While the NHL announced that the 2019-20 season is temporarily suspended, hockey fans can rest assured that unrestricted free agency won’t be canceled once July arrives. There’s a chance free agency could be pushed back from its normal day of July 1, but it’s never too early to look ahead at the pool of available players to find new homes.
The New Jersey Devils are on the verge of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh time in the past eight seasons, and fans will be calling for another busy offseason from the team’s front office. Considering the weaker state of the 2020 unrestricted free agent (UFA) class, here are three players the Devils should avoid signing.
Why would Braden Holtby make this list?
For starters, Holtby currently owns a piece of jewelry that no skater on the Devils’ current roster possesses, which is a Stanley Cup ring. There’s no questioning that New Jersey needs to acquire a veteran skater and perhaps goaltender over the course of the next two seasons, but that investment shouldn’t entail Holtby this summer.
While Cory Schneider recently portrayed strong outings between the pipes for New Jersey since he was recalled from the American Hockey League, that small sample size shouldn’t convince the Devils that No. 35 is the answer moving forward as MacKenzie Blackwood’s backup.
Considering that the 2008 fourth-round draft pick has earned a Stanley Cup championship and Vezina Trophy (2015-16), Holtby can demand a contract worth a tenure of five seasons and potentially a high cost of over $6 million, per year. To put things in perspective, Schneider currently makes $6 million per season. Schneider’s contract expires after the 2022-23 campaign, but there’s reason to believe the team could end up buying out his contract or looking to trade the netminder while retaining a portion of his salary.
The reality is that Blackwood is the true No. 1 goaltender in Jersey.
New Jersey likely won’t spend that type of value on another goaltender until it’s time to extend and re-sign Blackwood to his first notable and big-time contract. Having a tandem that entails Holtby and Blackwood does sound intriguing, but Holtby is statistically having his worst season, featuring a save-percentage below .900 (.897%) and a goals-against average (GAA) above 3.00 (3.11). Since strapping on the pads for the Washington Capitals in 2010-11, Holtby has never finished a season with a GAA above 3.00.
Holtby stands out in comparison to other notable free agents and goaltenders such as Corey Crawford and the Detroit Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard, but New Jersey should still consider investing its UFA money elsewhere and at other positions.
Expect to see forward Alex Galchenyuk’s name often linked to New Jersey leading up to free agency. Considering that the former third-overall selection (2012) has underperformed, there’s a perspective that Galchenyuk could be a low-risk, high-reward signing for a rebuilding team such as New Jersey.
Galchenyuk has been traded on three occasions since lacing up the skates in the NHL back in 2012-13 and doesn’t appear to be the 50-point scorer he was when the Montreal Canadiens drafted him.
Contrary to those aspects is the idea that the forward can revive his NHL career in different scenery with a new team. It’s not uncommon for players to move on from certain teams and then find success while reaching their full potential.
While the 2020 UFA market favors the players this summer, it’s actually more cost-friendly for teams to take a chance on an underperforming skater such as Galchenyuk. The dual positioned skater (winger/center) would come at a cheaper price than other notable UFA such as Taylor Hall or Mikael Granlund, who are also former first-round draft picks.
That doesn’t mean the Devils should take a chance on Galchenyuk. The 6-foot-1 forward’s playing style is arguably too similar to current skaters such as Jesper Boqvist, Jack Hughes or Jesper Bratt and adding another less physical skater to New Jersey’s lineup won’t improve the team’s depth or talent on offense.
After an underachieving season in 2019-20, the Devils don’t need to “experiment” with a forward such as Galchenyuk just because of a lackluster free-agent class while trying to please fans with roster moves.
The Wisconsin University product has only netted eight goals this season, after skating in 45 games with Pittsburgh and then 15 with the Minnesota Wild. Galchenyuk hasn’t recorded less than 15 goals since his rookie campaign back in 2012-13 (9), which was also a shortened NHL season due to a lockout (48 games).
There’s no doubt that the Devils need to improve their defense core, but obtaining a UFA such as Justin Schultz is something the team should avoid.
Similar to Holtby, Schultz does own a Stanley Cup ring. The 2008 second-round draft pick actually earned two Stanley Cup rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins. His experience and prior success with both the Edmonton Oilers and Penguins is intriguing, but the market likely plays in Schultz’s favor where he’ll be overpaid.
Let’s not forget that he’s a right-handed shot and did record 51 points in 2016-17 en route to his second Stanley Cup championship. However, Schultz owns a minus-13 plus/minus rating in addition to just 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists) in 46 games played with Pittsburgh this season.
Veterans and playoff experience are key for the Devils to acquire in all three areas on the ice, but signing Schultz would arguably lead to regret on New Jersey’s part. However, St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo is 30 years old and he’s still a better option for the Devils.
The Blues current captain is one year older than Schultz, but is still more talented and offers more value for a rebuilding Devils squad. Other potential UFA defensemen New Jersey could take interest in are Tyson Barrie and Torey Krug. Those defensemen would come at a higher price for New Jersey but would be worth acquiring over a skater such as Schultz who comes at a cheaper price.
If the Devils signed Schultz, then the team would rely on him too much on a nightly basis to be a top-three defenseman. At this point in Schultz’s career he’s better off on a more talented team and one that entails quality depth on its blue line, where he’d experience less ice time.
The last thing New Jersey fans want to experience is a replicate season from 2019-20, where the offseason acquisitions disappointed, to say the least. If the team avoids these three players, then that won’t be the case again in the Garden State.
Kyle McKenna is a social media specialist & freelancer who also covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Fansided & Hooked On Hockey Magazine.