The New Jersey Devils are in unfamiliar territory: they are up against the salary cap. With a projected increase for next season, it should not be too much of a worry. However, general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald and his predecessor, Ray Shero, made sure they had flexibility, and it’s paying off. The Devils have an astonishing 13 free agents to re-sign after this season, but this is mainly because their best players were signed to great contracts. Here are the team’s three best entering the 2022-23 campaign.
One of the first moves the Devils made on Day 1 of free agency was swapping out Pavel Zacha for Erik Haula. The former sixth-overall pick was sent to the Boston Bruins, where he signed a one-year contract worth $3.5 million. However, the benefit to New Jersey was that Bruins GM Don Sweeney signed Haula a two-year deal worth $2.375 million annually in 2021. The second year of that contract will be spent in the Garden State.
The 31-year-old center from Finland put up some of the best numbers of his career in 2021-22, scoring 18 goals and 26 assists. He also established himself as one of the best at faceoffs on the team, winning 434 for a 53.8 percent success rate. In comparison, Zacha only scored 36 points and had a 50.1 faceoff percentage. It’s a decent upgrade on a player who wore out his welcome in New Jersey. Haula is also making over $1 million less than Zacha, so, in the short term, it’s an easy win for Fitzgerald.
Much like most of the Devils’ forward group, Haula is due for a new contract next season, and he’ll have to earn one. According to Daily Faceoff, he will play alongside Tomas Tatar and Andreas Johansson, sliding in where Zacha was last season. All three of them are free agents following this season, so they each have something to play for. Although the contract was signed by Sweeney, Haula’s one-year, $2.375 million deal may turn out to be one of the biggest discounts on the Devils.
There are several reasons why Jonas Siegenthaler has one of the best contracts on the team. He was one of the most consistent defensemen on the Devils last season, playing in a career-high 70 games. When he was on the ice, very few goals were scored, and he was a menace on the penalty kill. Even better is that Fitzgerald locked him up with a five-year contract extension worth $3.4 million per year that will kick in at the start of the 2023-24 season. This season, Siegenthaler will be making just $1.125 million.
While offensive production is not necessarily his strong suit, Siegenthaler did put up 14 points in those 70 games, including his first Devils goal. It was his analytics that put him above his defensive teammates. New Jersey averaged 51.78 shot attempts with the Swiss defenseman on the ice, the best on the team. He also had 2.8 defensive point shares last season, ranked second on the Devils behind Damon Severson. The best part? He’s only 25 years old, entering the prime of his career.
It’s only fair to assume that Siegenthaler will grow over the course of this contract. He had his breakout season in 2021-22, and with an improved group upfront, he can create opportunities for the forwards to score. With Siegenthaler, Vitek Vanecek, and a healthy Mackenzie Blackwood, the Devils can keep the puck out of the net, which will hopefully lead to more wins.
The 25-year-old forward from Belarus has continued to develop since he made his NHL debut at the start of the 2020-21 season. Following the successful campaign, he was re-signed to a two-year contract worth $2 million a season. Sharangovich responded by scoring 24 goals and 22 assists, and it looks like he will be one of the reliable scoring options on a young Devils team.
While primarily a center, Sharangovich will probably spend most of his time on the wing next season, with Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Haula taking up the role down the middle. Last season, not only did he put up career highs in several categories, but he also scored three game-winning goals, making him that clutch player the Devils have struggled to find in recent years.
Much like Siegenthaler, Sharangovich has established himself as one of the team’s core pieces at a young age, and there is room for him to evolve his game. Next summer, he will have arbitration rights, which will allow him to negotiate his next contract. For now, we can enjoy watching him create opportunities for Hughes and Hischier while also using his own scoring touch to help the team.
The Devils’ front office has put the team in a comfortable place in terms of the cap. Many players are competing for new contracts next summer, which gives them a reason to play with an extra chip on their shoulders. While not every contract is perfect, the team has managed to stay under the cap for so long, and with an increase coming, the Devils should have more flexibility in the years to come.
Erik Johnsen is one of the NJ Devils writer for The Hockey Writers. He is also a writer for Triple Play Newsletter. Erik is a 2022 Rider University graduate, and co-hosts a podcast called Too Many Men.