With 11 pending unrestricted free agents the New Jersey Devils and GM Lou Lamoriello are set to have a lot of work to do this off-season. As I will discuss in question 5, there are also 5 restricted free agents to deal with. The questions are significantly tougher to answer when it comes to the unrestricted guys, because there isn’t a whole lot of leverage for the team to use in helping to keep the player.
After four rounds of playoffs this year, one thing was quite apparent throughout the postseason, and that was that the Devils were definately a tough team for opponents to play against. Players like Alexei Ponikarovsky used their size to win puck battles along the boards to help wear down opponents. In no series was this more clear than against the Philadelphia Flyers, where the Devils wore down and frustrated the Flyers by seemingly winning every battle and by taking advantage of created opportunities on a regular basis to generate goals. Alexei Ponikarovsky scored just one goal during the playoffs, but it was a big one, an overtime winner in Game 3 of the second round to help give the Devils a huge edge in the series.
While Ponikarovsky scored just nine points in the 24 playoff games, five of them were on game winning goals, including his OT goal and both of Adam Henrique’s OT winners. Basically, he didn’t get a point often, but when he did, it was usually a HUGE one. He is a player who plays a solid all around game, and at age 32, coming off a 1-year contract at $1.5 million, I’m sure Lamoriello would be happy to sign Ponikarovsky to a similar deal. However, my guess is he will expect a multi-year deal if he were to hit the open market.
With higher priority free agents needing to be sorted out, I can’t see the Devils signing Ponikarovsky before Sunday, which likely will lead to his departure, even if the team might have offered him something in the neighborhood of 2 years and $4 million ($2 mil per). My guess is he will get a 3-year deal for more than 2 mil per as a free agent, and even though I’d prefer his return to the Devils, I don’t expect it. Ultimately, sometimes a guy is a better player for a playoff run than to have for an entire season and I think Alexei Ponikarovsky may fall into that category. I don’t see the Devils overpaying for that.
As for Petr Sykora, he was the ultimate low risk, high reward signing by GM Lou Lamoriello before training camp. 21 goals and 23 assists later (in all 82 regular season games), Sykora was everything you could possibly ask for at the bargain price of $650,000. While he certainly isn’t the fastest skater, Sykora uses his experience to often make up for his lack of speed with good positioning and rarely gets caught defensively except when he sometimes gets outmuscled. He does not get outworked too often. His best asset is clearly his ability to shoot and he still has amazing chemistry with Patrik Elias. Assuming his salary demands are not that far off last year, I think Sykora is likely to return to a second or third line role alongside Elias.
I don’t expect Sykora to sign well into the summer and it likely will come down to how much he’s willing to sign for. If his demands are too high, the Devils and Lamoriello will likely turn elsewhere. My guess at a reasonable deal is for one year and around a million dollars, perhaps slightly less, although there may be another team out there that might offer him more.
COMING SOON: A look at the Devils’ restricted free agents
Filed Under: New Jersey Devils
About the Author: Father, Husband, Fantasy Sports junkie, Section 3 season ticket holder - NJ Devils, New Jersey Devils Writer - HockeyIndependent.com