Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rolston assigned to Albany, likely to be put on re-entry waivers soon

If the Devils' nightmare of a season has become boring on-ice, it's getting interesting off it once again after today's announcement that winger Brian Rolston would be assigned to Albany with the intention on exposing him to re-entry waivers. Once Rolston reports to Albany he can be placed on re-entry waivers starting tomorrow at noon. If Rolston is claimed on re-entry, it would allow the team taking him to only be responsible for half the cap hit and salary on the 37-year old's $5,062,000 contract for the remainder of this season and next year.

Clearly his on-ice production this season (two goals, three assists and a -12 in 21 games) didn't merit anyone taking him off the initial waivers but perhaps someone will take a flyer on a former 30-goal scorer at half the price. If not, then the Devils have a decision to make - either keep him off the team and banish him to Albany or put him back on the Devils' roster. Either way, the Devils would be responsible for the full cap hit since Rolston signed his contract at the age of 35+.

Personally I wouldn't mind just leaving him in Albany for the year and trying to trade him as an expiring contract this offseason to a team like the Islanders that might need his salary to get above the floor, especially since with the uncertainty over Bryce Salvador ever returning and the latest setback on Zach Parise (he won't be skating until early March) it doesn't seem like the Devils even need to make a move to get under the cap this year at all. That said, I can understand just ending the Rolston saga now and Lou not wanting to send a two-time Devil to the minors outright. Having an additional $2.5 million of dead cap space next year isn't ideal but with the cap increasing and salaries coming off the books it can be managed, assuming Rolston does eventually get claimed.

Speaking of the Islanders, perhaps a strong clue to Rolston's next destination came today when the Isles traded defenseman James Wisniewski to the Canadiens for second and fifth-round picks. They're gonna need to replace his $3.125 million salary just to stay above the cap floor so anyone can predict the next logical step, especially with the Isles being first on the waiver claim list among the other 29 NHL teams.

Replacing Rolston in the lineup is a familiar face - Vladimir Zharkov - who was a Devil for some forty games last year and earned the distinction of doing all the 'little' things right (forechecking, backchecking, drawing penalties) except putting the puck in the net, which he still hasn't done in his NHL career. The young Russian is clearly a Jacques Lemaire favorite though since for some reason he was banished in Albany as career minor-leaguers like Stephen Gionta and Tim Sestito were called up before him by prior coach John MacLean, but after two games in Lemaire's return behind the bench 'Zharky' is back too.

Also, some contreversy was caused by the league's decision to play Sunday night's home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs (another desultory 4-1 loss) despite a blinding snowstorm that paralyzed the East Coast for two days - even shutting down a football game in Philadelphia! Various reports have anywhere from 2500 to 3000 fans braving the weather Sunday night and showing up for another dreadful loss where the Devils fell behind 3-0 by the end of the second period against the 28th place team in the NHL, one game after losing 5-1 to the 29th place team. Officially the attendance was listed as 5500, but who really knows.

I'm surprised it was even that high to be honest. I wasn't one of the crazy souls that risked life, limb and NJ Transit delays to show up to a Sunday night game between two last-place teams. Not when this storm was big enough to cause the entire state to shut down the next day. Even the players had a hard time getting out of the arena that night, with the Leafs' team bus getting stuck on the road, not to mention Devils Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac literally having to spend the night in Elias's car when they got stuck on 280 West. Fellow Devils Rod Pelley and Jason Arnott managed to get home really late at night - 2:30 for Pelley (who also helped other stranded motorists on the road Sunday night) and 4 AM for Arnott. A bemused Zajac had this to say about his strange night:

“This wouldn’t have happened in Winnipeg,” said Zajac, a Winnipeg native. “The entire state doesn’t shut down because of a little snow. We kind of got stuck a little bit. (Route) 280 got shut down and we were stuck in the middle of it when it happened. So, it was something where we couldn’t go anywhere and just slept in the car until 7 (a.m.).”

I understand why the game was played, NHL rules state that if both teams are in town on gameday then the game must go on but in the future maybe that rule should be amended a little, at least when you're dealing with a night game and all the potential problems that could ensue from train delays and road closings. I mean how much of an inconvenience can it really be to reschedule a December game with all of the off days built into the NHL season? Baseball has to reschedule dozens of games a year with far fewer off days to work with.

Then again, the NFL and Eagles got made fun of by mayor Ed Rendell for moving their Sunday night game to Tuesday, in part because of fan safety concerns. So maybe you can't win either way but there's got to be some way to have better safeguards in for the fans, players and arena workers. Particularly the latter two groups since they have to be there, fans really don't - they have a choice to not deal with the weather.

To their credit at least the Devils allowed the fans who were in attendance to sit in the lower bowl from early in the second period on, and also gave everyone with tickets - whether they were there or not - the option to exchange them for freebees to a future game this month (either next Tuesday or Sunday when we play the Wild and Lightning or on the 23rd against the Panthers). Even if that isn't particularly useful to season ticket holders who already have tickets it's more than they offered last year for a snowstorm against the Flyers, when you only got discounted prices to one of three upcoming games.

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