The New Jersey Devils have given the hockey world no shortage of things to talk about over the last few months.
The most recent topic of conversation is the cap-strapped team’s decision to dress only 17 players against Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon—a move that comes with plenty of interesting questions about the salary cap.
NHL teams are supposed to ice lineups with 20 players, including goaltenders. Injuries to Brian Rolston and Anton Volchenkov, and a one-game suspension to Pierre Luc Letourneau-Leblond accounted for New Jersey’s missing players.
Under normal circumstances, a team would probably have called up some replacements from the American Hockey League. But the Devils didn’t have room under the US$59.4 million salary cap to add anyone else to their roster.
As a result, they sent out just 15 skaters and two goaltenders for a 3-1 loss to the Penguins. The NHL allowed it to happen because the situation constituted an “emergency”—at least as it’s applied to clause 16.4 (b) of the CBA: “Except in case of emergency, there shall be no reduction of the required minimum playing rosters of the clubs, below eighteen (18) skaters and two (2) goaltenders.”
Fair enough. But what now?
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told reporters in New Jersey that the team will dress 18 players for its game in Buffalo on Wednesday, including newly signed forward Adam Mair.
Some in the hockey world are suggesting that this essentially amounts to circumvention of the salary cap—something the Devils were penalized for in the Ilya Kovalchuk negotiations—because they are avoiding making a tough roster decision by going short-staffed. Others point to the fact that teams have been allowed to employ the tactic in the past, including the Calgary Flames in 2009 and the Devils themselves in 2007.
The key question to consider is at what point the Devils situation ceases to be an emergency rather than regular practice? At least for now, it passes muster.
“At this point in time, we believe that New Jersey’s decisions vis-a-vis its roster and gameday lineup have been compliant with the team’s obligations under the CBA,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday.
The NHL Players’ Association isn’t objecting either. A spokesman said Tuesday that the union would have no official comment until its lawyers conduct a review.
In the meantime, the Devils have plenty to worry about on the ice. They’ve gone winless through their opening three games and won’t want to fall into a hole any bigger than that.
As a result, they find themselves well down the list on our season-opening ranking of NHL teams:
1. Detroit (2-0-1): Ho-hum, another solid start in the Motor City. Not only did Mike Modano score in his debut with the Wings, the team managed to beat Chicago the night the Blackhawks raised their championship banner.
2. Washington (2-1-0): The Capitals will be a force to be reckoned with once again. Don’t be surprised if rookie defenceman John Carlson puts himself in the conversation for the Calder Trophy.
3. Philadelphia (2-0-1): For now, Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky seems to be the answer in goal. Last year’s Stanley Cup finalists appear headed for another season where the goalie carousel will be spinning.
4. Edmonton (2-0-0): There’s been a breath of fresh air in the Alberta capital. After a solid pre-season, the kids carried their fine play into the regular season. Reality is bound to set in at some point, but until then, good on them.
5. Toronto (2-0-0): A charmed start for a team that didn’t win its second game until Nov. 6 last season. With two goals, journeyman Tim Brent has been a welcome addition to the lineup.
6. St. Louis (2-0-0): Jaroslav Halak has got off to a winning start—something that is particularly important for a team that stumbled early last year. They’ve really been spreading the scoring around so far.
7. Carolina (2-0-0): Teenager Jeff Skinner has officially earned a spot in the NHL after two good games in Helsinki. Most importantly, goaltender Cam Ward looks to be on his game to start the season.
8. Dallas (2-0-0): We won’t let Mike Ribeiro’s arrest for public intoxication overshadow a fine start to the year. In fact, the former Habs forward had the shootout winner in one of the team’s victories.
9. Colorado (2-1-0): No early signs of a sophomore slump for the surprising young playoff squad of a year ago. Watch out for forward David Jones, who had three points in a win over Detroit and looks ready for a breakout year.
10. Vancouver (1-0-1): The Sedin twins look poised to put together another solid season. Vancouver hits the road this week for a mini trip through California.
11. Chicago (1-1-1): A healthy Marian Hossa will be very important to the defending Stanley Cup champions. Fellow Slovak Tomas Kopecky has been seeing a lot of prime-time minutes for the new-look Blackhawks.
12. San Jose (1-0-1): This is Joe Thornton’s team now. The Sharks continue to do the same thing they’ve been doing since their new captain arrived in California a couple years back—win.
13. N.Y. Islanders (1-0-1): With 30 goals, Matt Moulson was a revelation a year ago. He looks ready to keep it with two in as many games this season—and he’ll donate $500 to the Islanders children’s charity for each one he scores.
14. Nashville (1-0-0): The Shea Weber Era is off to a good start. The Predators remain undefeated with their new captain—although it’s only through one game.
15. Calgary (1-1-0): A perfect pre-season quickly gave way to panic after an opening-night loss in Edmonton. Relax, Flames fans—everything appears on track now.
16. Tampa Bay (1-0-0): New coach Guy Boucher has had all kinds of practice time with his team only playing one game so far. It will be an interesting test for both Boucher and the Lightning when they visit Montreal on Wednesday.
17. Phoenix (1-1-0): They got a split with the Bruins in Prague and endured a long flight home. Phoenix gets back to work this weekend.
18. Boston (1-1-0): Tyler Seguin scored a highlight-reel goal as the Bruins opened their season overseas. The rookie could be an important offensive weapon for a team that struggled offensively last year.
19. Montreal (1-1-0): Many will be watching to see what kind of reaction Carey Price gets in Wednesday’s home opener. The goaltender enters the season with seemingly little margin for error from the team’s rabid fanbase.
20. Atlanta (1-1-0): Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief now that it looks like goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is fine after collapsing in his crease. But how will they fare without their No. 1 goaltender in the lineup?
21. Columbus (1-1-0): The week between games was made more enjoyable by the fact they salvaged one win in Sweden. The schedule will get busier now that they’ve returned to North America.
22. N.Y. Rangers (1-1-0): A great win in Buffalo to open the season, a tough loss to the Islanders in Game 2. This is still a work in progress.
23. Los Angeles (1-1-0): A popular pre-season pick as a team on the rise. How will this group handle its first year with real expectations?
24. Pittsburgh (1-2-0): The loss of Jordan Staal is being felt by the Penguins. Despite having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they’ve looked pretty punchless offensively and are now dealing with the loss of defenceman Zbynek Michalek.
25. Buffalo (1-2-0): It’s been a bit of a rough ride so far in Buffalo. Even though Derek Roy started the season on fire, the Sabres are facing life without productive forward Jason Pominville after he was hit from behind and taken off the ice on a stretcher.
26. Minnesota (0-1-1): Rumours persist that second-year coach Todd Richards is on the hot seat. There’s no better time than the present to get in the win column.
27. Ottawa (0-2-1): A quick review of coach Cory Clouston’s complaints offer a window into the season so far. On separate occasions, he’s said the team was completely outworked, questioned defenceman Erik Karlsson’s decision-making and suggested goalie Pascal Leclaire looked weak on an overtime goal.
28. New Jersey (0-2-1): No shortage of storylines here. Ilya Kovalchuk hasn’t scored since signing his $100-million deal, some have suggested goalie Martin Brodeur is on the decline and no one can be sure how many players will be in uniform for each game.
29. Florida (0-2-0): It’s been a rough start to the season in Western Canada. Despite playing close games in Edmonton and Vancouver, the Panthers find themselves without a point in the standings.
30. Anaheim (0-3-0): Outscored 13-2 so far, the Ducks have yet to get any points from highly paid forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry or Bobby Ryan. And that’s not the biggest concern of all—the depleted blue-line has made life tough on No. 1 goalie Jonas Hiller.