There is no truth to the rumor that the New Jersey Devils had extra defibrillators on hand when their players showed up for fitness testing on the first day of training camp today. But you can understand how these things get started.
When the Devils opened camp, they did so with a decidedly older bent to their roster of hopefuls. Among those who are in Devils camp this fall on tryouts are defensemen Tomas Kaberle and Mike Komisarek, center Scott Gomez, right winger Jordin Tootoo and left winger Ruslan Fedotenko. Combined number of NHL games last season: 89. Combined age: 171 years and 93 days.
If all five make the team, they could form their own line. But the funny thing is, it probably wouldn’t be the Devils oldest five-man unit. Going into this season, the Devils have a mind-boggling number of veteran players this season.
The defense corps is led by 38-year-old team captain Bryce Salvador and a pair of 31-year-olds in Andy Greene and Peter Harrold. But it’s up front where the Devils will really show their age. Led by 42-year-old freak of nature Jaromir Jagr, who will likely have the career distinction of being the youngest and oldest player in the NHL at different points in his career, the forward corps is downright ancient. Patrik Elias, Martin Havlat, Michael Ryder, Dainius Zubrus, Tuomo Ruutu, Steve Bernier, Mike Cammalleri, Ryane Clowe, Stephen Gionta are all under contract and all have or will have celebrated their 30th birthdays this season.
That group doesn’t include 37-year-old goalie Scott Clemmensen, who is on a two-way contract and could be the Devils backup this season. Nor does it include 30-year-old enforcer Cam Janssen, who is also on a two-way deal, and 31-year-old Ryan Carter, who played for the Devils last season, but comes into camp without a contract.
With that many veterans, you probably wouldn’t want to be waiting in line for the hot tub in the dressing room. No wonder they couldn’t bring 42-year-old Martin Brodeur back this season. After all, there’s only so much liniment to go around.
With the five greybeards on tryouts, GM Lou Lamoriello figures you can never have enough character in the room and there is no commitment on the Devils part. So it gives the organization a chance to see if any of them still has what it takes to contribute at the NHL level.
“They’re different individuals over the years that we’ve shown interest in or had before and they’re all different types of players,” Lamoriello said. “I’m being open-minded in having them come to camp because my feeling is they’ll either push somebody to be better or we’ll get a chance to see where they’re at. And there are no guarantees or no promises with any of them.”
Gomez, Tootoo and Komisarek all played in the NHL to varying degrees last season, while Kaberle and Fedotenko are trying to revive their NHL careers after stints in Europe last season. Kaberle played for Kladno in the Czech League, while Fedotenko Donbass Donetsk in war-torn Ukraine. The team’s building was set on fire last spring and the team had to pull out of the KHL this season after armed men seized their offices in September.
The Devils have offered these kinds of tryouts, most recently with Petr Sykora in 2011. And while there is no harm in having a host of veterans in for tryouts, it does provide an indication into how the Devils have had trouble drafting and developing their own talent in recent years. There was a time when the Devils were without peer in that department and always had young players around who could push the veterans, but it’s interesting how Lamoriello acknowledges that it’s the other way around now.
But no harm, no foul. The worst-case scenario is that none of them can play and they all quietly go home. If not, perhaps one or two catches on and makes a contribution. It would be a shock to see more than one or two have a chance to make the team, but there is a history with Gomez that goes back a long way. And Tootoo, Lamoriello said, is in good shape and brings an element of toughness that the Devils have lacked.
“They still love the game and they still have intangibles,” Lamoriello said. “And they’re still in great shape. We’ll see. You never know.”