Kevin Weekes said he's not closing the door a return to the Devils, but the 34-year-old goaltender admits that he probably won't be re-signing with the team.
"That's the way it's looking," he said today via telephone from Toronto. "You never know in pro sports, but right now that's the way it looks."
So, it appears as if Yann Danis or rookie Jeff Frazee will be the Devils' backup goaltender in 2009-10. Although Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello left the door open for Weekes to return when he signed Danis on July 10, the sides have not been able to reach an agreement and Weekes is exploring other opportunities.
"There's other opportunities, but it's also just looking at a lot of different factors," he said. "Like Lou always says, free agency is always an interesting thing. It's an inexact science. You can't always retain all of your free agents and in my case I fulfilled my obligation. I think I brought a lot of value to the role and I played my role with pride, even though I didn't get to play as much hockey as I would have liked to have played even when Marty (Brodeur) was injured.
"I still played my role with pride and I approached my job the same way and still tried to contribute all of the same things and all of the intangibles in addition to playing well when the opportunity presented itself. There are obviously other guys out there in the marketplace, a couple of other guys that are also experienced guys that I guess are backups and are considered to be character guys and add value to the position and just looking at where those guys were compensated versus where I was, there was a gap there.
"As players we all try to maximize our earnings, but also do it in a way that's fair and do it in a way that's still value to the team, especially now being in a cap environment. So, that's something that I wanted to do, but, unfortunately, they weren't able to get to that. In the end I had to stay true to what I know my value is and what I see what a lot of my comparables are earning, especially now with escrow. The salary we get on paper isn't really the salary."
Weekes believes he was underpaid as an NHL backup in making $700,000 in 2008-09 (cap hit of $688,000 over two seasons on his contract). He points to the deal that former Devil Scott Clemmensen got from Florida (three years at an average of $1.2 million per season) and Atlanta backup Johan Hedberg (cap hit of $1.087 million) as comparables.
"So, the market is already in place," he said. "You always make concessions, but at the same time there's concessions and there's knowing your market value and your price. You can only go so far. Obviously, Lou knows that and we both feel that way. There's mutual respect."
Weekes is just looking for market value for what an experienced backup goaltender should earn. Weekes went 7-5 with a 2.42 goals against average in 16 games with the Devils in 2008-09 before spraining the medial colateral ligament in his left knee on April 3 against Tampa Bay. He said he is fully recovered now and would have been healthy enough to play in the second round of the playoffs if the Devils had made it that far.
"There are other guys that are comparables, guys who don't have my experience or my numbers career-wise or last year, and those guys are making cosiderably more money and that's really what the market calls for for that role," Weekes said.
Weekes said the Devils never made a specific offer, but they apparently spoke in general terms about a contract and were not on the same page.
"We didn't really get into offers," Weekes said. "My agent and Lou obviously have spoken and we got a chance to speak ourselves -- Lou and myself -- and, unfortunately, they weren't able to come up to the number that a lot of those guys who are comparables are at. They weren't able to come up to that number and unfortunately we weren't able to come to an agreement."
Weekes still has good feelings about playing for the Devils.
"I loved being a Devil and I feel vested in the team and want to see them do as well as possible," he said. "I'm close to a lot of guys in that locker room and want to see them do as well as possible whether I'm there or not there."
At this time, there is a limited market for free agent goaltenders in the NHL. There are others, such as Martin Biron, still looking for work.
"Right now, it's a saturated goalie market and that's the tough thing about the salary cap, too," Weekes said. "At this point, are there opportunities? Sure, there are opportunities. How many of them are there relative to what fair market would be? For a signing like mine, it's not something that's going to hamstring a team financially and you're going to get a lot in return. There comes a point in being fair and being as flexible as you can to try and help with respecting your market value and your experience and what you bring to the table to.
Weekes is trying to stay patient and keeping his options -- including going to Europe - open.
"At this point, I'm just really open minded. I've been in the league for parts of 12 years and I would love to continue playing in the league if the opportunities are fair and the opportunities make sense. And if the opportunities aren't where they should be, then I'll explore other options too."
I asked Weekes if he took the signing of Yann Danis as a sign that he wouldn't be back.
"That's a good question," he said. "I wasn't sure how to take it, but I'm happy for Yann. Hopefully, he gets an opportunity. He hasn't really had many chances in the league thus far. But I didn't really know how to take it. I didn't take it one way or the other. It's a business and you can't lose sight of that as a player."