Devils Buy Out Michael Cammalleri’s, Devante Smith-Pelly’s Contracts

Well, this wasn’t unexpected.

The New Jersey Devils announced today that they are buying out both Michael Cammalleri’s and Devante Smith-Pelly’s contracts, and both players are being placed on unconditional waivers.

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Other buyouts across the league: Ryan Murphy and Lance Bouma (CAL), Jimmy Hayes (BOS), Jussi Jokinen (FLA), and Mark Stuart (WPG).

Neither Cammalleri’s nor Smith-Pelly’s contract buy-outs were unsurprising and I really like this move for the Devils. Cammy was a fan favorite and wore the “A” on his jersey for the team but he’s injury-prone and hasn’t been a consistent player on the ice. He does have potential to get better next season but that’s a huge what-if situation. He had 31 points in 61 games played this season and was a healthy scratch for a few games for the first time ever with the Devils; he’s never played a complete NHL season (he came close in the 2005-06, 2006-07 seasons when he played 80 and 81 games respectively). He’s played for four different NHL teams now and will play for a fifth. He turned 35 this month.

Cammalleri signed a five-year, $25 million contract in July of 2014 and had a no-trade clause in place. He had two more years to go until the contract expired.

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Smith-Pelly hasn’t spent as much time in New Jersey as Cammy has. He’s played two years with the team since his trade from Montréal and he had just nine points in 61 games played this year. He was also a healthy scratch and missed the end of the season with an injury. He’s played for three different NHL teams now.

Last summer, he signed a two-year, $2.6 million contract by the Devils after his previous contract (two-year, $1.6 million with the Ducks) expired. He also did not receive a qualifying offer from the Devils last summer but they were able to renegotiate a new contract.

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So with both buyouts, the Devils now have the most money to spend in the NHL, with about $27 million in cap space ($27,680,832 to be exact, according to CapFriendly). Carolina has the next most at about $25.5 million. While I definitely don’t think the Devils will spend all of it (why would they?), I would expect them to be very active during free agency and I would hope they’d emphasize quality of quantity.

Yes, this means that New Jersey is probably the favorite to land coveted defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. I have no problem with the Devils signing Shattenkirk; I think he’d help tremendously. I just haven’t been overly impressed with his defensive play? Yes, he chips in occasionally offensively but I’m more concerned about his defense. But more on him later (if the Devils sign him).

The Devils have taken an important step forward in their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They’re still in rebuild mode so we don’t know how many free agents who are willing to sign with a team that (don’t kill me) might not make the playoffs this season either. I know, I’m sorry. But they’re taking steps forward and that’s the important thing. It should be a very busy offseason.

Devils Draft Prospect Series: Nikita A. Popugayev

The Devils Draft Prospect Series continues today with a fourth post! The three previous posts are on Jesper Boqvist, Fabian Zetterlund, and Reilly Walsh, and be sure to check out the rest of the “Draft Prospect Series” tag all the way up until Devils Development Camp!

RW Nikita A. Popugayev was selected 98th overall in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft by the New Jersey Devils, and he fills a huge need for them. The 18-year old Russian winger, born November 20, is one of the older players in the draft; he clocks in at 6′ 6″ and 205 lbs. His size is one of his biggest advantages and is a great asset, especially for a right wing.

He was ranked #28 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and could prove to be one of the biggest steals of the draft. I’m extremely surprised that he fell to the Devils in the fourth round if a lot of teams had their eyes on him. Central Scouting has him listed as a left wing, Elite Prospects says right wing; he played both left and right for Prince George this season.

Here are some of his stats over the last few years:

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He’s played 141 regular season WHL games and has 116 points, about 0.82 points per game; he has seven points in 12 playoff games. He’s played for both the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Prince George Cougars, and will likely play (at least) another season with them. It would be good for his development. Popugayev has an excellent shot and he’s compared himself to another famous Russian, Evgeni Malkin.

I really like him and his style of play.  He has a great shot. He’s offensively-minded, as evidenced by his point totals. He made the adjustment to the WHL, a completely different system. He has good hockey sense/puck sense and sees the ice well, and (a bonus!) he’s good at protecting the puck. The Devils need that. He’s also a playmaker but even with his size, he doesn’t play a physical game (but he should). That’s something he could definitely work on.

If you haven’t already watched him play, I have plenty of footage for you to watch and YouTube has a ton more:

For more, check out a quick draft profile from NHL.com, a short scouting report from Future Considerations, and another profile from The Hockey Writers. The last piece in particular is really well done!

And that about does it. I’m really excited to watch him play too! I hope that he comes up for at least one game with how dire the Devils’ right wing situation is but who knows? He’ll do great things in the future and hopefully he’ll be with the Devils.

Devils Draft Prospect Series: Reilly Walsh

The Devils Draft Prospect Series continues today with Reilly Walsh. Be sure to check out the two previous posts on Jesper Boqvist and Fabian Zetterlund, and be sure to check the “Draft Prospect Series” tag in the future!

18-year old Reilly Walsh was the first (North) American and the first defenseman chosen by the New Jersey Devils in the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft, chosen 81st overall in the third round. His father, Mike, also played NCAA hockey with Colgate University and played 14 NHL games with the New York Islanders; he is also Proctor Academy’s head coach.

Born April 21, Walsh is 6′ 0″ and 185 lbs. He was ranked #60 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. He’s played in the U.S. developmental system for several years, in both the USHS and the USHL. He’s slated to join Harvard (NCAA) in the fall.

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Here are some of his stats:

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He’s played four years and accumulated 181 points in 122 USHS games, averaging about 1.48 points per game, and he had 69 points in 30 games during the 2016-17 season. That’s pretty damn good for a defenseman. According to a Boston Herald article (linked later in this post), Walsh led all New England prep schools in scoring this past season at Proctor Academy and was the first defenseman to do so since 1985-86 (Brian Leetch). He was also named the Top England Prep Prospect by the New England Hockey Journal a few months ago. Walsh had 10 points in 24 games in two stints with the Chicago Steel (USHL), Clark Cup champions, last year as well.

I really like him. Walsh is an offensive defenseman and his defensive skills leave a little something to be desired. He’s also a bit on the smaller side but college hockey is going to help him build muscle, and grow bigger and stronger. (If you can’t already tell, I love college hockey). He’s a phenomenal skater and plays a solid all-around game. If he can work on his size and his defensive ability, he could become a great NHL defenseman and he’s someone I would want the Devils to keep in the system and develop from within. I’d like to see him at least get some time in Binghamton (AHL) this year if not a game or two in the NHL.

Here’s a really good article from the Boston Herald about Walsh. He mentions watching and modeling his style of play after current NHL defensemen Erik Karlsson (Ottawa), Roman Josi (Nashville), and Duncan Keith (Chicago). Not bad.

And according to this well-written Boston Globe article, Walsh has been compared to Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere. But what matters to me the most is how he responded to it: ““I think that’s pretty cool,” said Walsh. “To be compared to anybody in the league is a huge compliment. I think he’s a really skilled offensive player, young, and went through the college scene with Union. So to be compared to anyone like that is a huge compliment.””

If any of you are interested (because I am), Harvard comes to town to play Princeton on December 2 at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink in Princeton. It’s hard to crack the lineup at the age of 18 but if he’s playing, I’ll be there and I’ll be sure to take notes! Walsh is definitely a prospect that excites me and I’m looking forward to watching him in the future.

Devils Resign Goaltender Keith Kinkaid To A Two-Year, $2.5 Million Contract

Happy early birthday, Keith Kinkaid! The New Jersey Devils have made their first “free” agency signing of the 2017 offseason, resigning goaltender and career-long Devil Keith Kinkaid to a two-year, $2.5 million contract. The 27-year old netminder, who turns 28 on Tuesday. In four seasons with New Jersey, Kinkaid has a 23-27-8 record with a 2.68 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. Last year, he played a career-high 26 games, serving as Cory Schneider’s backup goalie, and went 8-13-3 with a 2.64 GAA and a .916 save %.

Kinkaid will earn $1.2 million next season and $1.3 the following year. He likely doesn’t want to play anywhere other than Jersey but there’s the possibility of a mutual understanding between the two parties; Kinkaid understands that he will continue to play the backup role in New Jersey and that eventually, someone younger will come up and take his roster spot. That’s also the reason behind why he only signed on for two more years. I don’t think GM Ray Shero was going to give him more than just a few years. Down the road, Kinkaid could also decide that he wants to play for another team if he decides that he no longer wants to be the backup. But another long-term contract was out of the picture.

His two-year, $1.45 million contract expired at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season and was set to become an unrestricted free agent (officially on Saturday) but both sides reached an agreement before that happened.

Kinkaid scored his first career NHL point with an assist on Taylor Hall’s goal against the Islanders back in February and stopped his first penalty shot attempt faced (Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel).

He’s been a solid backup in his years in New Jersey, first behind Martin Brodeur and now behind Cory Schneider. Devils fans have grown to love him over the past few seasons and he’s always a fan favorite at events. Glad to have you back, Keith!

Don’t forget to check out the Devils’ official release here!

Devils Draft Prospect Series: Fabian Zetterlund

The Draft Prospect Series continues with Fabian Zetterlund; check out the first post in the series on Jesper Boqvist and be sure to search the “draft prospect series” tag for more prospects going forward.

Zetterlund was drafted 63rd overall (third round) by the Devils in the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft. The Swedish center/right wing is just 17 years old, and is 5′ 11″ and 196 lbs.

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Here are some of his stats:

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Like Boqvist, Zetterlund has also played his entire hockey career in Sweden and will continue next year. He’s been a pretty consistent player and you know what to expect from him. He’s ranked #58 by Nation Network and they have an excellent prospect profile that you should definitely check out.

Zetterlund’s best asset is his shot; he is a pure sniper. He doesn’t hesitate to take shots on goal and the Devils don’t do that enough. Watch him in action:

He scores at 0:49 and it’s pretty. It’s textbook. But Zetterlund looks good. He’s fast. He plays well in every zone. He’s a decent skater. He still needs some work and some development but he’ll get there. He’s still young (he won’t turn 18 until August).

There aren’t a ton of highlights for him on YouTube but there are some:

All-in-all, he could become one of the NHL’s best shots. I know that’s almost impossible but I don’t see why not. He’s someone I would definitely keep an eye out for.

And don’t forget to check out the rest of the Draft Prospect Series!

Evaluating The Hall/Larsson Trade A Year Later

Yeah, I know. I’m sick of hearing about it too.

Exactly a year ago today, the New Jersey Devils traded defenseman Adam Larsson for Edmonton Oilers’ forward Taylor Hall in one of the biggest blockbuster, one-for-one trades of the entire 2016 offseason. It essentially broke the Internet and helped kickstart a big day that saw Nashville’s Shea Weber traded for Montréal’s P.K. Subban and Steven Stamkos signing a big deal to stay with the Lightning. Here’s a good article from Elliotte Friedman if you somehow missed everything that went down on that day.

There was a ton of backlash surrounding the trade. The majority of hockey Twitter seemed to think that GM Peter Chiarelli had completely lost his mind and the deal, and should be fired. Many wanted there to be something else given on the Devils’ side, a pick or a prospect, in addition to Larsson; they claimed he couldn’t be a top-pairing defenseman. New Jersey “won” the trade by a landslide. But the most common theme of these critics is that while they lauded Hall for his offensive capabilities, they underestimated Larsson’s defensive ones.

Here’s one of my favorite articles from June 29, 2016. My favorite quote? “Larsson, decent as he may be and young as he still is, is a second pairing-ish guy. There are very, very few players in the league who are comparably valuable to Hall.”

Okay. But that can’t reflect everyone, right? Here’s another one. My favorite chunk of the article: “And the best that general manager Pete Chiarelli could get for him [Hall] was Adam Larsson? And that’s it? As a former No. 4 overall pick, Larsson’s career so far in New Jersey has been … underwhelming? At best, he’s a second-pairing guy. You don’t trade a franchise player (a former No. 1 overall pick in 2010) in Taylor Hall for a second-pairing guy. Not straight-up.” And then: “How he [Chiarelli] didn’t learn his lesson is beyond me. It’s just confounding and totally dispiriting for Oilers fans hoping for decent asset management from a management group that has run the franchise into the ground for the last decade.”

Here’s another one and another one and another one. It’s quite fun actually, you should do a Google search, and find old articles and tweets. And when you’re done reading those, here are some good articles from July and September. Both were written by David Staples of the Edmonton Journal. Have fun.

Shifting gears a little bit. On the day of the trade, I just tweeted the following:

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And that basically sums up my feelings. To put it in a more articulate way, I was thrilled (and still am thrilled) that Hall would be joining the Devils. They’ve struggled to score goals and have consistently finished at the bottom of the league in goals for and shots on goal so Hall’s offense was happily welcomed. On the other hand, Larsson meant a lot to the team and to the Devils fans, myself included. We knew just how good Larsson was as a blue liner and how good he was capable of becoming. We knew what we were losing but Oilers fans didn’t know what they were getting.

But here we are, a year later, and I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the trade and evaluate just how it worked out for both teams. Here’s a short article from Deadspin from April 27. Here’s another one from NBC Sports on the same day, praising Larsson.

To start off? I don’t think anyone in Edmonton is crying any longer. They might even be laughing. Larsson helped Edmonton reach the playoffs for the first time in 11 years and yes, he wasn’t the only reason. Connor McDavid (you’ve probably heard of him) played his first healthy season with Edmonton and lit the league on fire. He scored 100 points in 82 games (30 goals, 70 assists) and won the Art Ross Trophy, the Hart Memorial Trophy, and the Ted Lindsay Award. He’s set to sign an 8-year, $100 million contract extension with the team. Not bad for a 20 year-old. And then you had Leon Draisaitl, who scored 77 points in 82 games. Not bad either. Offense was never really Edmonton’s problem, their defense was, and Chiarelli took a step forward to improve the blue line. And it worked. The Oilers reached the playoffs and made it to round two, where they fell to the Ducks in seven games. I wouldn’t call that a bad effort.

Here’s an article from December, talking about why the Hall/Larsson trade hasn’t paid off for Edmonton yet. And while it makes good points, it’s hard not to look at the bigger picture instead of stats.

Let’s take a look at Hall, who arguably got the worse end of the stick. He was traded from a team that was coming out of a rebuild to a team still in one. New Jersey hasn’t made the playoffs in five years now, since they made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. They’ve struggled all-around: offensively, defensively, etc. There really isn’t a whole lot going for them (and this is coming from a Devils fan). Hall was supposed to be a bright spot and he was. He picked up 53 points (good for first [tied with line mate Kyle Palmieri]) in 72 games played. The biggest problem was finding a consistent top line for him. When he finally started playing with Palmieri and Travis Zajac, things started to click and they looked really good on the ice together. If, next year, he plays with a top line center, let’s say, Nico Hischier, a fellow #1 overall pick, he’ll probably bring even more much-needed offense to the team. But that’s looking ahead.

You also have to look at their supporting casts. Larsson is on a much better team than Hall is. Hall doesn’t have enough good people around him supporting him. Larsson does. McDavid has a better supporting cast now than Hall did in six years with the Oilers.  It was nice to see Larsson in the playoffs and I hope that Hall gets his chance soon too.

With that said, I love having Hall on the team. I really do. I know Oilers fans (another general statement) have mentioned his attitude problems on and off the ice, and how he was Edmonton’s biggest problem and that they were glad he was traded. But I haven’t seen any of those. I know it’s only been a year but for what he’s had to go through, I’m surprised I haven’t seen any attitude problems or short answers. He’s matured. He tells it like it is in interviews. He’s been so good to the fans in Jersey and we’ve embraced him. You know how many Hall jerseys I’ve seen at The Rock? A lot. And you know how many I’ll see next season? A lot.

And yeah, I miss Larsson. I miss his defense and he was a huge part of this team. A lot of people forget that he was traded too. He had to move to a new place (a new country) too. There were two people in the deal (and yes, you could argue that there should have been more than two), two people who probably imagined spending the rest of their NHL careers with the teams that drafted them. But that’s not how things work. All I can do is hope that Hall is happy in New Jersey and Larsson is happy in Edmonton.

I’d say the trade worked out well for both teams. Edmonton got the defense they needed, New Jersey got offense. I don’t think you can say either team really “won” the trade because I think they both did. Hell, Chiarelli was nominated for GM of the Year after everything he did for the team last summer. I wish I had screenshots of everyone who asked for his head after the trade. But it’s also not easy to evaluate results based on one year alone. Hall could have a phenomenal year this upcoming season. But looking back on the trade, it was one that had to be made for both sides and I’m sure if both teams were given the option to do it again, they would.

And while you may not agree with me on everything (or anything), I think we can agree on one thing: can we please stop asking them both about the trade? It’s over, it happened, it’s been a year. Enough is enough.

Devils Draft Prospect Series: Jesper Boqvist

I’m starting a new series this week taking a look at the New Jersey Devils’ draft prospects (picks) from the last three years, including this year. The series will run up until development camp, which should be the second week of July. I’ll take a look at two prospects each day (and maybe three if I start running out of time) starting today. If you want to check out every post, you can look through the “Draft Prospect Series” tag on my blog. Let’s get started.

In the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft, the Devils selected C/W Jesper Boqvist 36th overall (second round). Born October 30, 1998, the Swedish forward is 6′ 0″ and 179 lbs. He’s a very talented center who has also played some wing.

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Here are some of his statistics:

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He’s played his entire junior career in the Swedish system and played last season in the Swedish Hockey League (in addition to other leagues). He clearly knows how to score goals and has plenty of skills to complement his goal-scoring (and goal-creating) ability. He is quick (watch him play) and has an excellent hockey sense. He didn’t have an easy time adjusting to the SHL but that’s understandable.

His biggest problem is his inconsistency but that shouldn’t become a major issue going forward. He does also need to work on his defensive skills but that’s something he can work on as well. If he can hone those two areas of his game and maybe build some extra muscle, he should be a solid forward within the next few years or so.

Here are some highlights from his excellent 2015-16 season, where he had 59 points in 41 games:

There are also a ton of individual goal clips on YouTube (just search his name) that I would definitely check out.

Here is what Elite Prospects had to say about him: “Boqvist is an offensive skilled player with impressive skating and puck skills. Shifty player who scores spectacular goals from time to time. There’s some consistency issues, but when on top of his game, Boqvist can be quite dominant with the puck and an offensive threat.”

Here is what Future Considerations had to say: “A speedster with lethal offensive skill…possesses a smooth-skating style and often makes use of his speed to beat defensemen on the outside…his speed combined with very fine hands is what makes him such a dangerous player…reads the play and defense well…can both find teammates with passes or deke defenders…is strong on the puck for a player his size, and is difficult to catch…will carry the puck into the offensive zone and hold on to it in order to let his teammates get into position…his intensity can go from high to non-existent so his consistency will need to be addressed…can use both speed and hands to create scoring chances…great playmaking skills, but could use a little work on his shot…his combination of quick feet and quick hands makes him dangerous…high-upside, offensive forward on the next level.”

There’s also a draft profile from Oilers Nation, which is excellent and I would definitely recommend checking it out. Boqvist is ranked #47 on their list of draft-eligible players.

But all-in-all, I like him. I think he has the ability to become an even more dynamic center than he already is. The Devils do have more centers than they need but Boqvist has also played some wing. They could potentially shift him around if they decide that he would be a better fit at wing than at center. I think he still has some development and conditioning to do but that applies to most prospects, if not all of them.

The series continues later today with another 2017 draft pick, Fabian Zetterlund!

Exploring Ilya Kovalchuk’s Destination Options (And Some Updates)

So here we are again. Another offseason, more Ilya Kovalchuk NHL-return rumors except they’re no longer just rumors. Kovalchuk is (99%) returning to the National Hockey League, where he was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Entry-Level Draft. He was eventually traded to the New Jersey Devils on February 4, 2010, where he remained until he “retired” and crossed over to the KHL during the 2012-13 lockout season after signing a monstrous 17-year, $102 million contract (July 2010). Can you tell that I’m still a little bitter? Just a little bit. Here’s an article from ESPN on the day he signed his contract. It’s actually a pretty funny article, in retrospect, and you know that it’s old because they asked Zach Parise for comments.

But I’m getting off track. Every offseason since Kovalchuk left has been filled to the brim with return rumors but he’s never actually come back (or been serious about coming back). So when the rumors started up again, Devils fans in particular were naturally a little skeptical. I still am. But it seems as if he does want to return to the NHL and win a Stanley Cup, something he could have helped the Devils win if he had stayed. Sorry, I’m getting back off track.

But here we are and Kovalchuk’s return to the NHL is happening. The Devils hold all of the cards. Because they still hold his rights (remember that behemoth of a contract I mentioned earlier?), the Devils can do whatever they want with him. They can sign him as soon as this Saturday (July 1).

What they decide to do with him after that is completely up to them. They could choose to keep him, either short-term or long-term; they could definitely use his offensive prowess but they could also decide to trade him at the trade deadline in February after determining his trade value.

What is most likely, however, is a sign-and-trade. As soon as the Devils sign him to a contract, they can trade him to whomever they want. They can get a range of players, prospects, or picks, or any combination of the three. They probably already have a sign-and-trade in place because other teams are allowed to approach the Devils and ask about him. They could have a verbal agreement in place; they just can’t do anything about it until Saturday.

I think the Devils already have an agreement in place. GM Ray Shero said a couple of days ago that they should have a clearer idea of what Kovalchuk wants to do soon but I wouldn’t be surprised if New Jersey already has an agreement in place with a team. They could sign Kovalchuk to a contract that both parties agree on and go from there.

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Kovalchuk has said that he would like to go to New York or Florida so he’ll stay in the East regardless. He could go to the Panthers, who lost Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas, or to the Lightning, who don’t have depth at left wing. If New York is the likelier possibility, he’ll either go to the Rangers or the Islanders. The Rangers don’t really need left wings but more than that, a trade between these two teams seems highly, highly unlikely. The Islanders, on the other hand, seem like a more realistic option.

But one of the more attractive options right now is Columbus. The president of the Blue Jackets, John Davidson, said that “there’s interest” in regards to a deal for Kovalchuk, and Sportsnet reported on that. They haven’t started to 100% pursue him just yet but they are looking for Top 6 talent and if Kovalchuk’s numbers in the KHL and NHL prove anything,  he is.

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Columbus could be an interesting option. Right now, the Devils’ biggest need (okay fine, one of their biggest needs) is a top-4 (at least), puck-moving defenseman. One of the names being mentioned is Ryan Murray, a 23-year old defenseman (6′ 1″, 211 lbs). He’s missed a significant amount of times with injuries. He has 60 points in 220 career games but had just nine in 60 games this past season. He missed the end of the season with a broken hand and had an upper-body injury at the beginning of it. He played his first and only complete NHL season in 2015-16, picking up 25 points. He missed most of 2014-15 with knee and ankle injuries and most of his rookie season (2012-13) with a shoulder injury.

But it’s hard to evaluate how good a defenseman is based solely on their production. Yes, it’s nice when they can chip in with a point every now and then but that’s not what they’re getting paid to do. He’s not a bad defenseman. His development has been severely hindered by his injuries but he has the potential to become a solid blue liner. I haven’t seen him play enough to make a solid judgement but based on what I have seen, he’s someone the Devils could work with. And he’s young. That’s always a bonus.

The Blue Jackets also have a ton of young defensive prospects and they could consider packaging one of them in a deal. They don’t really have draft picks: six each in each of the next two drafts, but if they’re in a win-now mode, those don’t really matter. They could consider trading one of them too (at least a second-rounder, this is Kovalchuk we’re talking about). But this is all speculation. The Blue Jackets just traded for an excellent left wing in Artemi Panarin and they have several more on the roster. Do they really need another one?

There are a few teams that could be in the market for a left wing. Chicago just lost Panarin to Columbus but they received LW Brandon Saad in return. Minnesota could use a left wing; they have Parise and Jason Zucker on the roster, and they’re looking to trade defensemen. Matt Dumba or Marco Scandella could be good options for the Devils. Anaheim could also be looking for a top-line left wing; they lost defenseman Clayton Stoner to Vegas so I don’t know how many more blue liners they would be willing to part with but Kovalchuk fills a need for them. And then there’s Edmonton. They don’t really need another left winger but a second Edmonton/New Jersey trade feels almost inevitable and Kovalchuk could be a part of it.

But we still don’t know what Kovalchuk wants or where exactly he wants to go or if he’s changed his mind about returning (he wouldn’t be able to go to the Olympics in February if he does). But as we get more updates, and we will get more updates, I’ll write about them. Happy silly season!

What’s next for the Devils’ offseason?

The Vegas expansion draft has come and gone (the Devils lost D Jon Merrill). The 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft is complete (the Devils selected C Nico Hischier first overall). You might be thinking, that’s it, right? How much more could there be possibly be going on? A lot, actually.

Let’s start with the big one: free agency. That fun period of time every hockey offseason where your teams get shuffled around one at a time. Players who don’t want to stay with their organization end up leaving. Some players sign with rival teams. Some players go somewhere else for the money. It’s a business. Things happen.

First and foremost, the Devils have a list of free agents that they may or may not extend qualifying offers to (or resign). Their only three unrestricted free agents are G Keith Kinkaid, F Luke Gazdic, and D Yohann Auvitu.

Kinkaid is a little tricky because he might want to test the waters and sign with a different team (if he wants to be a starting goaltender somewhere else). I’d like to see Auvitu resigned as well; why bring him to North America for a single year and only play a certain number of games?

New Jersey also has a host of restricted free agents: forwards Beau Bennett, Joseph Blandisi, Blake Coleman, Jacob Josefson, Stefan Noesen, Blake Pietila, Kevin Rooney, and Ben Thomson; defensemen Mirco Mueller and Damon Severson; and goaltender Scott Wedgewood. Yesterday, the Devils extended qualifying offers to Blandisi, Coleman, Noesen, Pietila, Rooney, Thomson, Severson, Wedgewood, and Vojtech Mozik, and I wrote about that here.

I’d like to see the Devils resign Bennett, Blandisi, Noesen, Severson, Mueller, and Wedgewood. Severson is a no-brainer. I also don’t see the point in protecting Mueller during the expansion draft if they’re not going to sign him to a contract. Additionally, Wedgewood should be resigned no matter what. If Kinkaid chooses not to resign with the Devils, the team needs a viable backup option. Even though Wedgewood’s coming off of a season-ending injury, he’s a great goaltender and has a future in the NHL.

In addition to resigning a few free agents, GM Ray Shero is ready to sign a few others from outside the organization. The Devils definitely need a puck-moving, top-pairing defenseman and there isn’t a huge market for them right now. A trade wouldn’t be out of the question. Some more offense wouldn’t hurt either.

In general, the free agent market isn’t huge right now but quality over quantity. Shero also shouldn’t sign anyone for the sake of signing someone and he knows that.

Speaking of free agents, Ilya Kovalchuk is still slated to make his return to the NHL after spending the last five (six?) seasons in the KHL. And even though there have been rumors of him returning during every offseason since he left, these are more concrete. The Devils do have to sign-and-trade him if they decide that they don’t want to keep him on the team. They could definitely use his offense but he wants to win a Cup and the team is a few years away from being true contenders.

It does seem likely that he’ll stay in the Eastern Conference. He’s mentioned wanting to go to New York or Florida and while I highly doubt that the Devils would trade with the Rangers (or even the Islanders), it’s still a possibility. There’s also the possibility that the Devils have already made a verbal agreement with a team to trade him, which seems the most likely to me. Teams can negotiate all this week and then they can officially sign someone or trade for someone on Saturday.

Whatever happens is a win-win situation for the Devils. If they keep him, fine. They’ll get more offense. If they trade him, they’ll get picks/prospects/players in return. It’s going to be a long summer for the Devils in terms of free agency.

During the second week of July, New Jersey will hold its annual prospect development camp and it’ll be our first chance to see all of their newest draft picks in action, as well as prospects from years prior. It’s a week-long, five-day camp from July 10-14 (I think). They’ll get to bond and meet each other, as well as get to know the area and the organization.

The Devils have also started doing events for fans throughout the summer. Last year, they held the annual Devils Beach Bash in Point Pleasant, NJ by Jenkinson’s (on the boardwalk). Miles Wood and Joseph Blandisi were in attendance alongside former Devils players. This year’s second annual Beach Bash will be on Saturday, August 19th. For more information on that, you can click here. I’ll try and keep you posted on other events as well.

And before you know it, September will arrive and so will training camp. Next season should be exciting but the Devils have plenty of work to do during the offseason before then.

Devils Extend Qualifying Offers To 6 Forwards, 2 Defensemen, 1 Goaltender

5PM EST was the deadline for every NHL team to extend qualifying offers to their (restricted and unrestricted) free agents and the New Jersey Devils were no exception. They announced their QOs a while after 5PM but they had no surprises. They extended qualifying offers to forwards Joseph Blandisi, Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen, Blake Pietila, Kevin Rooney, and Ben Thomson; defensemen Damon Severson and Vojtech Mozik; and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

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There are no surprises here. Their biggest concern was resigning Severson. I’m happy that Blandisi, Noesen, and Wedgewood both received qualifying offers as well.

Defenseman Mirco Mueller, acquired in a trade with the Sharks last weekend, did receive a qualifying offer from San Jose and the Devils don’t plan on changing that. He’ll likely be resigned; why trade picks for someone who’s not going to play with the organization? So I wouldn’t worry about him.

You might also be wondering: where is Beau Bennett? He didn’t receive a QO but I wouldn’t worry about him too much either. I don’t think GM Ray Shero is going to just let him walk; they’re likely just negotiating a new contract. I want him to stick around (his social media presence would be missed terribly).

Goaltender Keith Kinkaid, an unrestricted free agent, didn’t receive one either, and neither did UFA Jacob Josefson. Kinkaid will likely test the waters of free agency. As much as I would love for him to stay in New Jersey, he’s only going to be a backup goalie here. If he wants to be a starter, he’ll have to look for a job elsewhere but there aren’t many teams in the market for a starting goaltender.

I had a feeling that the Devils would let Josefson walk as soon as his one-year contract expired; there are too many young, fast centers in the system now that are all competing for a limited number of spots. If he finds a home elsewhere, good. I hope he does well.

I’m surprised that the Devils made a qualifying offer to Mozik, mainly because he recently signed a contract to play in the KHL with Vityaz Podolsk, which is good for him. The Devils’ AHL affiliate is certainly lacking defensemen so this hurts a bit but who knows? They have defensive prospects in the system who could potentially make the jump.

I’m excited to see what kind of contract Severson gets because he’s been one of the most consistent blue liners on the team and I hope the contract is long-term. Blandisi and Noesen are both young, talented forwards who both have a lot to prove next season but could make a huge difference for the team provided that they stay up with New Jersey. Wedgewood, also, has a lot to prove. He missed most of last season in Albany (AHL) with an injury and returned for two games during the playoffs. He has to bounce back and if Kinkaid does leave and go elsewhere, Wedgewood becomes the backup.

Free agency (frenzy) officially begins this Saturday, July 1!