It’s never too early to look at the upcoming season. It will be a big one for the New Jersey Devils and should set them up to make a playoff run in the upcoming 2017-18 season. If the past two summers under GM Ray Shero have been any indication, the Devils will make some key moves.
One of the biggest needs the Devils have is a top-pairing defenseman. The Devils’ defense this past season was kinda bad. Andy Greene took a step down but he can only do so much on his own. I think John Moore will be protected so he’ll stick around and if he can produce as much as he did offensively this season, he’ll be a valuable component going forward as will young defensemen Damon Severson (who needs a new contract), Steven Santini, Michael Kapla, and even Jon Merrill who had an improved year. I would much rather have them play over someone like Ben Lovejoy or Dalton Prout but the Devils need a top-tier, puck-moving defensemen. The obvious choice here is Kevin Shattenkirk, who was traded to the Capitals at the deadline. If he wins a Cup with them, he may opt to stay there, the Devils can offer him money and location. He grew in New York but the Rangers likely won’t have the money to sign him, which the Devils do. Signing with New Jersey would be awfully convenient for both parties. Justin Schultz is also available; he’s a fairly young, right-handed defenseman but he’ll be a restricted free agent (Pittsburgh doesn’t have any cap space).
As of today, April 14th, the Devils have approximately $9 million in cap space but they’ll have about $21 million in cap space next season. Only the Carolina Hurricanes have more cap space than New Jersey (they sit at about $16 million). They can make another Kyle Palmieri-type trade and acquire a player from a cap-strapped team. There are five teams without any cap space: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Arizona, and Calgary, and there are teams with very little: Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington. Again, Washington’s lack of cap space will play a role in whether or not Shattenkirk resigns with them. The Devils have the money to make at least one major deal this summer and they should finally use it.
In addition to the cap space, the Devils have 11 draft picks this summer and 20 over the next two years. Whether or not they use all of them remains to be seen but both drafts will have good players. The Devils have a first-rounder, two second-rounders, two third-rounders, two fourth-rounders, a fifth-rounder, two sixth-rounders, and a seventh-rounder. The draft lottery won’t take place until April 29th in Toronto but the Devils have an 8.5% chance of picking first but they’re guaranteed to pick no less than 8th. And as much as “experts” say that there’s no Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews in this year’s draft, they’re doing a disservice to the kids actually in this draft. They still have a lot to contribute, and late-round picks can turn out to be diamonds in the rough.
The Devils can use both their cap space and draft picks to make trades this summer, or sign a coveted free agent, or use every draft pick. Shero has already shown that he knows what he’s doing and that there’s a bigger picture to be looked at. Whatever happens and whatever he does seem like win-win situations to me.
In addition, Sherry Darling tweeted Adam Henrique Tuesday afternoon and said “I was mistaken about the player we discussed this morning. He has a year left. I’d trade for him.” Any guesses on who that could be?
They also have seven restricted free agents and a single, very important unrestricted free agent. Keith Kinkaid becomes a UFA this summer and both parties (he and the Devils’ management) have to decide what’s right for them. If Kinkaid decides to stay in New Jersey, is he okay with the role of backup goaltender? Or will he test free agency, and try and become a starter somewhere else? The Devils need a goaltender to expose (because there’s no way they’re exposing Cory Schneider) they would have to resign him in order to do so.
The Devils also have several restricted free agents in Damon Severson, Jacob Josefson, Beau Bennett, Stefan Noesen, Joseph Blandisi, Blake Coleman, and Ben Thomson. Severson has to be resigned; you can cite his +/- all you want but he is a damn good defenseman and he’s only 22. I’d like to see the Devils resign Bennett as well; he has really good puck possession numbers and if he can stay healthy, he can a good season offensively. I would also imagine the Devils resigning Blandisi (for obvious reasons) and Noesen. Both are young but have good chemistry with the team (re: Blandisi and John Quenneville, Noesen and Pavel Zacha) and are valuable building pieces going forward. Josefson has been with the Devils his entire career and I’d love to see him come back for sentimental reasons. Coleman and Thomson also looked decent in their Devils debuts this season but they remain question marks; they would likely remain in Albany (AHL) if they did resign.
And one of the not-as-important questions the Devils still have is whether or not they’ll sign Alexander Kerfoot, a 2012 draft pick out of Harvard, to an entry-level contract but in all likelihood, he’ll opt for free agency and eventually sign with the Canucks.
Coach John Hynes also hinted at some staff changes during his breakup day press conference so expect some shakeups over the summer; I would expect them to come mainly on the offensive side because the Devils have consistently had one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the NHL but I wouldn’t be surprised with a defensive shakeup either.
All-in-all, it’s going to be a very busy offseason for the Devils and I look forward to seeing what they have in store.