James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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What's ahead for Devils, Kings

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

When last week’s Daily Dose published, it seem quite likely that the Los Angeles Kings might just win their first-ever Stanley Cup that Wednesday night. To the delight of general hockey watchers and the heightened blood pressure of Kings fans, it didn’t happen that way. Instead, the New Jersey Devils became the first team to beat the Kings twice in a playoff series (yup, Los Angeles was that good) before the Kings finally power-bombed the Devils in Game 6 on Monday.




At this time, it might be wise to mourn the death – or at least the decline – of Steve Bernier’s career.


In case you were in some kind of hockey cave and missed it, Bernier was fitted with the goat horns (fair or not) in Game 6 for taking a major boarding penalty thanks to a controversial hit on Kings blueliner Rob Scuderi. The Kings’ typically unproductive power play commenced one of the most stunning cash-ins on a five-minute major that I can remember – at least in a big game. Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis collected goals to make it 3-0, totally rattled the Devils and make Bernier a miserable man. The game and series was basically done by then.


If the world was a fairer place, people would place almost as much blame at the Devils’ collective feet as many will on Bernier’s head. The wheels were clearly coming off the bus and the game essentially ended in a flash. Should a time out happened? Where was that big save or blocked shot? It’s worth noting that the usually-fantastic New Jersey penalty kill totally soiled itself in a huge situation. If you ask me, it’s perfectly fair to assume that Bernier’s blunder might result in a goal, but three? That’s as much on his team as it is on him.


Even if you do count that as a cataclysmic error on Bernier’s fault, it’s likely that the Kings would have won the Cup whether that happened or not.


People have associated Bernier with other unfortunate “goats” in sports history and he almost definitely will join guys like Scott Norwood in at least one way: he won’t be back in New Jersey. Bernier is an unrestricted free agent this summer; just as it seemed like the journeyman former first-rounder might find a home with the Devils, this happened. It’s pretty hard to imagine GM Lou Lamoriello bringing Bernier back – he’s already a marginal player, but now he has a dark mark on his legacy – so Bernier will have to struggle for an NHL job. Again.


Speaking of Lamoriello, he has a ton of big decisions to make during the next off-season or two. Let’s take a look at the choices he has to make, as it seems like there won’t be many “sure things” on the Devils roster beyond Ilya Kovalchuk.



Zach Parise – Obviously, Zach Parise’s future is the biggest question going into the 2012 off-season. In fact, Parise’s pivotal decision towers over the other choices to such a degree that it’s easy to forget that he’s not the only Devils player who needs a new contract. Still, it’s that way for a reason: Parise is an elite forward who’s versatile and extremely important to his team. That being said, considering his not-quite-as-great-as-advertised production as of late, I wonder if he’ll be worth a very high pick in fantasy. That’s especially true if he stays with New Jersey – Parise becoming the “missing piece” on another team could be kind of interesting – but I’d wait until the third round or so to grab Parise in many cases.


Martin Brodeur – For a long time, it seemed like the Devils were holding all the cards. Brodeur gained quite a bit of clout and leverage with his playoff performances, however, so it’ll be interesting to see if New Jersey ponies up. If you ask me, the sticking point might be term instead of cash. As strong as his postseason was, I still get the feeling that Brodeur’s tank is close to “empty.”


Johan Hedberg – Interestingly enough, both Devils goalies are unrestricted free agents this summer. It’s tough to imagine seeing two older netminders in New Jersey next season, but Hedberg’s quietly played well for the Devils. He’s unlikely to matter much to fantasy owners as a backup, though.


Bryce Salvador – Could he parlay a surprisingly productive postseason into a bigger paycheck? Judging by the history of teams putting far too much weight in a season of big games vs. a career’s worth of mediocre outputs, I’d say yes. Just stay away from him unless you want to throw out a shot in the dark with your first pick.


Alexei Ponikarovsky – Will his friendship with Kovalchuk help his chances of finally sticking with a team? That could happen if his asking price is reasonable, but he should be low on fantasy radars either way.


Mark Fayne (restricted) and Peter Harrold – These two fairly young defensemen won’t make a big difference in fantasy, but Lou must determine if they’re important to the future.


Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta – Hey, remember how excited everyone got about the great play by the Devils’ fourth line? Aside from Bernier, their agents must be pretty excited too. You know the drill, though; don’t be seduced by playoff mirages, especially in contract years.


Petr Sykora – Sure, he’s been a healthy scratch, but it’s amazing he even got this far with the Devils.




Patrik Elias – He’s had tough scoring luck in the playoffs, yet he had a stealthily outstanding season. He’ll almost certainly need to take a generous pay cut from his $6 million cap hit, though. Keep an eye on him as a mid-draft pick, especially if he doesn’t get a contract extension before the season begins.


Travis Zajac – One underrated reason why the Devils got this far was that Zajac finally seemed close to 100 percent after struggling to recover from off-season surgery. Something tells me that the underrated pivot would get some of Elias’ money – unless he bolts. He could be a pretty big steal if Parise stays and he lines up with one of Parise and Kovalchuk frequently next season (as one would expect).


Adam Henrique – Who knows how much more money he can earn for himself in his sophomore season? He has the feel of the kind of crafty forward who could be a solid – if unspectacular – fantasy performer for some time.


Jacob Josefson – Don’t be surprised if a healthier Josefson at least establishes himself as an NHL regular next season. Don’t waste a pick on him either, though.


David Clarkson – One of the league’s better young power forwards could fetch a nice sum if he has a strong contract year. Absolutely keep him in mind if you need a mix of PIM and goals because it seems like he keeps getting better. Imagine how much he can achieve with greed as a motivator.


Marek Zidlicky – Zidlicky is one of the only “wild cards” in a defense that’s locked up or a few more seasons. There was a time when he was one of the more reliable “depth” fantasy blueliners and he could put together nice numbers in a full season in New Jersey.


Dainius Zubrus – Zubrus is another underrated fixture in New Jersey, although I’m not sure how well that will show up statistically.




While there are plenty of other teams who will stand in their way, it’s very reasonable to say that the Kings have a bright future. Their biggest stars (Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty) are young while some of their other important pieces (Mike Richards, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter) are easily in their “prime” years. Even guys like Simon Gagne and Justin Williams probably have some magic left, although both – particularly Gagne – need to prove they can stay healthy.


Unlike the Devils, the Kings’ salary structure is set for at least this summer. The biggest question is probably if they should bring back Dustin Penner. If I was in Dean Lombardi’s shoes, I’d weigh Penner’s overall failings much more heavily than his useful postseason work.


Other Kings free agents are useful center Jarret Stoll (worth keeping at a reasonable price), Dwight King (might have priced himself out) and marginal guys like Colin Fraser.


The bigger issues are: 1) whether Lombardi wants to make the team even better this summer and 2) re-signing guys who’ll need contracts in summer 2013. The most glaring guy who needs a new deal next summer in Conn Smythe winner and Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick, who will surely get a significant raise from his ridiculous bargain cap hit of $1.8 million.


Quick’s former goalie competition and backup Jonathan Bernier also only has a year remaining on his contract. Lombardi faces an interesting situation with Bernier (who is Steve Bernier’s brother, by the way). The young goalie came into the NHL with a bucket full of hype, yet his own average work and Quick’s outstanding play cemented him as a backup.


It’s a pretty shallow goaltending market, so Lombardi could conceivably gain a nice piece or two if he trades Bernier. That being said, Lombardi shouldn’t push the panic button, either. Bernier could be useful right there in Los Angeles next season for a host of reasons: 1) if Quick’s demands are more than the Kings can stomach, 2) if Quick falters, 3) Quick gets injured or 4) it makes more sense to “sell” Bernier closer to the trade deadline.


Like just about any contender, the Kings will face some tough calls, yet Lombardi has constructed a machine that’s quite magnificent in the salary cap era.




1. Jimmy Hascup - 537.20 points

2. Corey Abbott - 276

3. Marc Lapierre - 266.80

4. Michael Finewax - 264.40

5. Jared O - 261.10

6. My team - 197.40

7. Ryan Dadoun - 162.40

8. Brian Rosenbaum - 153.70

9. Gus Katsaros - 106.70

10. Kevin Brown - 89.80


To the surprise of no one, Jimmy won it all. He almost had as many combined points as the second and third place finishers, which is stunning and – to a lesser extent – evidence that these kind of pools can get out of hand quickly. Hascup deserves serious kudos for killing it.


The races for the second and third place spots were insanely close, though. Few points separated Corey, Marc, Michael and Jared. That’s especially true with the third place spot as Marc only had 2.40 more points than Michael and 5.70 more than Jared.


After that, you have my team and the other managers who were burned by factors such as “plenty of first-round upsets” and what not. Considering the collective intelligence in this league, I honestly don’t feel too bad about a sixth place finish.


(At least Ilya Kovalchuk worked out pretty well.)




Speaking of Kovalchuk, the Devils confirmed suspicions that he “wasn’t 100 percent.” They aren’t being too forthcoming about the specifics, but it seems like he had back troubles as expected. Hopefully that was a nagging thing instead of a foreboding sign of the future … In a strange twist, the Devils decided not to give up their 2012 first-rounder – No. 29 overall – so they’ll need to give up their pick in 2013 or 2014. I guess this really is going to be a deep draft, huh? … It seems more and more likely that Alex Radulov will play in the KHL. The same could go for Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej PavelecSidney Crosby might just receive a 10-year deal that could be around $90 million. As much as I like his game, his concussion history makes that an enormous risk. (Click here for the full injury list.)

PROGRAMMING NOTE: This will be the last Dose for 2011-12. Hope you’ve enjoyed the daily-turned-weekly columns and let’s cross our fingers that next season starts in October. Thanks everyone.

James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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