Originally published April 24, 2013 at Inside Hockey.
If you thought the Devils would continue the end of their season in a downward spiral just because they didn’t make the playoffs… think again.
Doing good things and creating chances in these last few remaining games of the season… this is about pride and rebuilding confidence. For the team, they don’t have the added pressure anymore of trying to do the impossible when the cards are stacked against them. They don’t have to worry about making the playoffs. They just want to enjoy the last few games remaining in the season.
“We’re competitive people,” Steve Sullivan said after the game. “There’s a reason why we’re in the NHL. It’s the competitive nature and we hate to lose. Just because we’re not going to the post-season doesn’t mean we change the way we’re going to approach a hockey game. Tonight, we wanted to beat the Montreal Canadiens. Now, we don’t have to look at the standings, but at the end of the day, whoever comes in here, we’re going to be competitive. I want to win. It doesn’t matter what you’re playing for at the end of the day. You want to win.
“We’re competitive people by nature. You don’t get to this level and play in the National Hockey League if you don’t have an incredibly high compete level. For us, it was 60 minutes versus the Montreal Canadiens tonight, no matter what the standings say. We want to win this game, even though we’re not going to the post-season. It’s pride. It’s the competitiveness. We don’t want to lose. Most of us are like that in anything we do in life. Tonight, there’s not going to be any let down in our game, because every game we want to win and that’s not going to change until game 48.”
In their 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Devils saw a lot of what they’ve been missing this season. They were 2-4 on the power play Tuesday night. This season, the Devils have gone 27-169 on the power play. That’s a 16% success rate this season. They never generated a power play goal in 50% of the contests this season, while the other 50% of the time they were able to generate at least one goal.
The last time the Devils had a 50% or higher success rate on the power play was back on March 21st against the Carolina Hurricanes where they went 2-3 (67% success rate). After that game, they went 6-51 (12% success rate) in the next 15 games. Within those 15 games, they were 0-30 in 10 out of the 15 games. Of course, that was also the period when they lost Ilya Kovalchuk, the key point man on the power play unit, to an injury in the Carolina game on March 21st.
If anything is needed to be reviewed in the off-season it is the danger of losing a key individual on the power play unit again. If Kovalchuk were to be injured again, who could step in to fill that role? With two of the biggest power play producers entering free agency this summer (David Clarkson and Patrik Elias), the Devils need to examine how they plan to fill those roles…if they do not continue with Clarkson and Elias on their team.
According to CapGeek.com, Elias has a current cap hit of $6M, Clarkson’s cap hit is $2.67M. With the salary cap going down, could Devils players that want to remain take less money just to stay with the team like Martin Brodeur did years ago? Or should they try to get the best money and length of contract that is offered to them?
This past trade deadline should have been a warning to players…don’t try to get a huge contract with a lengthy term. It could screw you over in the end. Take Roberto Luongo, for instance, his most notable contract of 12 years/$64M has ended up hurting him. In this salary cap restricted world, an unhappy goalie doesn’t get to leave his team and go elsewhere. A cap hit of $5,333,333 is a little too much for GMs to want to be on the hook for until 2022.
For some members of the Devils squad, this could be their last go around with the Devils. With the salary cap lowering, the Devils are faced with numerous players hitting UFA and testing the market. Of those players are Elias, Marek Zidlicky, Dainius Zubrus, Clarkson, Sullivan, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Tom Kostopoulos, Cam Janssen, Steven Zalewski, Jay Leach, Chad Wiseman, Matt Corrente, Matt Anderson, Tim Sestito and Peter Harrold.
Will Lou Lamoriello be able to keep a few of these key components, especially his major generators on the power play? This unit alone produces 25% of the overall goals for the team. Or does he look elsewhere to see if he can improve the production?
“I don’t know yet,” Clarkson said of his future this summer. “I haven’t looked, obviously, at what’s ahead. I’m just trying to finish out this season then when it comes to that time, I’ll know more. As of right now, I have no idea. I’ll probably go home and spend time with the family until I know more. I really have no idea yet.”
Will he stay for less money to help the team?
“I think you always put yourself in a situation where you feel you’re going to win. It’s a tough question to answer. I think you’ve seen guys do it…[like] Marty. This was the place my daughter was born. I’ve been here a long time with Mr. Lamoriello. You can’t beat having the coach you had in junior [hockey]. I don’t know where the cards will fall. There’s no talks, so I really can’t comment on anything as of right now.”
As for Steve Sullivan, his decision to remain with the Devils or not is purely based on what his family wants to do.
“It’s been a couple years now that we’ve been living day-to-day, enjoying the ride,” Sullivan said. “We’ll reassess come end of the year and see what the best fit is for myself and my family. Obviously with four young kids and a wife, it’s definitely a family decision. We’ll see what lies ahead. There’s honestly been no discussion either way of what’s going to happen. We’ll wait and see.”
The Devils have two games remaining this season. They will host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday before heading to Madison Square Garden on Saturday to play out their final game of the season against the New York Rangers.