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 Win Big in Columbus

The Devils have had a knack for punching above their weight this season. They defeated Minnesota when they were the overall best team in the NHL, they have beaten Washington (by a shootout) and tonight they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets – a team that at one point this season had a 16 game winning streak and currently sit second in the Metropolitan Division behind only the Capitals – by a score of 5-1. Columbus was 16-3-1 at home coming into tonight’s game in their last 20 games at Nationwide Arena.

The Devils came into the night just seven points behind the Flyers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With the win and Philly’s 1-0 overtime loss to Los Angeles earlier today (meaning they only gained one point), that deficit moves to just five points.

Some roster news to get to right away as it broke just prior to the game that the Devils had sent Vernon Fiddler to the Nashville Predators (where he began his NHL career) for a fourth round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Also, John Moore has resumed skating; he could be back as soon as Monday’s game against Buffalo or, more likely, after the five day bye week after the Buffalo game. He felt that the bye week coming up was a bad thing for him, as he will not be able to practice with the team for five days (teams on their bye cannot have any official contact with each other throughout the week) and that that would set him back.

The Devils lineup remained largely the same, save a few defensive pairings changed (Andy Greene skated with Ben Lovejoy while Damon Severson was paired with Seth Helgeson). Healthy scratches for the Devils were Devante Smith-Pelly and Karl Stollery. Sitting for Columbus were Josh Anderson, Dalton Prout and David Savard.

Between the pipes, the Devils went back to Cory Schneider and he made 31 saves on 32 Blue Jacket shots. The Jackets also went back to their number one, starting Sergei Bobrovsky, who was 25-for-29 on the night.

The Devils got off to the start that they wanted on the road, notching the first goal of the game. It came at 3:29 of the first period when Travis Zajac and Taylor Hall dug the puck out of the near corner in the Devils’ zone. Zajac headmanned to Kyle Palmieri, who fed Zajac streaking back towards the Columbus net. Zajac quickly dropped the puck to Taylor Hall, who deked around the Columbus defender and backhanded the puck glove side by Bobrovsky. It was 1-0 Devils just like that.

New Jersey knew that they could not tempt fate and take a lot of penalties against the Blue Jackets, as Columbus has the top rated power play in the NHL. Instead, it was the Jackets who went 0-for-2 with the man advantage and the Devils were 1-for-2. Columbus even had a breakdown in discipline when Brandon Dubinsky took a game misconduct at the 11:15 mark of the third period. Columbus had all of their power plays in the first period (a tripping call to Jacob Josefson and an interference call against Ben Lovejoy) and played a pretty clean game after that.

The game stayed 1-0 into the second period when Josefson scored his first of the year to double up the Devils’ lead. It came at the 1:49 mark when Josefson won the offensive zone faceoff back to Andy Greene. Greene shot and Josefson tipped the puck by Bobrovsky to make it 2-0. Almost immediately after that goal, Cory Schneider made a huge save on the Jackets’ Cam Atkinson, preserving the 2-0 lead.

The Devils’ power play goal was set up at 17:35 of the second when Boone Jenner was called for roughing, putting New Jersey on the power play. The Devils would convert when, at 18:58 of the period, Hall and Damon Severson played catch with the Jackets’ blue line. Hall passed down low to PA Parenteau in the slot. He got a shot off and Adam Henrique took a hack at the rebound. The puck popped up and Zajac batted the puck out of the air and into the net to make it 3-0 Devils.

Last night versus Calgary, the Devils took a one goal lead into the third period and could not hold on to it, eventually losing in overtime. Tonight, they had a three goal lead taken into the third period, how would they fair?

At first, it seemed, not too well. At the 19:35 mark of the period, the Blue Jackets had seemingly cut the lead to 3-1. Devils coach John Hynes immediately challenged for goalie interference. It looked like the right skate of the Columbus player in the crease had impeded Cory’s chance to make the save. The referees agreed and said that there was significant evidence that there was goalie interference. With that no goal, the Devils dodged a bullet.

The Devils’ streak of good luck seemed to be continuing when Boone Jenner was called for tripping Andy Greene and Dubinsky went off with the misconduct at 11:15 of the third. Columbus, it seemed, was getting desperate. But they stayed cool and Matt Calvert scored a shorthanded goal at 11:35 of the third from William Karlsson. It was now 3-1 Devils.

The Blue Jackets pulled Bobrovsky with 3:15 left in the third and the Devils jumped right on it, as Taylor Hall scored an empty netter from Ben Lovejoy at the 16:48 mark.

But the Devils were not done there. With 29 seconds remaining in the game, Seth Helgeson scored his first NHL goal when Adam Henrique gave to Steven Santini at the far point. He slid the puck across to Helgeson, who fired a wrist shot that beat Bobrovsky cleanly. It was 5-1 Devils and that is how it would end up.

So, the Devils head into Super Bowl Sunday having won six straight on the road. They will now fly back to Newark, enjoy the Super Bowl tomorrow and then get ready to take on the Buffalo Sabres on Monday. Buffalo is in a similar position as the Devils, so it should be a crucial two points up for grabs. Enjoy the Super Bowl, everyone and see you Monday!