The New Jersey Devils are in the midst of determining what players will complement the core of Jack Hughes, Dougie Hamilton and Nico Hischier. When the team is having success, the Devils are exciting to watch with the young players that comprise the roster. The enthusiasm leads to contemplation about the success the organization can have with a young roster if the team becomes a Stanley Cup contender within the next few seasons.
The Devils appear to be headed for another year of not playing in the postseason with a record of 10-15-5 as they find themselves in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division. The roster will continue to be tweaked by general manager Tom Fitzgerald with several players due to being restricted free agents (RFA) or unrestricted free agents (UFA). Let’s take a look at five players, who will not be back with the Devils for the 2022-23 season.
The addition of Hamilton last offseason was an indication that Fitzgerald was building the defense around him with his seven-year, $63 million contract. P.K. Subban was not protected by the Devils for the Expansion Draft last summer. However, the Seattle Kraken selected Nathan Bastian from the organization. The forward has since returned to the Devils after being placed on waivers by the Kraken in November.
Subban is in the final year of his eight-year, $72 million contract he agreed to with the Montreal Canadiens in August 2014. After the signing of Hamilton, the 32-year-old defenseman appears to be on his way out of New Jersey. It does not make sense for Fitzgerald to re-sign him to an extension with several players eligible to be RFA’s in upcoming consecutive offseasons who are the future of the franchise.
The veteran defenseman could be a trade candidate for the deadline in March. Trading him would create an opportunity for the Devils to promote Reilly Walsh, who is playing for the Devils’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Utica Comets. The young defenseman leads the Comets with 17 points in 21 games this season.
The 33-year-old goaltender was signed last offseason to be the backup to MacKenzie Blackwood. Jonathan Bernier played in 10 games, had a record of 4-4-1, a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.06 and a save percentage (SV%) of .902. He was a part of a trio along with Scott Wedgewood and Nico Daws that filled in for Blackwood, who missed the first three weeks of the season recovering from heel surgery.
He was placed on injured reserve (IR) on Dec. 10 with a hip injury that had been bothering him since the start of the season. Due to the injury, head coach Lindy Ruff admitted to being concerned about Bernier’s health. It appears the Devils goaltender may be forced to undergo season-ending surgery or need to retire based on the head coach’s comment indicating his worry about the netminder’s physical health. Fitzgerald could prefer to have another veteran to serve as the backup to Blackwood next season or a young goaltender from the Comets could assume the role of Devils backup.
After playing for the New York Rangers for three seasons, Jimmy Vesey is playing for his fourth team in two seasons. He played for the Buffalo Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks before the Devils. Since his three years with the Rangers, the 28-year-old has struggled to put up offensive numbers.
The 28-year-old forward had 27, 28, and 35 points in three seasons with the Blueshirts followed by only 20 in one season with the Sabres. Vesey played in 50 games in a shortened 56-game season with the Maple Leafs and Canucks last year and accumulated 10 points. In 30 games for the Devils, he has eight points.
Vesey’s offensive production is becoming less and less after his final season with the Rangers. The Devils have options with the Comets or Fitzgerald can sign or trade for another player next offseason to fill his role. He does not offer much offensively for the general manager to consider re-signing.
The fifth-year player is having a decent season for the Devils, so far with nine goals and 10 assists in 30 games. While the team could use his production for the rest of the year, Fitzgerald could look to trade Andreas Johnsson at the trading deadline. After the season, he has one year remaining on his contract before becoming a UFA.
Johnsson would be a decent depth player for a playoff team to acquire from the Devils by mid-March. His departure would open more playing time for younger players who are a part of the team’s future. If the Devils become sellers at the deadline, he would be a player to keep an eye on to see if he is moved by Fitzgerald.
The Devils have prioritized youth through their rebuild but some younger players create questions as to whether they are a fit for a team. Ty Smith has struggled this season after he posted 21 assists and 23 points in 48 games in 2020-21. The 21-year-old defenseman only has eight points in 25 games in 2021-22.
Smith has been paired with a number of defensemen in order to improve his play but it has not been successful. He could be traded by the start of next season if the current coaching staff remains intact beyond this year. It is understandable if the Devils do not want to trade away a player who has not yet reached his prime but the coaching staff may have seen enough if he does not play better this season.
The Devils continue to work through struggles and the recent slump of only one win in their last ten games may prevent them from making the playoffs. The roster will continue to see veterans leave as the team likely will be sellers at the trading deadline. In addition to roster changes, the Devils could undergo another head coaching change if the team does not show improvement before the 2022-23 season begins.