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A Look Ahead To Devils Free Agency

Continuing the way too early look ahead to free agency, we pick up this week with the New Jersey Devils. The Devils currently sit in 8th place in the metropolitan division with 68 points and, according to Tankathon.com, have a 7% chance at landing the number one overall pick. Since making the playoffs two years ago, the franchise has regressed leading to the trade of former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall to Arizona. Management has quickly had to transition to rebuild mode after the 2018-19 season ended on a sour note missing the playoffs. Many experts and fans alike are waiting on the emergence of their young talent which came from previous GM Ray Shero.

Nico Hischier has had down year from the standards that go with being a number one pick. I don’t think you can solely put all the blame on Hischier or say it’s a lack of commitment on his part in wanting to improve, the team has struggled collectively. They’ve had a hard time scoring goals and they’ve had an even more difficult time keeping them out of their net despite the emergence of Mackenzie Blackwood in net. So without further ado lets’ break down their cap space.

The Devils don’t have too many key players that are coming up on free agency. With only three total UFAs and three RFAs, they have their cap in a good situation from the standpoint of having the financial flexibility to re-sign key young pieces like Blackwood, Joey Anderson, and Jesper Bratt.

John Hayden is also a restricted free agent but is in a peculiar situation as the only arbitration-eligible player on the roster. It remains to be seen if interim GM Tom Fitzgerald and Devils management will spend any of their $53.3 million in cap space on him; the 25-year-old has had a difficult year with 4 points in 43 games but hasn’t been in the lineup regularly. Not knowing him at all, I have a hard time believing that he isn’t a good character person as the reason to improve. This is a guy who was the captain of Yale his senior year so there are good qualities to him and I think that shows he does have the capacity to get better on some level.

Starting off the free agency period, I’m sure New Jersey will sign the first three names mentioned and most likely let unrestricted free agents Kevin Claesson, Dakota Mermis, and Kevin Rooney walk and sign elsewhere. They’ll most likely address their departure with singing someone else or giving someone from Binghamton a real shot.

Getting Mackenize Blackwood under contract seems like the logical thing to do first, his improved play this year has been good for the team and, if he keeps improving, will be huge for the franchise over the next decade. In 47 games he has a .915 save percentage along with a 2.77 goals-against average, second and third, respectively, among NHL rookie goalies who have played at least 25 games.

Once he’s signed, next up will probably be Jesper Bratt who, at only 21, is fourth on the team in points and was on pace to surpass his career-high before the pandemic.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Anderson, who has yet to play a full year in the NHL. He still very young at 21 years old and, with the direction of this franchise going young and building through the draft, it would make sense to re-sign him to a two-way deal and see how much more he will develop.

With regards to who they may try to sign from the free agency pool, it’ll be interesting to see. I don’t think they’ll burn all of their money on Blackwood, Bratt, and Anderson but I don’t know if they’ll have enough left over to spend $6 million a year on someone. I could see them going the route of signing a seasoned veteran to a short term contract that’s inexpensive until one of the younger players in Binghamton, juniors or college is ready. Two names that would come to mind are Craig Smith and Ron Hainsey to mentor this relatively inexperienced group.

Be patient Devils fans, it may be a while before any sort of postseason success may return to The Rock but they’ve set themselves up with a good cap situation.

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