Backing Themselves into a Corner

Posted: October 12, 2010 by Realdeal in Injury, New Jersey Devils, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals
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All summer, we heard about Ilya Kovalchuk and his contract status with the New Jersey Devils.  No need to rehash, but the $100 million contract he signed ($6,666,666 cap hit by the way) forced the Devils into a precarious position.  Over the summer they had to shed some salary to make it under the cap.  They tried to make it work, but unfortunately for them, many of their expensive players have No Trade or No Movement Clauses.  So Lou Lamiorello thought, okay, let’s just play with a short roster to make it work.  The team went with 18 skaters (plus two goalies), including only 11 forwards.

Lou thought he was being slick.

It seemed like the plan might actually work until the team took the ice for their second game on Saturday night against the Capitals.  After a 7-2 shellacking, the team learned defenseman Anton Volchenkov has a broken nose, and forward Brian Rolston would be out with a lower back injury.  This of course, came after fireworks in the game, when tough guy Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond instigated a fight in the final five minutes and got an automatic one game suspension.  This forced the Devils to play Pittsburgh Monday with only 15 skaters, 3 short than a team usually ices.  Teams have played with less than 18 skaters before, most noteably Calgary, who was ravaged with injuries late in 2008-09 and played with 15 skaters for their final games.

According to the CBA, there is no reduction in the minimum skater (18) and goalie (2) requirements, except in the case of an emergency. Injuries, suspension are reasons for an emergency, but for the second game of the season?  Is this just an example of blatant cap mismanagement?  Should the Devils be punished?  Calgary wasn’t, and they played multiple games shorthanded.  There’s the precedent for leniency.

If I were in charge, I’d see wait to see where this goes.  A few games playing shorthanded is pretty rough on the players.  Anybody who’s played knows that when the opponents have more guys, they’re going to be fresher and it’s going to wear on the shorthanded team. If it turns into something that lingers all season, maybe that’s a better time to take action.  It’s unfair to the players in uniform, who are expected to do more than their counterparts, and unfair for the fans who are still playing full price for seeing three-quarters of a team.

Volchenkov is unavailable this week, and Rolston is day to day but could wind up on the LTIR after seeking a second opinion from a doctor.  If he does, that could work in their favor as they could call up multiple (!) players in his $5 million space.

So, what’s the next step for New Jersey? Well, they have waived Letourneau-Leblond and have added free agent forward Adam Mair.  But, that doesn’t help the roster situation.  Will the Devils have to waive someone to clear space for multiple lesser priced players, or will they make a trade for cap space?  How does this shape up for next year when Zach Parise is a restricted free agent and likely going to get a raise from his current $3.125 million salary?  Whatever happens, New Jersey and their cap situation is going to be something to watch for the rest of the year.


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