The search for players to fill out an NHL roster is not unlike trying to finish a puzzle. Each piece is unique and fills a slot in the overall picture of the team.
Unfortunately for National Hockey League teams, only one puzzle is truly completed each season, and that team skates away with the Stanley Cup.
The New Jersey Devils — who reached the NHL finals in 2011-12 before losing to the Los Angeles Kings — are hoping they added two big pieces to their puzzle last week when they signed two free agents, both of whom have Newfoundland ties.
Ryane Clowe was the first big catch, and came after one of the Devils’ own pieces split. Rugged winger David Clarkson left the Devils the same way Clowe arrived, via free agency. And while Clowe actually signed with New Jersey before Clarkson took his skills to Toronto and the Maple Leafs, make no mistake, Clowe is replacing Clarkson.
The Fermeuse native admitted as much in an interview with The Bergen Record July 5, the day he signed a five-year deal worth $24.25 million, or $4.85 million annually. (All contract numbers are courtesy of capgeek.com.)
"They obviously lose Clarkie and reached out to me," Clowe said. "We like to play a similar style. We both try to play hard, a hard-nosed, aggressive forechecking style, power-forward style, I guess you could say."
Not much long after Clowe agreed to a deal, the Devils brought in a second Newfoundlander, signing sniper Michael Ryder to a $7 million contract over two seasons.
Ryder, who has had three 30 goal seasons in the NHL, will bring some much-needed offence to a team that has consistently struggled to up big goal numbers.
And from the sounds of things, Devils coach Peter DeBoer is excited to have both in the lineup. Even though it’s off-season, he’s admitted to tinkering with lineups, wondering where the two new players fit in the Devils puzzle.
"The life of a coach is you sit and pencil in lineups on napkins and every piece of scrap paper you’ve got around you during different points during the off-season," DeBoer told the paper.
"So, I’ve shot around a lot of different ideas, but nothing concrete and we won’t get to that point until we get to camp.
"They’re definitely guys that have proven they can score in the league. Ryder’s scored 30 before on a couple of occasions. Clowe’s had 20 on a few occasions. It’s going to be our job as coaches that those guys have the best opportunities to succeed."
Opportunity for success
Another player with an opportunity for success is Bonavista’s Adam Pardy. As mentioned here last week, Pardy is a good skater in a big body (6’4") on defence. He signed a one-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets for $600,000.
And while that is a salary reduction of $1.4 million annually from the past two years, Pardy’s signing, early in free agency, is a good sign, with the salary cap dropping for each team. Pardy joins his former junior coach, Pascal Vincent, in Winnipeg, and that level of familiarity will ease the transition for the 29-year-old.
Fans in St. John’s shouldn’t get too excited about the signing, even though Pardy spent parts of the past two seasons in the AHL. The Jets probably won’t pay him that kind of money to skate for the IceCaps. He’ll play in Winnipeg. But that’s what training camps are for, and we’ll wait and see on that one.
Meanwhile, lost in all this hoopla over signings is the fact that the fourth member of the NL free agent class of 2013 is still waiting for an offer. Well, maybe he has offers, but has yet to select one.
Dan Cleary of Harbour Grace could be leaving the Detroit Red Wings after eight seasons. With the Wings signing Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson (who will no doubt be looking for Cleary’s No. 11), Cleary could be on the way out.
He was a valuable member of the Wings Stanley Cup championship team in 2008, on the ice at the buzzer defending the lead against Pittsburgh. Now, at 34, a long-term deal may not be in the works, as the Wings face salary cap issues.
Word is they want him back. But apparently the Dallas Stars and those same Penguins have interest in the versatile two-way forward. Cleary is a guy who can take faceoffs, play well defensively, kill penalties and chip in with a few goals — he’s scored 160 in his NHL career. But he, like Pardy, will probably have to take a pay cut to stay in Detroit.
Whether he wants to move, and get millions from another franchise, is his decision.
Because he is a piece to somebody’s puzzle.