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What's Next In New Jersey?

May 6, 2007 – 8:48 PM
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Jon

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The body may still be warm (if it ever was in the first place), but there's no time like the present to speculate as to what the future holds for one of the National Hockey League Playoffs' most recently-vanquished teams, the New Jersey Devils. Personnel decisions on the ice and behind the bench (not to mention a move to a new arena) will be the focal point of this coming summer in the swamp, and Devil Dictator Lou Lamoriello will undoubtedly be busy on both fronts first thing Monday morning.

On the ice, the Devils have two notable unrestricted free agents, center Scott Gomez and defenseman Brian Rafalski (both of whom were members of the 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cup Championship teams in Jersey), and probably not enough money to re-sign both -- the Devils already have well over $30 million of salary committed for next year, and that doesn't include re-signing restricted free agents like breakout sophomore Zach Parise and blueliner Paul Martin (in fact, that number doesn't include much past Martin Brodeur, a half-dozen or so forwards and a pair of defensemen).

Of the two big name UFAs, Rafalski is the more likely to return, though he would be one of the most sought-after two-way defensemen on the market come July 1, despite a relatively poor post-season. Gomez is all but gone, as play-making pivots look to be in ultra-high demand this summer. A team like Washington could make the Alaska native very rich, very soon.
But while Lamoriello is worrying about signing players and coming up with creative ways to find the cap room to do so, he'll also be trying to convince someone to replace him as the team's head coach (and after the job security he's been known to provide for the position, I wish him the best of luck with that).

Speculation is that assistant coach and fellow follicly-challenged madman John MacLean is the front-runner for the job, but other name mentioned for the job include former Devils coach Pat Burns and former Flames and Blue Jackets bench boss Dave King. In other words, you'd have to either be dying for your first head coaching job (MacLean), have health issues that make finding work elsewhere unlikely (Burns) or have been coaching in Germany and Russia for the past four years (King) to even consider working for Lamoriello at this point. Sounds about right to me.

The Devils won a franchise-record 49 games this year, so don't cry too many tears for them. With youngsters like Parise, Travis Zajac, Martin and others, there's no reason to think that with a little tweaking here and a little rule-bending there, Lamoriello won't have his team right back in the playoffs next year. The real questions are who's going to get them there and what will they do once there.
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