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.