The Devils are ready for one of the NHL’s spiciest offseasons
The Devils expected more from the 2021-22 season. Although their season was derailed because of the goalkeeper, that wasn’t the only flaw that held them back.
Now is the time to improve.
New Jersey has a long checklist. The team must supplement the rest of the coaching staff with new voices to replace Alain Nassredine and Mark Recchi. The goalkeeper must be tackled. And there must be changes made to the list in front of the blue paint.
The Devils’ advantage this summer is the number of assets they have to work with, whether it’s draft picks, prospects, NHL players to return, Where plug space. And that gives them a great opportunity to be one of the most aggressive teams this offseason.
New Jersey has its own picks in Rounds 1-4, six and seven. The Devils have a pick in the fifth, from Columbus, plus two additional quarterbacks (from the Oilers and Islanders). And management has retained all of the team’s picks in 2023 and 2024 so far. But most notable is this first round this year.
Prior to the lottery, general manager Tom Fitzgerald explicitly stated that he would consider moving this pick to improve the roster. Now he has an even better chance of doing so, with the second choice – whether he picks up a prospect who is more likely to be an impact player sooner rather than later, or moves him for a high player range (possibly plus a lower pick in the first round as well).
So between those picks, their prospects, and some NHL-caliber players, the Devils should be able to fulfill their desire to diversify the skill set of this roster — primarily in front and behind the net.
Analyze how the #NJDevils build up to the Cup checklist over the next few years to assess the areas they will need to address over the next two seasons. https://t.co/uu1OYQ45ob pic.twitter.com/NA777yaCuv
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) April 15, 2022
Kevin Fiala to the Kings strikes out a potential option for New Jersey. But there are still quite a few more to pursue.
If the Blackhawks intend to tear him down in their attempts to rebuild (and possibly tank next season), then Alex DeBrincat is a legitimate option. The 24-year-old winger clicks well with a play center – something the Devils have in Jack Hughes. While not a one-dimensional offensive threat, shooting is obviously a strength with two 40-goal seasons under his belt. However, last season’s 32 goals in 52 games was actually a career-high pace. If DeBrincat had had more leads in the 56-game season, he would likely have three seasons with that milestone. At 24, most teams should call Chicago about his potential availability. But a team like the Devils makes a lot of sense considering it makes the difference now, they need, in exchange for the future assets they have.
Most of the other trade options are all in the tiers below DeBrincat, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t an option for New Jersey. The Devils need at least one impact winger (unless their restricted free agent is stolen via an offer sheet). But they could still consider some supporting players as well to bolster their depth which is currently achieving enough of the goals a contending team should be striving for, but they haven’t provided enough pop in the middle of the lineup.
New Jersey could look to a player like JT Miller. He falls lower than DeBrincat given his age and what his next contract might cost (especially when teams are likely willing to pay him to play center when the Devils would more likely use him as a wing). Drop a tier and there’s Conor Garland, or the Devils could get spicier with players eligible for offer sheets as they have most of their picks. Martin Necas or Jesse Puljujarvi could be profitable acquisitions.
Trade options aren’t exclusive to the top of a range either. This is also a possibility for the goalkeeper. There are a few secondary options from Semyon Varlamov, James Reimer and Ilya Samsonov. Alexandrar Georgiev could also be 1A-1B type – he is at his best when he gets more reps during the season. But the Devils probably want more safety in net. That’s why it wouldn’t be surprising if they kicked the tires on John Gibson, who has an elite cap but has had some tough times lately.
The downside of a trade or offer sheet is that a team not only has to absorb cap space, but move real assets to do so. This is why trade is not the only route the Devils should be expected to take.
Luckily for them, the free agency class gives them a ton of options. And they have the cap space to make a splash.
The Devils have money off the books, including PK Subban’s $9 million cap. In total, there’s a potential $12 million from the books of their UFAs alone, which could be replaced by minimum-wage players. Right now, there’s around $25 million in projected space, with RFAs yet to be extended, from Miles Wood, Jesper Boqvist and Pavel Zacha (if not traded) to Bratt.
Bratt’s is expected to be worth more than $9 million, according to Athleticism Dom Luszczyszyn’s model. But that’s probably above what he’s signing for; Evolving-Hockey is pricing a $7.2 million cap on an eight-year contract on the top end if he were to stay with the Devils.
If management signs Bratt at that top tier, the Devils have less flexibility but can still make a splash in free agency to meet their two biggest needs: a top-six impact winger and a No. 1 goaltender. .it just invested a lot in their base players, and they’ll have to keep it relatively cheap with their depth. If their RFA signs a more team-friendly deal, there’s even more money for New Jersey to throw at some of the biggest names available.
Sticking with the goaltenders, New Jersey isn’t the only team looking for a new goaltender in the open market. These aren’t the deepest years in free agency, but there are quite a few options.
After playing between the posts for most of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Darcy Kuemper could stay with the Avalanche. This removes a name from the list. Ville Husso is an attractive option for teams looking for help in the net after his breakout season, when he won the net from regular-season starter Jordan Binnington. The Blues might not be able to secure him, given Binnington’s contract (and trade clauses), which should open the door to signing Husso as a starter somewhere.
But rumors say the Devils could be looking at Toronto’s Jack Campbell. It is an intriguing option and its value depends on the role expected of it. He may be a starter, but this year’s shaky streak casts doubt. After a great start to the season, his play took him to an above-expectations saved-goals final of minus-8.18, which was well below average. This inconsistency may give management pause, although Campbell’s good streaks may inspire some confidence. With a reasonable contract, he could be the average keeper this team has been looking for all season – but it would help to have support in the crease behind him if he slips up.
What the Devils could probably spend even more in free agency is on a top-notch forward.
Johnny Gaudreau is in the territory of “franchisees”. A team with Gaudreau and Hughes gives New Jersey two of the best forwards to generate a transition offense in the league. So the two probably wouldn’t have to play together. Instead, it would give the Devils attacking group a very strong 1-2 punch that can generate a rush. The Flames winger could easily slot alongside Nico Hischier, and Hughes could play between Yegor Sharangovich and Bratt, giving them the best top six they’ve had in years.
New Jersey won’t be the only team looking to sign him, but the Devils have the space to make it happen — even if he’s closing in on the $10.9 million Evolving-Hockey predicts he’ll sign with. a seven-year contract. . That, of course, means the goalkeepers can’t be at the upper end of the budget, otherwise Bratt’s deal will have to be reasonable.
If not Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg is another option to pursue. Another lower tier is Mason Marchment, who just completed a career year in Florida, and Stanley Cup champion Andre Burakovsky. If disruptive two-way play is what management is looking for, then Ilya Mikheyev could stand out.
Considering the Devils’ options this summer and the strengths they have, the team could be incredibly active over the next few weeks. But as the Devils have learned over the years, winning the offseason isn’t enough.
If the Devils get spicy enough this offseason, it could be the push the team needs to finally make leaps forward around its fundamental centers and get the playoff conversation back on track.
(Photo: Bob Frid/USA Today)