It's not a debate though. You have NO idea whether Lou waits until 2 seconds before FA to talk to his players, we DO, however, know that he has talked to them before that and he's managed to not really lose THAT many big names that went to UFA. People here whine about losing this guy, that guy, but it's bullsh!t. Who did we lose? Niedermayer, Parise, Rafalski, maybe you throw Paul Martin in there in the past 10 years? Who of them did we really think we were keeping? Niedermayer wasn't staying, I'm glad we didn't match MIN's contract and Rafalski and Paul Martin were guys we were willing to give up because of the price they would have cost to keep them. I don't see this Lou lost players because he doesn't talk to players before June 30th. I'd love to hear some examples though....
People bring up lou letting UFAs go that were good before they left and they always reference 5-7 guys:
mogilny was the first when he went to toronto. i don't recall what has come out since that. I know everyone wanted mogilny to be retained and i think there was mutual interest there but the leafs offer was higher than lou wanted to go and, it turned out to be the right decision.
holik was not signing with the devils - he had decided that out of spite after his sour arbitration hearing the year before. HOI can speak to this a little more, but in a book called Money Players, that looked at UFAs in Hockey History, there was a specific chapter on Holik where he knew the Rangers wanted him and he demanded the ludicrous contract he got even though the Rangers didn't want to give him that much.
neidermayer left to play with his brother. lou did all that was possible to keep him between trying to trade for Rob earlier in his career and then offering the max contract. no amount of earlier negotiations were going to change anything.
gomez might have signed for less than he got as a UFA a season before but lou chose not to do that. once that ship sailed, gomez was going to the highest bidder and lou is never the highest bidder in these type of negotiations (that's not to say that he's never the highest bidder period - he was absolutely on volchenkov, tallinder and zubrus. kovalchuk was a JVB signing).
martin had enough of NJ - lou negotiated with him before UFA and martin has essentially said as much.
parise's adventures have been discussed ad nauseum. you could say that he could've signed him to a rich deal that just wasn't as rich as minny's the previous two summers but i think the ownership financial situation and parise's knee injury conspired to make that not happen.
which leaves rafalski. this is the ONE signing where I question how lou handled it from what we know. everyone simply assumed (media, rafalski, etc) that he would re-sign with the devils. it was in print everywhere. rafalski said it was where he wanted to stay and all the rest. again, go back and look at the board - it was just 100% assumed he'd stay and it was a question of whether it would be 4/16 or reach to 5/25 and people seeing who the devils might have to get rid of to fit that in. but then he got to UFA and detroit blew them away with a 5/30 deal that nobody could believe and like that he was gone. that's the one where i think lou totally misjudged the market and tried to low ball without the facts.
You can't replace a player like Scott Gomez in free agency unless you're incredibly lucky. Brent Sutter had no clue how to use Zubrus - it wasn't until he left that he started to flourish. I think a third line of Zubrus-Josefson-Clarkson could be quite good - wouldn't stay together long, injuries and so forth, but it'd be a hard line to play against.
if clarkson is retained, it's going to be at least 5/25 and that kind of salary doesn't play "3rd line". now the devils don't quite work that way in that their 3rd line usually gets 14m of ES time and clarkson will get 2+ minutes of PP time a game but if you have that, you're left with theoretical top two lines of:
now, clarkson would seem to me to be the 2nd line RW and henrique is w/ JJ and Zubrus but it still means the devils need another top 6 winger.