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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.