Organic vs Inorganic Growth

The Hockey News has a great video interview with Mike Cammalleri, newest Canadien and likely linemate of Gionta and Gomez. He addresses his performance in Calgary as a function of having Iginla on his line, what life will be like on the under-six-foot line, and how the Canadiens will find their identity. The Habs are a different team this year, growing inorganically: Gainey went shopping and brought home a mole of free agents.

Closer to home, the Devils haven’t done much on the buying front. They’re going to (have to) grow organically, based on player development and draft picks. Tom Guilitti rates the Devils prospects at this summer’s rookie camp, and I get the feeling that it might take a season or two for this strategy to pay off. Signing Zajac to a 4-year deal was a strong step; rather than having to negotiate again in a season or two (arbitration decisions cover at most two years), he’s locked up in the middle for the near term. But I still have questions about who will be skating with Elias, and who’s minding the blueline.

But I’ll also go out on a limb: I don’t think the Devils have signed any spectacular free agents this decade. They’ve made some outstanding trades: Lagenbrunner, Friesen, and Mogilny (back in 2000; he was instrumental in winning the Cup that year). Have trades become passe due to the salary cap, since GMs are forced to discount the skills they’ll receive by current and future costs of keeping those players? If so, the smarter move is to remain well under the cap at the beginning of the season, and pick up single piece parts along the way as the value equation changes. Again, I think of the Mogilny trade in 2000.

I’ll go even further: it’s hard to find evidence of big free agent signings radically changing a team’s trajectory over the course of an entire season. One or two players may add a critical leadership or skill element – Sergei Gonchar in Pittsburgh or Cammalleri in Calgary last season. But look at Gomez in New York, or even Briere in Philadelphia – success on those teams was driven more by goaltending and young prospects than by marquee players picked up on the open market. Any free agent signing has to first pass the financial sniff test, but more important is the smell of the resulting team chemistry. Ask your neighborhood beaker-head: bad inorganic chemistry really stinks (think rotten eggs).