It’s been a very busy last few days for the New Jersey Devils. And that doesn’t include the NHL Draft, which took place last Tuesday and Wednesday. Since then, the Devils have made a couple of trades, as well as a free agent signing in Corey Crawford. They also bought out Cory Schneider, who has struggled in his last few seasons.
Let’s catch up on all the news and what you may have missed.
Devils Acquire Johnsson, Murray
Devils’ general manager Tom Fitzgerald has made a couple of trades over the few days, acquiring defenseman Ryan Murray and winger Andreas Johnsson. We’ll start with Murray, who should provide an upgrade to the Devils’ top four if he can stay healthy. But staying in the lineup has been the issue with him, as he’s played in 60 games or more just once over the last four seasons. That said, the Devils only gave up a fifth-round pick for him, so there’s not a ton of risk involved.
Their next acquisition came in the form of Johnsson. He missed a good portion of the 2019-20 season with a knee injury, but there doesn’t seem to be any long-term concern about it. He’s averaged 45 points per 82 games over the last two seasons and should provide an offensive lift to the Devils’ middle-six forward lines.
Devils Buy Out Schneider
The writing appeared to have been on the wall for a while, but the Devils made it official this week when they bought out the remaining two years of Schneider’s contract. In doing so, the Devils free up $4 million in cap space but will have a dead cap hit of $2 million for the next four seasons.
Schneider had a few great seasons with the Devils after they acquired him in 2013, but he hasn’t been the same since 2016-17. He has a .905 SV% since then and has had plenty of injury problems to go along with the dip in on-ice performance. But despite the struggles, he should latch on somewhere during free agency. He can be a backup for some team if they manage his minutes to work around the injury concerns.
Crawford the Devils’ New Backup
Once the Devils bought out Schneider, it was only a matter of time before they found a replacement to back up Mackenzie Blackwood. And they were able to secure their guy on the first day of free agency, signing Corey Crawford to a two-year deal that carries a cap hit of $3.9 million.
Crawford has missed some time due to injuries over the last three seasons, but he’s still played in 107 games. He has a .917 save percentage (SV%) over that stretch, as well as wins above replacement (WAR) of 6.8. For comparison’s sake, Schneider has a WAR of 0.5 over the last three seasons. So the Devils are getting a significant upgrade behind Blackwood that should lead to a meaningful improvement in the win column.
Mercer, Holtz Producing Since the Draft
Dawson Mercer and Alexander Holtz, two of the Devils’ three first-round selections at the 2020 Draft, have been producing since Fitzgerald called their names last Tuesday evening. Holtz has a goal and assist in two games, while Mercer has two goals and an assist, including this beautiful snipe in a game yesterday afternoon.
Holtz is the crown jewel of the Devils’ 2020 Draft Class, but they got themselves a good-looking player in Mercer too. One of the things that made him appealing as a prospect is his underrated shot, and that’s been on display to start the QMJHL season. He’s up to six points in four games and is proving he belongs among the organization’s top prospects.
Holtz, meanwhile, has two points in two games since the Devils made him the seventh overall pick. Not only has he been producing, but he’s also gotten minutes on Djurgårdens top line. He’s not eligible to play for the Devils whenever the 2020-21 season begins, but he’s not far off. He has three points in five games in the SHL. And if that keeps up, it could show he’s ready to come over for the 2021-22 season.
The Devils have been busy, but they likely aren’t done yet. They could use another defenseman, as well as a bottom-six forward. If or when that happens, make sure to stick to The Hockey Writers for the latest breaking Devils news and analysis.
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Advanced stats from Evolving Hockey