Dealing With The Devils: Tipping The Cap

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Ilya Kovalchuk

Ilya Kovalchuk (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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By Max Herman

Go ahead and exhale hockey fans. The Ilya Kovalchuk melodrama finally has its happy ending. The Devils got their man and the NHL made great strides in preventing teams from being able to circumvent the salary cap in future contract negotiations. But Lou Lamoriello and company can hardly kick back and relax for the rest of the offseason. There is still much work to be done. Namely getting under the $59.4M salary cap which they are currently exceeding by about $3.5M. Oh yeah, and they still need to sign two more players to fill out their roster…

Let’s start with the latter issue simply because it’s the easier problem to solve. Now the idea here is not to spend too much extra money on these roster spots so as to be able to avoid having to dump a massive amount of money to get under the cap…

Defenseman Mike Mottau cost $775K against the cap last year and likely figures to have a similar cap hit if re-signed this year. The Devils could use some cheap blue-line help with Martin Skoula’s departure to Europe, so bringing Mottau back makes a ton of sense, especially given his contributions to the team last season…

As for the other roster spot, I think it’s time to see some new blood. I would love to see a guy like Matthew Corrente or Mattias Tedenby have a great training camp and win a job. If nothing else, they’d be cheap labor…

So by the time the Devils have filled their roster, they will likely be looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $5M in cap room that they need to clear. There are a few ways to do this…

You will likely see the Devils place a few guys on the waiver wire. If a player clears waivers, the Devs can hide their salaries in the AHL and not have it factor into the big club’s finances. Rob Davison, Vladimir Zharkov, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond are all candidates for such a move…

But the easiest way to shed millions of dollars in cap room is to trade guys who are making serious money. There have been a lot of reports in the last week that have suggested that 25-year-old first-line center Travis Zajac could be available in such a deal. But it would be absolutely foolish to trade a guy whose career is just beginning to blossom now, especially when his cap hit is a bargain at less than $3.9M, and will stay that way through the 2012-2013 season…

Ideally, the Devils would love to be able to get Brian Rolston to waive his no-trade clause so they could ship his $5M dollar cap hit out of Jersey. If it were to work out, that one move could be enough to get the team under the cap. But I’m not so sure teams will be lining up to pay that kind of money to a guy like Rolston who is signed through 2011-2012, which means he’ll be 39 at the end of the deal…

There are a few scenarios that are more likely…

- Dainus Zubrus and Bryce Salvador are traded. Their combined cap hit adds up to $6.3M and both can be considered expendable after the signings of Kovalchuk, Anton Volchenkov, and Henrik Tallinder. Both are proven veterans with considerable value, although I’d argue both are getting paid more money than what their value would be on the open market.

- Patrik Elias agrees to waive his no-trade clause and his $6M cap hit gets shipped off with him. It’s hard to imagine Patrik wearing another uniform, but the Devils are already loaded offensively and I’m certain there is a team out there who would be willing to pay him the money. If it’s a team where Elias thinks he can compete for a Stanley Cup, he might bite, and in the process the Devils would get younger.

So even though Kovalchuk might be signed, don’t close your Twitter feeds just yet Devils’ fans. Jersey’s Team figures to make NHL headlines at least one or two more times before this wacky offseason comes to a close. Then we can finally start talking about hockey instead of accounting. I think we’re all looking forward to that…

Follow Max on Twitter @MaxH_WFAN

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