NHL rumors continue to swirl regarding the New Jersey Devils and free agent forward Petr Sykora. Lou Lamoriello has said that he plans to bring back the 35 year old winger, but the roster has limited space for an aging forward. Unless Petr Sykora is willing to take on a lesser role as a frequent healthy scratch, there isn’t any space for Sykora on the NHL roster. He certainly doesn’t deserve a two-year contract that many have suggested.
When Petr Sykora made the roster last season as a training camp invite, it appeared to be a largely sentimental move as Sykora spent his first seven NHL seasons with the New Jersey Devils. Any production from the veteran would have been a plus. Petr Sykora then found his way into the top-six and produced, scoring 21 goals with 23 assists. He was a big part of the Devils’ success last season, but faded down the stretch. As the Devils continue to evaluate the roster, it appears the decision will come down to Petr Sykora, or promising yet maligned prospect Mattias Tedenby.
When the entire fourth line was brought back, including Stanley Cup goat Steve Bernier, it was with the obvious intention of keeping the grinders together. They provided a spark and solidified the bottom of the forwards rotation through the playoff push. With Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter playing alongside Bernier, the bottom line is solid. They proved they can play together and deserve a chance to remain together. The fourth line transition from goons to effort players with some level of legitimate hockey skill was a key to the Stanley Cup run. The Devils did indeed re-sign Cam Janssen, but that’s clearly only for New York Rangers games and not for serious fourth line minutes.
The top three lines are a bit less obvious, but eight of those nine spots appear to be clearly defined. Ilya Kovalchuk will be a huge part of the top line and may even be the next New Jersey Devils captain. Travis Zajac is back after missing most of last season due to injury. The top-line right winger spots could go to either 30-goal scorer David Clarkson or Dainus Zubrus. The second line will likely include Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias, with the remaining right winger filling out the top six.
So, the Devils have their top six forwards and their fourth line pretty much set in stone. That leaves Jacob Josefson centering a third line with new signing Bobby Butler, who Lamoriello believes has top-six potential. One spot remains, which means the Devils will need to choose between giving Tedenby his shot in the NHL and bringing back Petr Sykora.
The time has come to let Tedenby play major minutes in the NHL and develop some confidence. Of the promising group of prospects that the lost season of 2010-11 produced, Tedenby is currently the odd-man out. Nick Palmieri was integral to a deadline deal that solidified the blue line for the Stanley Cup run. Adam Henrique was one of the best rookies in hockey last year, while Josefson showed promise before injuries derailed most of his season last year. Even Mark Fayne is contributing at a consistent NHL level. Mattias Tedenby had arguably the most potential of the group before falling out of favor. He has a chance to be the last forward in the group, and deserves that opportunity.
If you had to choose, would you start Petr Sykora or Mattias Tedenby? Petr Sykora stumbled down the stretch and his moonlight serenade with the Devils, while nice, appears to be all but over. Mattias Tedenby has unlimited offensive potential and could be the spark New Jersey needs. While I appreciate everything Petr Sykora meant to the New Jersey Devils during their Stanley Cup runs over a decade ago, as well as last year’s contributions, there isn’t space for Petr Sykora on this year’s roster – if in fact there is a hockey season.
The New Jersey Devils should invite Petr Sykora to camp, let him have a chance to earn a spot on the roster, and make him fully aware that the minutes won’t be there like they were last season. There’s nothing wrong with competition within a roster and you can never have too much depth. Still, the Devils don’t need to bring in yet another mediocre forward, particularly one that is this old.
Besides, Tedenby isn’t the only roster competition for Petr Sykora – don’t forget that he also has to compete for minutes with Cam Janssen (haha).