UFA Options: New Jersey Devils

Jonathan Willis
June 17 2009 08:53AM

UFA Options is a continuing series that gives a brief run-down of the unrestricted free agent market this summer, team-by-team. Our next team for consideration is the New Jersey Devils .

Loophole Lou has nine unrestricted free agents to deal with this summer, although two already seem to have made a choice. Veteran grinder Bobby Holik announced he would retire back at the end of May, while Niclas Havelid is returning to Europe.

While the core is mostly locked up, a few significant names – Brian Gionta and John Madden – still need new contracts.

Brian Gionta

Gionta is one of the most obvious proofs of how a decent player can have a phenomenal season and then regress right back to where he was. In 2005-06, Gionta scored 48 goals and 89 points, largely on the back of two numbers: a career-high 16.5 SH% (his total the previous year was 12.1%, and he’s 11.3% on his career) and a career-high 291 shots (his total the previous year was 174). With 2005-06 being the sole exception, he’s scored between 20 and 25 goals each of the past five years, and that’s where his totals are going to land: between 20 and 25 goals, and 50 to 60 points.

He’s a good little player, and perfect for a second line role on most teams.

John Madden

Madden had an ugly year. Granted, he was used in a defensive role, mostly against top players and he got more defensive zone shifts than other people on his team, but he wasn’t getting run into the ground, either (only 36 more defensive than offensive zone faceoffs). He set a career low in goals (7) and matched his career low in points (23). His shooting percentage was also at a career low (5.3%) and it’s been nearly ten years since he’s taken so few shots (132).

Madden remains a faceoff ace and a defensive dynamo, and I’d expect all of his boxcar numbers to correct next season, with him again scoring between 12 and 20 goals and putting up 30 to 40 points. He’s fast, disciplined, good in the faceoff circle, and is a championship-team level third line forward.

Brendan Shanahan

Shanahan’s offensive totals took a nosedive, and despite playing a sheltered role in New Jersey he really wasn’t all that effective. One of the games all-time greats, I think the end of the line is very, very close for Shanahan; he can still provide veteran leadership, but counting on him for on-ice production would be a mistake at this point.

Mike Rupp

Rupp’s a huge forward who doesn’t mind hitting and can hold his own defensively, at least in a fourth-line role. He has virtually no offensive game (the last time he hit the 10 point mark was 2003-04), doesn’t block shots, and while he’s versatile enough to play any forward position, I frankly don’t understand why he’s still plying his trade at the NHL level. Perhaps it’s simple thankfulness for this goal from a few years ago.

Johnny Oduya

There isn’t much press for Oduya out west, but he’s been a very effective second-pairing defenseman for two seasons now. He’s more of a finesse defenseman than a physical one, although he certainly doesn’t shy away from contact. A good puck-mover who skates well and brings a decent (albeit underused) shot. He’s posted ridiculous +/- numbers in second-pairing assignments, and would be a nice addition to most bluelines.

Kevin Weekes

Lost with the emergence of Scott Clemmensen is the fact that Kevin Weekes actually put up pretty decent numbers (2.42 GAA, .920 SV%) when called upon. This was the first season where Weekes passed the .900 mark in save percentage since he was the starter for two seasons in Carolina.

Once a highly touted prospect, Weekes spent four seasons as a starter before the lockout, but he’s spent the last two seasons riding the pine behind Martin Brodeur in New Jersey. He’s a reliable backup, but it would probably be a mistake to expect more than that from him at this point.

Scott Clemmensen

I understand that Scott Clemmensen’s season is a compelling story. This is a 31-year old goaltender who has played a grand total of 28 NHL games over a seven-season professional career, a goaltender who has never played more than 50 games in any season at any level. Yet he was able to step in and keep the Devils in the playoff hunt when Martin Brodeur went down, posting a 25-13-1 record, a 2.39 GAA and .917 SV%. Despite this, he was banished to the minors when Brodeur came back.

What I don’t understand is why his name is getting bandied about as a potential starting goaltender. That shiny .917 SV% is a better number than Clemmensen has ever posted – in any league. His AHL save percentage has been consistently decent, if not spectacular: .908, .910, .902, .916, .910, .895. He’s been a #2/#3 goaltender for seven years now, and while it’s possible that he’s turned the corner, only a fool would wager his team’s success on it. The simple fact of the matter is that when there are seven seasons of evidence that he’s a reserve goaltender, and one season of evidence that he can be a starter, the only logical course of action is to go with the bulk of the evidence.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Scott
June 17 2009, 10:19AM
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Based on the group of players available, the only one I would be interested in is Madden. Might be a bit long in the tooth, but he knows how to win and is an excellent third line center, who can win face-offs. Do I think the Oilers will sign him? No....but he would be one of my choices.

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#2 TonyT
June 17 2009, 11:05AM
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I love Brian Gionta and think he'd look great on the Oilers with all that speed, however we have an abundance of 2nd line forwards right now.

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#3 Sandra Blood
June 17 2009, 11:08AM
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Good point about Clemmenson J.W.

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#4 OvenChicken8
June 17 2009, 11:16AM
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I would be interested in Madden and Clemmensen, if they would both come to Edmonton for a reasonable price that is.

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#5 Archaeologuy
June 17 2009, 11:16AM
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Madden would be a great addition to the club. I always liked him in New Jersey and he would be able to give the 3rd line the defensive presence that it needs in the centre. A guy like Madden can take almost all of the pressure away from Horcoff, which would hopefully add a lot of offense.

Clemmensen is an interesting choice in net. It would likely be more of a gamble than Tambi wants to take. I think Goaltenders are a lot like the Coach in the sense that its one of those uber important decisions for a GM. If Tambi can get the next Jonas Hiller he looks like a genius, if he gets the next Raycroft he looks goofy.

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#6 ScubaSteve
June 17 2009, 11:32AM
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I would be interested in Madden for sure, a proven winner. great in the dot and on the PK, a veteran presence. If I was targeting and 3rd line center, it would be him.

No point in looking at Clemmensen, I think JDD is just as good, and much younger, we need to upgrade the starting position and looks at players better than what we have now, not the same or worse.

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#7 Oilersordeath
June 17 2009, 11:49AM
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Just think we could of had Parise!! I forgot who we took instead anybody know?

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#8 Robert Cleave
June 17 2009, 11:50AM
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Oduya is likely the best value, although his skill set isn't exactly an Oiler need. Someone could give him a Kurt Sauer contract (which would about triple his salary) and end up with a pretty good deal, IMO. Jersey would be nuts not to resign him unless the money got crazy.

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#9 Chris
June 17 2009, 11:54AM
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@ Willis:

You and Gregor could have a nice back and forth with regards to Clemmenson vs Harding. You think it foolish to hand Clemmenson the reigns as number one; meanwhile yesterday on his show, Gregor was saying Clemmenson would likly be a better bet (based on experience) than Harding... I don't know enough about goaltenders in general to have an intelligent opinion either way.

BTW What's up with the MONSTER?

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#10 I'm a Scientist!
June 17 2009, 11:56AM
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@ Robert Cleave: I agree completely. I like the kid, but we just don't need him right now. BUT, if we get rid of Souray AND Gilbert...perhaps there IS a spot for him in our line up. Grebs and Visnovsky as first line D, Odouya and somebody else on the second line...

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#11 Jonathan Willis
June 17 2009, 12:00PM
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@ Chris:

Gustavsson seems likely to go to Toronto or Colorado.

And I wouldn't be thrilled about handing the job to Clemmensen or Harding outright; Harding's inexperienced and coming from a team that inflates goalie numbers, while Scott Clemmensen is a career #3 goaltender who got hot on a good team (although his sv% was lower than Brodeur or Weekes).

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#12 misfit
June 17 2009, 12:22PM
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Oilersordeath wrote:

Just think we could of had Parise!! I forgot who we took instead anybody know?

Nobody. We traded the pick.

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#13 Hunter
June 17 2009, 12:40PM
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@ misfit:

We traded down from the 17th pick (Parise) to 22nd and took Marc (Antoine) Pouliot. That still hurts to this day - about as much as when took Steve Kelly when the home town crowd was chanting DOAN! DOAN! back in 95. Ouch.

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#14 Antony Ta
June 17 2009, 04:13PM
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misfit wrote:

Nobody. We traded the pick.

We got a 1st and a 2nd in return... M.A. Pouliot and J.F. Jacques.

Johnny Oduya sounds like a good pickup if it wasn't for the fact he's slated for a huge raise.

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#15 RossCreek
June 18 2009, 01:29PM
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I'd take Johnny Oduya in Calgary.

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