It was a very strange off-season for the followers of the Devils. Normally, Devils General Manager Lou Lamariello conducts his business very quietly, making a few under-the-radar signings that pleasantly surprise Devils fans.
This off-season, things were a little different. The spotlight was on New Jersey, with questions of whether it was worth it to re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk. After trading for the star in early February, 'Kovy' managed to score ten goals and added 17 helpers, he was a point-per-game in his 27 games as a Devils in the regular season. It would be unfair to blame the first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Kovalchuk, he scored twice and had six points in the five games.
Regardless, many wondered if Lamariello had the funds to bring him back -- and if Kovy even wanted to come back. Before the Kovalchuk contract saga dragged out, Lamariello had some other plans to take care of.
Before free-agency opened, the Devils brought back big, power-forward center, Jason Arnott. Arnott was a huge piece of Devils' teams in the early 2000's, center of the infamous A-line alongside Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora. Arnott will turn a previous weakness down the middle into a strength. With Travis Zajac, the Devils wil have two natural centers in their top six since Scott Gomez left.
On to free agency. Gone was defensemen Paul Martin, who signed with the Atlantic Division rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Although being hurt last year, Martin brough solid but unspectacular defense to the Devils' blue line over the past six years.
Long-time Devil Jay Pandolfo was bought out to save some cap space along with Andrew Peters. Rob Niedermayer signed a deal with the Buffalo Sabres. Mike Mottau and Dean McAmmond remain unsigned.
The Devils wasted no time replacing Paul Martin, bringing in punishing defensemen Anton Volchenkov. One of Paul Martin's flaws was that he wasn't very big and sometimes overpowered in the corners. the 6'1", 225-pound defensemen from Russia plays a brusing style that his been missing on the Devils defense since the days of Scott Stevens. Opposing forwards will be reminded to keep their heads up when crossing the blue line with Volchenkov on the ice.
Henrik Tallinder was also brought in bringing some stability to the New Jersey defensive corps. The long-time Buffalo Sabre spent last year paired with Calder Trophy winning (Rookie of the Year) Tyler Myers. Many suggest he was brought in to help tutor some of the younger Devils' defensemen that are looking to make the jump to the NHL this year.
New Jersey also signed the most reliable, proven back-up goalie they've had in years. Thirty-seven year-old Johan Hedberg comes to NJ and has many asking if this is the year Martin Brodeur sits 10 games? A well-rested Brodeur is something every Devils fan would love to see.
After negotiating with Kovalchuk all summer, it finally appeared that the Devils got their man when both sides agreed to a 17-year, $102 million contract. That was until the NHL deemed the contract void because it circumvented the salary cap. The NHL responded by fining the Devils $3 million, taking away next year's third-round pick in the NHL entry draft, and a first-round pick in one of the next four years (Devils get to choose which year). In the end, both sides agreed to a 15-year, $100 million contract; this time with the approval of the NHL.
The Kovalchuk signing pushed the Devils approximatley $3 million over the salary cap ($59.4 million), so the spotlight isn't off just yet. By the time the Devils break camp, that money will have to be moved. Some of the most-likely candidates are forwards Brian Rolston and Dainus Zubrus and defensemen Bryce Salvador. Stay tuned, within the next week the Devils will be very busy in their attempt to get under the cap.