Free Agent Frenzy Begins

It’s Canada Day (happy 150th to our neighbors north of the border, by the way), which can only mean one thing: free agency for the NHL kicked off today at 12 noon. The Devils made their moves and helped nudge the team a little bit further into the future.

The movement began last night when New Jersey announced that it was placing Michael Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out their contracts.

According to Chris Ryan of (whose source is CapFriendly) “Cammalleri’s buyout will carry a $1,666,667 cap hit for the next four seasons.” He was due an average of $5 million over the next two years. Smith-Pelly’s contract buyout comes with a cap hit of $175,000 in 2017-18 and $225,000 in 2018-19. He was owed $1.3 million for next year.

Cammalleri, 35 years old and coming off of a rough, injury shortened season had just 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points last year for the Devils. He also missed time due to personal reasons when his daughter was ill. He quickly landed on his feet, however, signing a one-year, $1 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings. He started his career in LA, so this will be a bit of a homecoming for him. He gets an extra year to kind of prove he still has enough left in the tank, a reprieve so to say.

That brought us to today, with the Devils having the most cap room to work with in the National Hockey League at $27,680,832.

With those subtractions came an addition: former Ranger and Maple Leaf Brian Boyle came aboard for two years at $2.55 million. Boyle, now 32 years old, had 13 goals and 12 assists for 25 points in 75 games split last season between Tampa Bay and Toronto. He has a career total of 93 goals and 76 assists for 169 points over 624 games.

But what he brings is not necessarily scoring output. He is one of the best fourth line centers in the NHL currently, giving the Devils good depth and is a great character guy. He will bring leadership to the locker room and a compete level that coach John Hynes and general manager Ray Shero desire. He should be a good mentor to many of the younger forwards that the Devils possess. He is also an excellent faceoff guy.

He was specifically brought in to Toronto last season at the trading deadline in order to add veteran leadership and playoff experience as Lou Lamoriello’s young team was making a push towards the postseason. He will be serving a similar mentoring role with the Devils in getting the (also young) team in a position to compete game in and game out.

Elsewhere on this crazy first day of free agency, the Devils lost forward Beau Bennett to the St. Louis Blues and defenseman Seth Helgeson to the New York Islanders.

One other player the Devils were supposedly in the running for, but lost out on, was Washington Capitals defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was the biggest name in this year’s free agent class. He would eventually sign with the Rangers, to the surprise of absolutely no one who has been paying attention to the New Rochelle, New York native’s desire to play for his childhood team. The Devils were rumored to have been offering seven years at $7 million per year, but I was unable to find anything to confirm that. He did take less term with New York (four years at $6.65 million) to play for his favorite team.

The only way I could have seen the Devils pry Shattenkirk from Broadway was if the Rangers really did not have the amount of interest in him that they were claiming (likely as a negotiating ploy) and they (the Devils) could play the “local area” card. But in the end, you had to know this was coming. The Rangers wanted him and he wanted to go there.

Although the Devils were never likely in the running for the talented, puck-moving power play specialist, the fact that Shero made as strong a push for him as he did is good. In the end, the Devils were just not in a position to contend yet/not as sexy an option for Shattenkirk.

But the Devils made an improvement in Boyle while the loss of Bennett for nothing is kind of disheartening. They also got younger and more hungry in parting ways with Cammalleri and Smith-Pelly. There are still trades to be made in the coming days and you have to assume that the Devils will be active there. There is also still the Ilya Kovalchuk question: is he coming back to the NHL (at this point his “wish list” of places to land has been whittled down to the Blue Jackets, Rangers and Maple Leafs) or is he staying in Russia?

Time will tell exactly what the Devils and Ray Shero have up their sleeves.

Devils Badly Outshoot Islanders, Lose Game 4-2

It was a night that witnessed the end of a legendary career and the continuation of a frustrating season. In the penultimate game of the 2016-17 NHL season for the New Jersey Devils – and the last home game – they mostly outplayed their opponents only to fall to four opportunistic goals. This win by the Isles also kept their 2017 playoff hopes alive.

But the game began on a high note. Patrik Elias, in his final skate with the only NHL team he has ever known, took to the ice by himself, getting the now-traditional treatment of a rookie and taking a couple of laps all to himself. Once warmups began, Patrik seemed most at ease. He joked with teammates, shook hands with some of the Islander players and acknowledged the huge crowd gathered to watch the pregame skate. The crowd seemed to encompass the entire lower bowl on the side of the ice that the Devils warmed up shooting at. Elias switched sticks a few times during the warmup skate, likely for memorabilia purposes.

After he exited towards the old Devils entrance near the team’s bench and not with the team down the tunnel, fans knew it was over. A great career was ended as Patrik skated off into retirement.

Prior to the game, Elias took the ceremonial first faceoff with his wife and two daughters dropping the puck and Stephen GIonta, his Devils teammate of six years, representing New York. Some of his teammates presented his family with flowers on behalf of the organization as well.

Once the festivities were over, it was time to get to the business of playing the game.

The Devils were without Devante Smith-Pelly (injury) and healthy scratches Ben Thomson and Joseph Blandisi. The Islanders were without almost an entire roster of players: Jean-Francois Berube, Casey Cizikas, Travis Hamonic, Connor Jones, Shane Prince, Ryan Strome and John Tavares (who was injured the last time these two teams got together in Brooklyn).

In goal, Long Island-native Keith Kinkaid got yet another shot at his hometown team for the Devils, as they continued to platoon the goaltenders. He made 16 saves on just 20 shots for a .800 save percentage. The Isles were right back to Jaroslav Halak, who they have been riding to try to run the table on the regular season and get into the playoffs. He made 37 saves on 39 Devils shots for a .949 save percentage.

And that was the story of the night, as the Devils came close to doubling the Islanders up on shots and still managed to lose the game.

Things seemed so far so good for the Devils in the first period. They got the chances and could not convert, but still got out unscathed at 0-0.

The Isles began their onslaught in the second period. Adam Pelech scored at 2:48 to make it 1-0 with an assist to Nikolay Kulemin. About four minutes later, at 6:23, Anders Lee scored his 32nd goal of the year from Nick Leddy and Anthony Beauvillier to make it 2-0.

The teams exploded for four combined goals in the third period. New York’s Jason Chimera scored at 3:52 from Alan Quine and Calvin de Haan.

The Devils finally got on the board at the five minute mark. Beau Bennett came out from behind the Islander net and skated to the top of the far faceoff circle. He wristed one that trickled behind Halak and went in when Halak swung his left leg behind him and inadvertently kicked the puck into the net. That goal was unassisted but credit Jacob Josefson and Stefan Noesen for getting to the net and creating havoc. It was a dirty goal, but it still counted. It was now 3-1 Islanders and the Devils seemed to be back into it.

But that was snuffed out at 8:11 when Anders Lee scored his second of the game from Josh Bailey and Leddy to make it 4-1. That came on the power play while Miles Wood was serving a hooking call that came at 7:28. Overall on the night, New York was 1-for-4 on the power play while New Jersey was 0-for-3.

Bennett would notch his second of the game with about 2.2 seconds left in the game when Wood was forechecking, forcing a turnover to Pavel Zacha. He gave to Wood, who peeled back and gave to Dalton Prout at the point. Prout fired and Bennett was there to tip it in in front of the Islander net. That was the final home goal the Devils would score this year, making it 4-2 New York. The home season ended with the drop of the puck at center ice.

A strong finish for Bennett, to be sure, but a very frustrating one for the Devils since they, as I said, nearly doubled New York in their shots on goal. But these things happen to a growing team. Hopefully they just learn from it and go from there. The Islanders, meanwhile, keep on rolling trying to make that final push to the playoffs. The Maple Leafs defeated the Penguins 5-3, for what it is worth. I am not too sure how that impacts the race for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, but it looks like this one is going to come down to the final day to decide. The Islanders have Ottawa at home tomorrow while the Leafs are home to the Blue Jackets.

As for the Devils, they end the season tomorrow at 5 PM in Detroit where they and the Red Wings are shutting down The Joe. These two once powerful teams, reduced to missing the playoffs, will play the final hockey game at Joe Louis Arena tomorrow.

There was also another quite important hockey game being played tonight in Chicago. The NCAA men’s Division 1 hockey championship, concluding the Frozen Four, between Minnesota-Duluth and Denver was taken by the number one seeded Denver, 3-2.

Devils prospect Joey Anderson had the primary assist on Alex Iafallo’s power play goal at 7:16 of the second period. But Denver’s Jarid Lukosevicius notched a hat trick in that same second period, scoring at 4:44, 5:00 and 12:23 of that frame to give Denver the win. Riley Tufte added a second goal for Minnesota-Duluth at 14:39 of the third period.

Congratulations to Denver and it’s players on their national championship and good luck to Joey Anderson in whatever comes next in his Devils career.