The New Jersey Devils are going to end this season with 11 players on their roster.
Adam Larson will be a restricted free agent, and they aren’t going to let him go, so that makes 12. That means the Devils have to sign a lot of people this offseason. They have to find a backup for Corey Schneider if Martin Brodeur retires. They have to fill up their top lines, as there aren’t many young forwards coming through the minor league system.
They are going to have a new ownership group coming in with $20-25 million in salary cap room. They may try to make a splash in free agency or could look to make a profit with this team. Either way one thing is certain, the fourth line needs to be resigned.
I have said before what the kind of chemistry a line like this means to an entire team. They have a distinct advantage over every other team’s fourth line. If you look at only stats, you may think this line is underwhelming. Ryan Carter scored a career high in goals with six last season. Steve Bernier is considered a bust according to what people expected out of him when he was picked 16th overall in 2003. Stephen Gionta has scored five career goals.
This line is much more than goals. They have the ability to score, but what they do to opposing offenses is what keeps them ahead of other teams. Their forechecking is something you don’t see from most lines. They are perfect complements of each other, with a smaller Gionta shooting in the middle of a defense, a larger Bernier beating the other team up and Carter playing underneath with the dirty players. They keep the defense working with their puck movement. They seem to have a motor that is inhuman.
None of these players will be older than 30 by season’s end. If you skew last season’s numbers to an 82 game schedule, you will find that this line would have played well. They would have had 31 goals (Bernier 13, Carter 10, Gionta 8). The Chicago Blackhawks fourth line has Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger. They made what most considered a great fourth line, yet the two of them scored a combined seven goals. It isn’t always about what a stats sheet says. There are no words that says exactly how important these three are to the Devils.
It will inevitably be up to the new ownership as to whether we will continue to see this line in a Devils uniform beyond this season. Peter DeBoer loves the way they play, and Lou Lamoriello knows what their value is. They aren’t going to cost much either. Even if they all get raises, they are looking at an average of $1 million per season. That still would leave the team with over around $17 million in cap room (that is after adding what I think will be a $5 million per year raise for Adam Henrique) after those three deals.
The Devils are set in their defensive corps for the most part. They have plenty of talent to choose from in the minor leagues. They only will need to find a backup goaltender. Roughly, they will have $15 million to find an extra three forwards. There are no better value players in the NHL, and hopefully the new ownership group understands this.