New Jersey Devils Offseason Questions #3, 2, 1: Goaltending, Finances, Parise All in One; D-Day awaits Devils Sunday
Due to time constraints and overlapping, as well as recent developments, I think it makes sense to address the last three questions all at once. They are the goaltending situation, the financial situation and the pending UFA status of Captain Zach Parise.
The first question originally appeared to be the easiest of the three to address and that is the goaltending position. That is, until yesterday morning when it was tweeted by Darren Dreger that Martin Brodeur had hired Pat Brisson to become his agent. This is significant only because Brodeur until now had worked without an agent (with his last couple contracts) and it seemed but a formality he and GM Lou Lamoriello would agree on a new extension at terms reasonable to both sides. At a minimum, Brodeur‘s contract will likely be more costly to the Devils, since Brodeur will now have to pay an agent. The worst case scenario is almost unthinkable and that is if Martin Brodeur truly explores unrestricted free agency and signs elsewhere.
Let’s not jump the gun here and assume Brodeur will leave, but it certainly at least raises some level of doubt as to Brodeur‘s return to New Jersey. There are a lot of different reasons why Brodeur may have chosen to hire an agent, ranging from Brodeur not wanting to be distracted by the free agency process (something he’s never had to encounter before) to having some kind of dispute with GM Lou Lamoriello and/or ownership and anywhere in between.
My guess is realiy lies more towards the side of Brodeur not wanting to physically field calls from other teams and wanting to hire someone to handle “the process.”. Ultimately, I don’t foresee Brodeur leaving, but it does leave the door to swoop in and offer him the moon if he doesn’t have a deal in place by Sunday, which seems likely at this point. Fifteen years ago, everyone assume Mark Messier was a sure bet to re-sign with the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks swooped in with a three-year offer. You can’t rule out the possibility of it happening, but I still can see teams trying to “test” his loyalty to New Jersey by making substantial one or even two-year deals in upwards of 5 to 6 million per. Would Brodeur be willing to hold the Devils over the coals so to speak to get a higher contract? Its certainly possible. In the end, you have to figure Brodeur will give the Devils an opportunity to match any contract offer a team might offer to him, and it may not even require an outright match, I think Brodeur will try and give the Devils every chance he can to be signed for a reasonable contract.
Which brings us to question number two about how the ownership situation has and will impact the Devils’ off-season. Unfortunately, it has become painfully obvious it already has had a huge impact, which is certainly more than I expected. Rumors of a Canadian partner have yet to be finalized if it hasn’t died all together. Owner Jeff Vanderbeek is on the hook to repay apparently $77 million in debt on an incredibly highly leveraged asset. Unfortunately, these days and in the current world economy, there aren’t any easy answers here. Even with the potential new equity, these things do not happen very quickly in today’s marketplace, with banks requiring extra due diligence and questions requiring answers.
Reports of the Devils being unable to make loan payments have created an ugly cloud of uncertainty hovering over the team. There has even been talk of bankruptcy as well as an infusion of more than $30 million of additional income earned from the recent playoff run. Basically without access to their financial information, the current situation of the Devils is hard to determine. While I still think ultimately the team and owner Jeff Vanderbeek will work through their problems, whether it is by refinancing debt, bringing in new equity or a combination of the two, or a third option, I do expect a happy ending. However, the process will take time to work its way through and because of it, the Devils are forced to work off of a very firm budget. It has made it more difficult to sign free agents, bringing us to the number one question of the offseason and that has to do with where both Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur will play next season.
As far as Parise‘s situation seems, it appears clear all else being equal, Parise would prefer to remain a New Jersey Devil, which makes sense for a variety of reasons. He’s happy in New Jersey, they play a system designed to maximize Parise‘s skill set and he’s team captain in a locker room that gets along great. With Ilya Kovalchuk set to earn $11 million next season (and ten plus the next six seasons), it is the budget, and not the salary cap that is impacting the Devils’ ability to sign Parise. I think Parise will listen to all the offers available to him on July 1st and will come back to GM Lou Lamoriello with a number he would find acceptable to him. He is known for his loyalty and I think he’d ideally like to finish his career as a Devil, with his #9 eventually being lifted to the rafters alongside the numbers of other Devils legends. That’s the way both Zach and the Devils faithful would like it to play out, with hopefully multiple Stanley Cup titles along the way. The ball is in the hands of Devils’ ownership and management to make it happen to avoid what might become the worst day in team history. Call me naive if you like, but I still think that will ultimately happen, and both Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur will play for the New Jersey Devils next year.
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