eyebrows at first, but seems like a solid hiring. Critics forget or won't admit Lemaire is an experienced coach that knows how to win and lets the kids play, a strategy that compliments the lineup's instilment of youth perfectly. Critics also say the trap is returning to New Jersey along with Lemaire when he was quoted in a Star Ledger article that he wouldn't turn the Devils into the neutral zone trappers they were during his first stint.
New Jersey seems set to start the 2009-2010 season. While most Devils fans are content with Lou's plans, a few think the Devils can and will salvage what is left on the market to fill the voids made by this summer's departures. Lou knows what to do and if he's smart, he'll continue to save those openings for the kids. At this point it would be senseless to sign anyone and defeat the purpose of Lou's plans for the summer.
I want to ask the fans thinking the Devils can and will take advantage of what is left on the market in an attempt to replace this summer's losses: Why? Mediocre signings have been ineffective in recent years and there are multiple reasons to justify why going young is a step in the right direction. The Devils have around $12 million in cap space which, along the lineup's surge of youth makes it a bargain if the rookies are effective or show some promise in the roles they assume. The cap space also enables the Devils to trade, something being anticipated especially when the Star Ledger quoted Lamoriello again, saying that's the route he would take if he feels changes are needed. If speculations are true, the salary cap could drop as low as $50 million next summer, when the likes of Paul Martin and David Clarkson are due for extensions.
As far as signing anything valuable left in the market, the only satisfaction the demanding fans would get is a false sense of security. What can signing an over the hill player to however long of a deal, while eating up a portion of cap space do? To be equally replaced, the team's roster holes would require players guaranteed to make an impact and score at least 20 goals or do the job of a top penalty killer. Players like that aren't available and if they were, Lou made it clear that's not the route he intended to take this summer. Aside from signing a free agent to a gross contract, aren't there enough to deal with already in Zubrus, Pandolfo, Salvador, and arguably White? Wouldn't another similar acquisition just give Devils fans something else to complain about? Plus, signing a veteran guaranteed to be on the team takes away a spot for a rookie that could do the same or better job for less money.
New Jersey was relatively old this season, which showed at season's end and in the playoffs. Most of the players were slow, inconsistent, and couldn't keep up with the game's pace in the final 10, 15 games of the season and were outplayed by a younger and faster Hurricanes team in the first round. The breakdown led the team to rely on the play of Martin Brodeur, who held out as long as he could and ultimately ended up being the focus of blame for the team's early exit.
The past two years signaled need for change after it was clear the same group of players wasn’t getting the job done. Apparently, change was great to talk about, but when it was implemented, Devils fans lost their minds. It was hard to cope with the departures of Gionta and Madden but most fans were willing to, thinking they were going to be properly replaced. When they weren't the way fans hoped, the outcry against it seems senseless now. If Lou had replaced them by through the free agent market, odds are he would have made two or three low key signings to less than appropriate contracts. While the new faces would bring change with their arrivals, knowing Lou and his selection process, odds are the Devils wouldn't fare any better this upcoming season than they would have this recent one if that was the case, which would be the same thing the Devils have gone through since their last championship.
I'm not saying the Devils are a contender or they're in the turtle race for next year's No. 1 pick. What I'm trying to say is I like how Lou is attempting to instill youth in the team and think he should stick to the course. The Devils still have their team core and the abundance of youth gives them something they haven't experienced in years. Obviously, not every player turns into a Crosby or Ovechkin, but every player doesn't wind up being a waste of ice time and cap space. No matter how good or bad a player is proclaimed to be, you can't determine their value until they are given a legitimate chance to prove themselves. This is what the youth movement offers to the upcoming rookies on the Devils, who have the opportunity to step up and show they can play in the big league, or turn out to be a huge disappointment and hurt the cause more than help.