I think it's safe to say this is the most drab time of year in hockey world. A time when news is scarce, the free agent frenzy has been reduced to leftovers, and the only thing to do is count down the days until training camp starts. Scarce news doesn't necessarily mean there's nothing to talk about because I'm sure you can point out something about each team that's be worth discussing. The Devils are no different.
Should the Devils bring back Brendan Shanahan?
Shanahan intends on returning to the NHL next year and Lou Lamoriello said he'd like to bring him back at the right price. Last year, Shanahan had 6 goals, 14 points, and was a minus 2 in 34 games, mostly playing a fourth line role and on the second power play unit. Shanahan isn't the player he was when he played for the Red Wings, but that doesn't mean he's completely worthless anymore. He hopes to sign somewhere before training camp, but will most likely be unable to play 82 games a year or maintain the role of a top 6 forward anymore.
As far as returning to New Jersey is concerned, I see the pros and cons. I think Shanahan is a serviceable player, a great leader, and can still be reliable on the power play and an asset in the playoffs. If he returns, I would like to see his role increase, possibly play him on the third line, where he could score at least 15-17 goals if he's healthy and consistent. He'd also be a good mentor for the younger players on the team. My biggest concerns are his age (40), and his ability to stay healthy throughout the season. I also think Shanahan's return halts Lou's intentions of refreshing the team through a youth movement, since Shanahan would probably take a spot away from a rookie capable of making the team. It seems just as many Devils fans want Shanahan back as there are that don't and if it were up to me, I'd rather see a rookie like Pelley, Bergfors, or Halischuk on the team instead of Shanahan if it came down to that.
What will become of Jay Pandolfo?
Some Devils fans already call him the next Sergei Brylin and are exploiting the benefits of getting him off the team. Let the numbers speak for themselves. In 61 games, Pandolfo totaled 5 goals, 10 points, and an atrocious minus 12, numbers for his first of a 3-year extension he signed last summer, averaging around $2 million per. It can be argued Pandolfo's statistical decline was a result of the offensive fore checking system Brent Sutter instilled, causing his ice time to decline and his role on the team to minimize. With John Madden gone, Pandolfo becomes a relic of the once reputable penalty kill squads of the Devils, whose PK% finished 20th in 2008-2009.
The fact Pandolfo's totals dropped this year raised a few eyebrows, but his and Madden's ineffectiveness on the penalty kill caused more concern. Their decline in 5 on 5 play was foreseeable and understandable, but that should've been virtually irrelevant to their play on the penalty kill, which many rendered them as two of the best in. For now, Pandolfo's role on the team looks unclear and it's uncertain if he'll have a reliable role or full time roster spot for that matter. If that's the case, Pandolfo, whose deemed worth contrasts greatly with his contract, which hurts his overall appeal and value to other teams, might as well be replaced by a rookie looking to crack the roster.
Should the Devils trade for Patrick Sharp?
Last I heard, the Chicago Blackhawks were experiencing huge cap problems and were trying to deal Patrick Sharp to clear cap space. Considering the situation, along with what Sharp can offer, I think this is something Lou should look into. Sharp has 3 years left on a contract paying him $3.9 million annually. He hasn't scored less than 20 goals a year in the past 3 seasons, amassing 26 goals and 44 points in 61 games this past season, scoring 9 goals on the power play. Lamoriello said he probably won't sign any unrestricted free agents this summer and said if he felt a change was needed, it would be done via trade. I think this further perfects the situation because not only would the Devils acquire a player that has the flexibility to play right wing and center, positions the Devils need on their second line, but getting Sharp enables them to add by subtracting.
Sharp's salary isn't a concern to me, considering the cap space the Devils have, but what Chicago would want in return and if the Devils have enough to get him without giving up too much is what I'd put into consideration. Although Chicago is trying to clear cap space, I doubt they'll just give Sharp away for nothing. Like Shanahan, adding Sharp taints the summer youth movement, as Sharp could take a spot away that could go to a rookie. In this case, I assume Sharp would play on the second line, which is where I think Nicalas Bergfors, who has expressed his frustrations of not making cuts the past two seasons, deserves a shot.
Since Chicago's looking to unload cap space, I doubt the Devils could use the opportunity to unload one of their gross contracts (re-unite Pandolfo and Madden), which would open another spot on the roster, but would probably be a third or fourth line role at best, which I think a player like Bergfors is more capable of handling. Bergfors would likely be in a deal that would send Sharp to Jersey, which I'd be content with, since the Devils acquire a second line right wing or center to play with Elias, but feel it defeats the purpose of Lou's youth moving summer theme. Sharp is a solid player and has become a potent scorer, so you could contradict my concerns and ask if you'd rather trade for a proven scorer that we currently lack on the second line, or take a risk on a rookie, who hasn't handled a full time role like this in the NHL?
How will attendance numbers fare this upcoming season?
Don't laugh...just hear me out...stop...stop laughing! According to espn.com, the Devils were ranked 23rd in fan attendance 2 consecutive years. While I shrug my shoulders at those numbers, I know fans of other teams laugh at them. Devils fan attendance has been the subject of jokes for rivals and haters of the Devils for years. Save their revenue stream and regular season success the Devils have amounted in the past 15-17 years, it's no new news the Devils have struggled to draw consistent crowds. In the past 10 years, their highest attendance rank was 19th in the early 00's. What makes the matter more disheartening is the Devils fail to sell out even with a new arena in a part of Newark that the city's mayor says is gradually improving in quality. As far as describing the Devil's fan base, I like to borrow the slogan from the Marine commercials. We're the few, the proud, the fans of the New Jersey Devils, a small, concentrated, but considerably content and somewhat avid assembly of hockey fans that support a successful franchise. Based on what I've seen and heard, the Devils home games have had roller coaster turnouts. Some games, there seem to be 15,000-16,000 fans in attendance (maybe that's pushing it), while on some nights, the arena barely looks half full. You'll see the occasional sellout, but it's surely nothing to brag about (In some sellout cases, more fans from the other team show up than our own fans).
I bring up attendance and hope of seeing an increase in the crowds at the Prudential Center for 2 reasons. First, from this past season to 2007-2008, there is evidence of an attendance increase. According to espn.com, the Devils averaged 15,564 in 07-08, which slightly increased to 15,790 by a whopping 1.43% (stop laughing). This recent season, the Devils had 11 sellouts, compared to the 7 or 8 during the first year the Devils played in the Prudential Center, it's an improvement. Nothing to gloat about, but its better than the Devils entertaining a half full arena 41 times a year.
The second reason is because Lamoriello announced ticket prices are going down for the 2009-2010 season. When the Prudential Center opened, Devils fans complained about the outrageous ticket prices that were some of the highest in the league and probably had the longest range between highest ticket prices and lowest home game turnouts. The fact the Devils finished 23rd in fan attendance 2 years in a row shows their numbers are somewhat consistent compared to their turnouts in the past decade. I don't think they'll sell out every home game, but I'm hoping lowering ticket prices, combined with the slight increase in sellouts and average turnouts at least raises the Devils a few notches as far as fan attendance is concerned. With the success New Jersey has amounted over the years they're more deserving of a more dedicated fan base. One could argue the Devils are in a competitive marketing area and the support they have is amazing enough, but if they do have fans, there's no excuse as to why they aren't showing up and filling up the seats of their new arena.