Monday, July 02, 2007

No Deal With The Devil?

The New Jersey Devils have enjoyed being the Atlantic Division super-power ever since their Stanley Cup run in 1995, but on Sunday that luxury may have bolted along with their top-line center and their best defenseman.

Scott Gomez was expected to bolt town, but if it were up to the Devils they definitely would have chosen a different destination. The New York Rangers paid out $51.5 million to lure the 27 year old Gomez from the team’s biggest rival.

In a separate much more unanticipated move the team failed to resign defenseman Brian Rafalski. The blue-liner has maintained his desire to stay in Jersey all spring, but the lure of a bigger pay-day was too much to resist. While Devils wouldn’t budge from their offer of four-years at $4.4 million per year the Detroit Red Wings stepped in and gave him a five-year $30 million deal to play for them. It was when the Wings lost defenseman Mathieu Schneider to the Ducks that they made Rafalski an offer he couldn’t refuse.

For Rafalski the move wasn’t simply about the money it was also the draw of moving back to hometown Detroit. "I have a lot of family there. This is the team I grew up watching and it was an opportunity I probably wouldn't have again in my career,” said Rafalski in The New Jersey Record.

The Devils aren’t expected to make much of an impact the rest of the summer. Devils President Lou Lamoriello pointed out that the contracts free agents are getting are just too much for the Devils to stomach. "We will not be involved at the numbers [being paid]," Lamoriello told The NY Post. "What we are trying to do is be fiscally responsible.” This is a move that is not unfamiliar to Devils fans, but it is a long hope to think that Brian Gionta and Patrick Elias can go it alone.

Instead of going outside of the organization for further help they will try to retool from within and look to former first-round pick Travis Zajac to have a bigger role. Last year as a rookie Zajac played in 80 games and registered 42 points, 17 goals and 25 assists. To replace Rafalski at defense the team hopes that Andy Greene, a late call-up last year appearing in 23 games, will be able to handle more ice time.

In addition to the likely insider alternatives the Devils have been rumored to be interested in Michael Nylander to replace Gomez although according to Lamoriello there is no necessity to get another center even though Gomez was a large catalyst for a team that did fail to score goals during periods of the past season.

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