Well that escalated quickly.
Day One of Free Agent Frenzy was maddening for sure. NHL general managers were not afraid to dish out the big bucks for their desired players. Even a big trade reminded us of how crazy this time of the year can get. (Seriously who is still shocked Bobby Ryan is now in Ottawa?)
For Lou Lamoriello and the Devils, they had a list of what holes they had to fill this off-season. First, they obtained the heir to Martin Brodeur by trading for Cory Schneider. Next, they resigned veteran Patrick Elias & Dainus Zubrus, Andrei Loktionov and Peter Harold. Today, they filled the last few needs at forward: power-forward Ryan Clowe, sniper Michael Ryder, and depth player Rostislav Olesz.
Sadly, Devils Army had to say good-bye to some of their own. Johan Hedberg was the unfortunate victim of the Schneider deal. Lamoriello was unable to trade him, forcing him to use one of his compliance buyouts on him this week. The Devils GM still says he would like to bring back defenseman Marek Zidlicky. We’ll have to wait and see, but with the limited cap space and need to re-sign the restricted free agents like Adam Henrique, it’s unlikely the veteran blueliner will return. Meanwhile, Lamoriello turned the page on David Clarkson after his agent turned down the teams offer at the NHL Draft. His presence on and off the ice will be missed, but he wanted to play for his home team in Toronto (now where have we heard that reasoning before?)
Here’s a look at the Devils acquisitions from the first day of Free Agency:
Ryan Clowe – signed for five years, $24.25 Million ($4.85 cap hit)
The Devils were kicking the tires as soon as the talking period opened up with impending free agents. Ryan Clowe’s name was one of the first hinted at. I said before the lockout shortened season, the Devils should try to add his size and complementary play to the forwards corp. It turns out they were interested at the trade deadline but the New York Rangers beat them to it.
But now he’ll wear the red and black jersey for the next five years.
The 6’2, 225 pound winger fits into Peter DeBoer’s possession game. He uses his size in both ends of the ice, go to the scrappy areas of the ice to win the puck or annoy the opposition, and can set up his teammates. Clowe can also put the biscuit in the basket. Prior to the 2012-2013 season, Clowe was a 50-point player in San Jose. He averaged around 20 goals and 30 assists from 2008-2012. His best season came in 2010-2011 when he notched 24 goals and 38 assists for 62 points.
Staying healthy will be his biggest challenge. He suffered three concussions last season; ironically the same amount of goals he scored in 48 games this past season. He never looked comfortable in-between his sideline stints. After the season, Clowe underwent exams to make sure he would return to 100%. The Devils also viewed his medial report to confirm he was fully healthy before they signed him. Fans won’t soon forget his poor production this past year. Along with health, Clowe suffered through some terrible shooting. I doubt we’ll see the 3.4% shooter from last season, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
In all, Lamoriello had to act to replace Clarkson. He did overpay for him, but given the competition for the free agent, along with the need to add a power forward, it’s understandable. If he can stay healthy, Clowe should provide a physical presence that can make plays from his San Jose days.
Michael Ryder- signed for two years, $7 Million ($3.5 cap hit)
It was no secret Lou Lamoriello was searching for a top-six forward. While Clowe can fill that role, the team needed a scoring punch.
Enter Michael Ryder on a two year, $7 million deal.
The ten year veteran split the 2012-2013 season between Dallas and Montreal, amassing 16 goals and 19 assists. With the Canadians he put up 21 points in 27 games with Montreal last season. The 33-year old has a good track record of scoring. The best trait about Ryder is that he finishes his opportunities. Not only is he talented with the puck, but he finds the seams to score.
He’s not the best defensively, which may explain why he’s bounced between Dallas, Boston and Montreal so many times. But on a team with plenty of defensive minded forwards, those gaps in his game could be covered. Plus, it helps New Jersey that he is a right handed shooter that plays on right wing, something the team lacks in both. If or when he is on the first line, it means Ilya Kovalchuk can go back to his natural position on the left wing.
Rostislav Olesz- signed for one year, $1 Million
A victim from the Chicago post-cup purge, resulting in a compliance buyout, New Jersey signed Rostislav Olesz to a one year deal. He is a low risk depth player that fits the typical Devils forward itinerary: solid two-way hockey, size, and versatility. The 6’2, 215 pound Czech Republic native scored 19 points in 14 games with AHL Rockford this past season. He was recovering from a series knee injury from the year before. In 2011-2012, Olesz notched 17 goals and 24 assists in 50 games in Rockford. He was drafted in the first round by the Florida Panthers. He’s played under DeBoer, so he might fit in nicely with fellow Florida castaways Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. It’s also worth mentioning he was on the 2006 Czech team with Patrick Elias that won the Bronze Medal at the Winter Olympics.
It looks like Olesz will get a fresh start. He’s young (27 years old) but is running out of time to find his potential. Remember, Bernier found success when the Devils picked him up after years of toiling away with the Panthers. The same could happen for Olesz. For now, he’ll provide some good minutes on the third/fourth line.
About the Author: Sports Reporter by day, puck stopper between the pipes at night. I was the Locker Room Reporter for the Islanders for WRHU-FM. Currently, I cover the New Jersey Devils on HockeyIndependent.com and Metro Area Hockey on BrooklynFans.com Follow me on Twitter @John_A_Iadevaia