The New Jersey Devils started the free-agent shopping season Tuesday by re-signing forward Jay Pandolfo and defenceman Bryce Salvador.
They closed opening day by bringing back a pair of guys who got away, centres Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik.
“Brian Rolston has developed into one of the top two-way players in the game and certainly will add to our centre-ice position and also to our power play,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “Bobby is still one of the top size-strength forwards and will add size and strength to our centre ice.”
Rolston, 35, was chosen with the 11th pick of the 1991 draft by the Devils and played parts of six seasons in New Jersey – winning the Stanley Cup title in 1995. He was dealt to Colorado in 1999 and had stints with Boston and Minnesota before coming back.
Rolston fielded offers from 17 teams Tuesday after having his negotiating rights traded by the Minnesota Wild to the Tampa Bay Lightning last weekend.
He agreed to a four-year deal with US$5 million per season.
“The Devils were high on my list and I’m glad I got here and things worked out the way we wanted it,” Rolston said. “I’m very fortunate where I am in my career to have a choice like I had today, especially to play with an organization I know is second to none in the National Hockey League.”
Holik, 37, was a two-time Cup winner with the Devils before making the controversial move to sign a lucrative free-agent deal with the rival New York Rangers in 2002.
An in-your-face player known to torment goalies and opponents all over the ice, Lamoriello was happy to get Holik back on his side in the competitive Eastern Conference.
“We’re not looking at what they did in the past for us even though that played a role,” Lamoriello said. “They know how we are, they know who we are and they know what to expect.
“We are going to be happy to see him in other people’s faces.”
Holik had his contract bought out by the Rangers in 2005 and then moved to Atlanta for three seasons. He hasn’t won a playoff game since leaving the Devils.
“A lot has happened since and I am at a different point in my career,” said Holik, who signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. “What I want to do now is to be in a place that has a legitimate chance of contending.”
While they welcomed several players back, the Devils declined their option on veteran forward Sergei Brylin, who won three Stanley Cup titles and spent his first 13 NHL seasons with the club.
Just hours before bidding could begin on other teams’ free agents, the Devils came to terms with Pandolfo and fellow forwards David Clarkson and Barry Tallackson, along with sturdy defenceman Salvador – who came to New Jersey at this year’s trade deadline.
Pandolfo signed a three-year deal in which he will earn US$2.5 million per season. Salvador will be paid $2.9 million for each of the next four seasons, and Clarkson signed a two-year contract that will pay him $800,000 next season and $875,000 in the 2009-10 season.
After several discussions and much agonizing by Lamoriello, the decision was made that the Devils couldn’t afford to bring back Brylin and Pandolfo. So Pandolfo returned, and New Jersey declined the $1.52-million option it held for Brylin.
“The role that they play and the style they play with what we have to do with our offence, I don’t think we could keep both at this point,” Lamoriello said. “It was a very very difficult situation to make the decision.”
The Devils also parted ways with forward Arron Asham, who became an unrestricted free agent Tuesday, and signed prospects Matt Halischuk and Vladimir Zharkov.
Brylin, who was selected by the Devils with the 42nd pick in the 1992 draft when he was 18, had 129 goals and 308 points in 765 regular-season games. He added 15 goals and 19 assists in 109 playoff games, and was a member of Devils championship teams in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
“We need a lot of time to explain what he’s brought,” Lamoriello said. “He played the ’95 Stanley Cup game, the final game, where he was second star and then spent the next year-and-a-half in the minors. He came back and played on two other Cup teams and was an integral part.”
Pandolfo, 33, had 12 goals and 12 assists in 54 games last season, his 11th in the NHL – all with the Devils. In 706 career games, the checking forward has 90 goals and 114 assists. He had played in 307 consecutive games until a groin injury forced him to miss 28 last season.
He was a member of New Jersey’s two most recent Stanley Cup championship teams.
Salvador, 32, had no points in eight games after being acquired from St. Louis on Feb. 26 for Cam Janssen. He scored one goal in New Jersey’s first-round, five-game loss to the New York Rangers.
He has posted 16 goals and 47 assists in 455 NHL games.