The New Jersey Devils Have Too Many Defensemen - Now What?

By Mark Donatiello

The New Jersey Devils were able to avoid arbitration with 25-year-old defenseman Mark Fayne, signing him to a two-year deal worth a total of 2.6 million dollars.  After a concussion-prone Bryce Salvador received over three million dollars per year through 2015, Fayne’s contract is an absolute steal.  Mark Fayne was one of the more consistent defensemen in the Devils’ rotation this year, particularly through the playoffs, and probably deserved more.  Even if Fayne is finished developing, which at age 25 is unlikely, the New Jersey Devils have yet another capable defenseman in their repertoire – and that’s the problem.

There are worse roster issues to have than an overabundance of talent on the blue line.  Still, when considering the New Jersey Devils’ apparent financial issues, having up to ten NHL-caliber defensemen seems, at the very least, wasteful.

The Devils have been relatively quiet this offseason after settling the Martin Brodeur contract fiasco and losing Zach Parise.  The biggest splashes added excessive depth to defense.  Bryce Salvador was signed to a three year deal after a solid season in the wake of a lost season to lingering concussion symptoms.  At age 36, however, signing a concussion-prone, free agent defenseman is borderline controversial, particularly for nearly $3.2 million per year.   Throw Fayne into the mix and the New Jersey Devils defensive corps is now loaded with an abundance of finely-aged mediocrity.

New Jersey Devils defensive options currently include an injury-riddled Henrik Tallinder, an inept and expensive  Anton Volchenkov, the recently signed Salvador and Fayne, Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, Peter Harrold, and Marek Zidlicky.  Additionally, promising prospects Eric Gelinas and Alexander Urbom are ready to contend for a spot in the NHL.  If I didn’t trust Lou Lamoriello so much, I’d say the Devils made a mistake by loading up on this many players that are currently average at best.

Marek Zidlicky was a key to the playoff run after the disgruntled defenseman was acquired from the Minnesota Wild.  Even at four million dollars and age 35, it’s hard to imagine Zidlicky playing anywhere but New Jersey in 2012-13.  He’s an asset on the power play and an excellent fit wit the New Jersey Devils.  Andy Greene is likely safe too, after rebounding from his miserable 2010-11 campaign.  Lamoriello has already stated Adam Larsson will be featured for heavy minutes this season.  With Mark Fayne signed to a very reasonable contract, he’s likely a lock in the top-six going forward – both because of his play and the value of his new deal.  After inking a pricey new deal, Bryce Salvador obviously fits into the New Jersey Devils’ plans moving forward.

Let’s assume the prospects, Gelinas and Urbom, aren’t ready yet. That leaves Peter Harrold, Anton Volchenkov, and Henrik Tallinder on the bubble, battling for the final spots on the NHL roster.

Peter Harrold has a one-way contract.  Watching him learn on the job through the playoffs at age 29 was painful at times, but he showed promise.  At 525,000 dollars next season, Harrold won’t clear waivers if New Jersey tries to bury him in the AHL.  For the money, he’s an excellent option to be the daily scratch.  He’s versatile enough to play bottom-line minutes at forward and cheap.  Harrold has the 7th spot locked up, barring a catastrophic drop in play between now and September.

Henrik Tallinder’s terrible blood clot issues caused him to miss almost the entirety of last season’s incredible run.  Tallinder’s injuries make him a liability.  Anton Volchenkov’s terrible play caused him to miss almost every forward streaking down the wing this postseason.  Volchenkov’s play down the stretch makes him a liability as well.  Both have huge contracts and neither has much trade value.  Both are entirely expendable, as Harrold, Gelinas and Urbom could be ready to step in.

Right now, the New Jersey Devils have the luxury of waiting to see if Tallinder is fully healthy.  He was a sound defenseman before injuries pulled him from the starting lineup.  After a disappointing postseason from Anton Volchenkov, the Devils would be quite pleased if they could dump his salary without taking a cap hit; Enter Lou Lamoriello.

Look for a trade to a team desperate for the salary cap floor.  Remember the hopeless situation the New Jersey Devils were in with Brian Rolston?  Lou Lamoriello is in the Hockey Hall of Fame for a reason.  He’ll find a way to trim the fat.  The New Jersey Devils have promising young players ready to fill in, an excess of veteran defensemen, and a few questionable contracts.  Something will be done, and it’s likely to include Henrik Tallinder or Anton Volchenkov.

I’m hoping it’s Volchenkov.

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