This season has been the best that Marek Zidlicky has had since putting on a New Jersey Devils uniform. He currently has 10 goals (his first year with double digit goals since 2008-09 with the Minnesota Wild) and 28 assists. He is on pace to play all but one game for the whole season. He has 17 powerplay points, and he has more than doubled his shooting percentage from last season. He is no doubt a crucial part of this team.
He was brought back this season on a one-year deal worth $3 million. The thought then was that he was going to be a stop gap for a year while young defensemen like Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas developed.
Both those players have shown that they are NHL ready. They have spent most of the season on the main roster and in the lineup on most nights. That would make Zidlicky expendable, right?
It is looking like the Devils have enough defensemen on the roster without signing anyone. Right now, they have Gelinas (assuming they sign his restricted free agent contract), Merrill, Adam Larsson (who is in the same position as Gelinas) Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov, Peter Harrold and Andy Greene. Barring any major injuries or trades, that gives you seven defensemen who could play on almost any team, and also Alexander Urbom, who could add a spot on the team if he comes back.
The team loves what Zidlicky brings to the team. Right now, he is still one of the best scoring defenseman in the NHL. His presence on the powerplay is the reason why the team is currently ranked eighth in the league. His importance on this team cannot be debated.
The question is, are the young kids ready to replace his production? It is one thing to be an offensive defenseman on a team that already has a great one; it is another thing to be expected to replace one of the best in the world at that skill.
It will all depend on what Lou Lamoriello thinks this team needs in the future. Depending on what their restricted free agents sign for in the offseason, the team will have $15-20 million to spend on free agents this year. They may decide to look in another direction, most likely offense, rather than bringing back Zidlicky. It will hurt at first, especially on the PP. Unless the team trades away another veteran d-man, don’t expect to see Zidlicky wearing a Devils jersey once this season ends.