The NHL Entry Draft may be over, but it’s only the beginning of the offseason. The New Jersey Devils came away making all seven of their selections, including drafting Luke Hughes — the younger brother of Jack Hughes — with the fourth overall pick. Though he’s at least a couple of years away from being NHL ready, Luke figures to be a big part of the team’s blue line for many years to come.
Now with the draft behind them, it’s time the Devils look to add NHL talent to their roster. They’re $11,045,001 million below the salary cap floor, so additions are coming. They’re in hot pursuit of defenseman Dougie Hamilton and will be in the market for a backup goaltender to Mackenzie Blackwood, among other things. So look for them to be active on the trade market and in free agency. Let’s catch up on all the action from the last few days.
Devils Approaching Hamilton Differently
In Larry Brooks’ latest edition of Slap Shots, he reported the Devils are pursuing Hamilton, who’s the most coveted free agent defenseman available this summer. The Devils’ pitch to Hamilton is a unique one as well. Here’s a snippet of what general manager Tom Fitzgerald has reportedly pitched to player agents around the league:
“Jersey is an incredible place to play and live. Players who come here quickly realize all that the state has to offer,” general manager Tom Fitzgerald writes. “We are close to major cities, beautiful beaches, fine dining and a myriad of entertainment options. We are also home to many welcoming communities. In fact, many Devils’ families were built and grown right here in the Garden State(From ‘Devils pursuing Dougie Hamilton with unique free agency pitch,’ The New York Post – 7/24/2021).
Odd? Maybe. But the Devils have made the playoffs only once since making the Stanley Cup in 2012. They haven’t been a hot spot for free agents since then, so why not try something new to lure free agents. Will it work? We’ll find out in the next few days, especially with Hamilton. But it’s worth noting that Brooks mentions there might be mutual interest between Hamilton and the Devils. They have enough cap space to pretty much offer him a blank check, so perhaps that’ll do the trick. And if it does, he’d be a game-changer for the organization.
Devils Could Attempt to Re-Sign Murray
Yesterday in his post-draft media availability, Fitzgerald mentioned he had preliminary talks with defenseman Ryan Murray’s agent about re-signing him. The plan is to circle back in the coming days before free agency begins on July 28.
Murray finished 2020-21 with 14 points in 48 games. He had his ups and downs and was a healthy scratch on a few occasions. But overall, he had a good season, finishing with a goals above replacement (GAR) of 4.8. He was particularly good over the final five to six weeks of the season and looked closer to the defenseman the Devils thought they were getting when they acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Evolving-Hockey predicts Murray will land a four-year deal at a cap hit of $4.263 million, which may be a bit rich for the Devils. However, The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn predicts Murray will land a three-year deal at a cap hit of $3.6 million (From ‘Top 50 NHL UFAs: From Dougie Hamilton and Gabriel Landeskog to Alex Wennberg and Nikita Gusev,’ The Athletic – 7/14/2021). That seems like a fair price for him, and I think the Devils would be willing to meet that price. At least, they should be willing to go there.
Murray is a competent top-four defender and an underrated puck-mover. A second pair of him with Ty Smith moving out to the right side would give the Devils a decent unit behind Ryan Graves and Damon Severson (assuming Hamilton doesn’t sign in New Jersey). It wouldn’t be the greatest top four ever assembled, but the Devils should be able to get by with it. Plus, Murray adds some veteran experience to an already young group.
Devils Should Keep an Eye on the Islanders
The New York Islanders are going to be a busy team this next week or so. They traded Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings to free up cap space and lost Jordan Eberle to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, which freed up about $5.5 million more in cap space. The Islanders have been connected to Gabriel Landeskog, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They could also look to bring back Kyle Palmieri and Casey Cizikas and have to re-sign restricted free agents Adam Pelech, Ilya Sorokin and Anthony Beauvillier.
The Islanders’ RFAs alone will cost a good chunk of change, especially Pelech. If they’re looking to sign Landeskog, that could add close to $9.5 million in cap space. Someone will have to go if that’s the case, and it could be Beauvillier, per Arthur Staple’s latest in The Athletic (From ‘What we’re hearing about the Islanders after the draft: Latest on Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Kyle Palmieri and more,’ The Athletic – 7/24/2021).
If Beauvillier becomes a cap casualty, the Devils should be all over a possible trade. His counting totals aren’t the most impressive — he’s averaged 23 goals and 47 points per 82 games the last two seasons. But make no mistake, he’s quite the underrated offensive winger. His even-strength offense has been worth a GAR of 13 since the start of 2019-20, and he’s averaged 1.81 points per 60 minutes. Given what he provides offensively, he could really break out on a line with Jack Hughes in New Jersey.
Beauvillier is an RFA with arbitration rights this offseason. Evolving-Hockey predicts him to land a bridge deal of two years at a cap hit of $3.728 million. That’s affordable for almost any team. But if Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello lands Landeskog, getting cap compliant after re-signing his RFAs and one of Palmieri or Cizikas will be difficult. It’s no guarantee any of this happens, but it’s certainly a situation the Devils should monitor because Beauvillier would be a valuable offensive addition to their lineup.
Devils Find Value After Drafting Hughes
After drafting Hughes, the Devils went off the board in choosing Chase Stillman with the 29th overall pick. He has a good motor and some offensive upside, but it was still a reach. That’s especially true when considering players like Sasha Pastujov, Nikita Chibrikov and Simon Robertsson were still on the board, so they should have gone in a different direction. That’s not to say Stillman is a bad prospect or won’t pan out either. But the Devils did pass up on some higher upside players in that spot.
Fortunately, they made up for it with some of their following picks. Forward Samu Salminen, who they selected 68th overall, was a projected early to mid-second-round choice by most scouting services. Defenseman Topias Vilén was ranked in the top 100 by most sites and even as high as 54th overall by Recruit Scouting. The Devils managed to get him with the 129th pick. Right wing Zakhar Bardakov, who McKeen’s Hockey ranked 139th overall, went to the Devils at pick no. 203.
Salminen has the most upside of those three and could be a third-line center if he hits his ceiling. But Vilén has legit NHL potential and put up decent numbers playing for Pelicans as a 17-year-old in the Finnish Liiga. Meanwhile, Bardakov played most of the season in the KHL and had eight goals and 11 points in 43 games as a 20-year-old over-ager with Vityaz Podolsk. Time will tell which one of these prospects pans out. But the Devils found value and NHL potential with some players who fell below where they projected to go. A job well done at the end of the day.
That wraps up this edition of Devils news & rumors. Free agency begins this Wednesday at noon. With all the cap space the Devils have, things should be pretty active this week. So make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017