Devils Face Big Questions in the 2022 Offseason

Speculation season is in full swing, as everyone from fans to hockey insiders are sharing offseason rumors and mock trades. The New Jersey Devils have been attached to a handful of players who could be on the move, thanks to their cap space and possession of the second overall pick. Picture a mosaic and how it is made up of small pieces that together intricately form a picture. The biggest responsibility general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald has is to find the necessary pieces to complete his picture, and there are currently quite a few missing.

Fitzgerald has made multiple comments about doing whatever it takes to make his team better, and while fans and media do not know exactly what that looks like, it is known what questions he needs to answer over the next few months, starting with his issues in the net.

What Will the Devils’ Goaltending Situation Look Like Next Season?

The Devils’ GM has stated multiple times that he would be rectifying the goaltending this summer. At this point, fans do not know what that will exactly look like, but there are options. Let’s break down the current situation and where the team stands.

What Devils Fans Know

Between October and April, seven different goaltenders suited up for the Devils, and unfortunately, none of them had an outstanding performance. Jonathan Bernier had the best numbers of the bunch with a .902 save percentage and 3.06 goals-against average in 10 games played, but in January the team shut him down after he underwent successful hip surgery. During his exit interview, he said he may not be ready to play in October.

On the flip side, Mackenzie Blackwood entered this offseason 100 percent healthy after dealing with injuries throughout the regular season. One of the more interesting stories surrounding the 6-foot-4 goaltender was that he began the season with Todd Reynolds as his agent, but cut ties in March choosing to sign with Andy Scott of Octagon Hockey. The Ontario native is only under contract next season for $2.8 million, and is slated to become a restricted free agent.

Mackenzie Blackwood New Jersey Devils
Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“It’s been a tough year but now I’m in a good place,” said Blackwood. “I’m feeling really good about my body and progress. I’m really happy with where things are at. I’m really excited to get to turn the page on all of that and start fresh … This was an experience that I’ve never had before and I’m not going to lie it was pretty taxing on me mentally and physically. I think moving forward I’m going to have a greater appreciation of my body and health and taking care of myself. Doing the things I need to do to be my best and play the way I’m capable night in and night out.”

Related: Devils’ 2022 Free Agent Targets: Goaltenders

It is clear that goaltending was the Achilles heel of the Devils’ 2021-22 campaign. If fans need proof, they can look at New Jersey’s rival, the New York Rangers. The latter only scored five more goals than the Devils in the regular season, but coach Lindy Ruff’s team had 98 more goals against. These statistics further show the importance of good goaltending as the Rangers made it to the Eastern Conference Final.

What Fitzgerald Could Potentially Do

The Devils will have options this summer, whether a deal is made through a trade or free agency. The real question is if Fitzgerald is looking for a bona fide starter to challenge or possibly replace Blackwood, or a reliable backup who can take over while Berner works himself back to full health. Daily Faceoff released its Top 50 Unrestricted Free Agents, and goaltenders like Marc-Andre Fleury, Jack Campbell, Darcy Kuemper, and Ville Husso all made the list. There are plenty of possibilities, and it will be interesting to see what direction the organization will take to solve the team’s issues in the crease.

Which Free Agents WIll the Devils Bring Back?

Decisions will need to be made on a variety of players, ranging from Jesper Bratt to Mason Geertsen. The organization made it clear that Bratt is a big part of the team’s future, and they want him in New Jersey long-term. It is expected a deal will be reached to keep the 5-foot-10 Swede in black and red. Fans and media did not get as clear of a response from the GM when it came to other players like Pavel Zacha and Jimmy Vesey.

Related: Takeaways From Devils’ GM Fitzgerald’s End of Season Media Availability

There are 16 free agents within the organization, and while some are no-brainers like not resigning goaltenders Andrew Hammond or Jon Gillies, others are a bit of a mystery. On June 9, Ryan Novozinsky of reported that P.K. Subban’s agent told him they are meeting in the next few weeks to “determine his thoughts” about re-signing with the Devils or joining another organization.

Jesper Boqvist, Tyce Thompson, and Fabian Zetterlund are all restricted free agents, while Mason Geertsen, A.J. Greer, and Colton White are unrestricted free agents. Is there room for any of the above next season? It was Jack Hughes who said during his exit interview, “The team right now is not the team we are going to win with or be successful with. We have a lot of work to do and guys need to be much better.” Fitzgerald needs to determine how many of his current players are expendable and who can help push this team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Will Fitzgerald Add More Veteran Presence to His Roster?

The Devils are one of the youngest teams in the NHL, and they may look to change that this summer. During his exit interview, Miles Wood mentioned that the team may have been too young this season, and suggested there is a need for some veteran presence in the locker room. As far as fans know, Subban will not be returning, which means Damon Severson and Dougie Hamilton are currently the only real veteran voices in the locker room.

P.K. Subban New Jersey Devils
P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There are plenty of young players like Alexander Holtz, Nikita Okhotyuk, and Kevin Bahl who are itching to make the roster in New Jersey. Will Fitzgerald offer them a spot instead of a player with more experience? If Fitzgerald is looking to add a couple of veterans, where would they slot into the lineup? The Devils have a ton of players who can play a bottom-six role, including Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, Andreas Johnsson, Janne Kuokkanen, and Wood. Fans have to think multiple trades are in the team’s future over the next few months to bring in the right pieces, instead of having an overabundance of the wrong ones at their disposal.

Would fans be okay with a veteran forward making the final roster over a young and promising player like Holtz or Zetterlund? To be determined.

Will New Jersey Look to Add More of a Physical Presence to Their Lineup?

This is a situation where Fitzgerald could kill two birds with one stone by bringing in an older player with a physical edge like Andrew Copp or Nino Niederreiter. Greg Wyshynski of ESPN said one of New Jersey’s biggest off-season concerns will be finding some size and skill to play with Jack Hughes.

The Devils do have one forward within the organization that brings intensity to the ice, and that is none other than Wood. It is worth noting that he is a restricted free agent, and Fitzgerald has not publicly commented on his status moving forward. Throughout the season it was apparent the Buffalo native was missed, as they were unable to duplicate his physical style of play. Bastian and McLeod were the only two players to register over 100 hits this past season, and when healthy Wood can be counted on to help in this category.

Miles Wood, Jaroslav Halak, Torey Krug
New Jersey Devils left wing Miles Wood celebrates (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

I did my own Twitter poll to see if fans want Wood to return to the Devils and received 198 votes. An overwhelming 89.9 percent hope to see the 6-foot-2 winger return. To answer this specific question, Fitzgerald can opt to look in-house.

Will New Jersey Trade the Second Overall Pick at the Draft?

This has been a hot topic since the NHL Draft Lottery. New Jersey was the only team to move up in the lottery, and in doing so secured the second overall pick. Fans don’t need to be on the internet long to see a plethora of mock trades that range from ridiculous to realistic. senior writer Dan Rosen recently shared his thoughts, and I have to agree that the Devils will only move the second overall pick for a player like David Pastrnak, Quinn Hughes, or William Nylander. Like most questions surrounding New Jersey this summer, there are plenty of options and Fitzgerald is in the driver’s seat to do something big, even if that means drafting Juraj Slafkovský.

Should the Devils Make a Splash and Sign a Big Name Free Agent?

Last season New Jersey made a huge splash by locking in defenseman Hamilton, in addition to trading for Ryan Graves and signing Bernier and Tomas Tatar. The aforementioned moves ranked them as having one of the best offseasons in the league. Unfortunately, that thrilling offseason did not generate results on the ice, which brings us to this summer.

Considering the Devils have $25.3 million in cap space, it is no surprise that the club has been linked to multiple big names including Alex DeBrincat and Johnny Gaudreau. If there is one thing New Jersey did this season it was establish their core moving forward. Hughes, Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Dawson Mercer are the future of New Jersey. Knowing this information leaves fans to wonder if another big name forward is necessary.

The addition of a player like Gaudreau certainly would not hinder a team on the ice, but should the Devils be looking to further boost their top six or look for complimentary depth pieces? It is another question that Fitzgerald needs to think long and hard about. The one thing that both the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning have is depth throughout their lineup. The Devils do not, and should be looking to fill in their bottom six over the next few months. The club has the money to make a big splash, but is the priority to have an explosive top two lines, or have a more complete roster? Coach Ruff has said multiple times he wants to be able to roll four lines throughout a game. Is adding another superstar a top priority?

After a disappointing regular season, New Jersey is primed to have a successful summer. Everything is working in their favor, from their salary cap situation to owning the second overall pick at the draft. The next few months will be incredibly interesting to watch unfold as Fitzgerald looks to prioritize his needs and complete the Devils’ mosaic for the 2022-23 season.

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