It seemed that New Jersey Devils fans were ecstatic prior to the 2019-20 campaign’s puck drop, after the organization’s memorable offseason transactions. Regardless of the NHL’s postponement on this season, the Devils were on the verge of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season.
More change is in order for Jersey’s team and fans should expect another busy offseason once free agency arrives.
While New Jersey should avoid a few notable unrestricted free agents (UFAs), here are three available in 2020 that the team should pursue.
There’s no question that the Devils defensive corps needs improvement entering the 2020-21 season. One perspective is that the team’s front office should finally provide top prospects such as Ty Smith and Kevin Bahl an opportunity to earn a spot on the 23-man active roster.
While this hockey enthusiast also strongly believes the Devils should acquire St. Louis Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo this offseason, there is a price-friendly and safer option on the market.
Former Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson is an ideal asset for New Jersey moving forward. Considering the Devils’ potential youth on defense and without veteran players such as Sami Vatanen or Andy Greene, the team needs a skater that offers experience and stability on the back end.
Edmundson, 26, has skated in the NHL since the 2015-16 season and proven he has the potential to be a No. 2 defenseman. The blueliner isn’t flashy or an offensive threat such as Pietrangelo or the skater he was traded for in Justin Faulk, but Edmundson’s stay-at-home and disciplined approach offers value for an inconsistent Devils’ squad.
The 2019 Stanley Cup champion has averaged over 18:00 of ice-time during his NHL career and has only finished a season with a negative plus/minus rating once (2017-18).
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Another aspect to keep in mind is that the Devils could find lightning in a bottle with Edmundson. It’s arguable that NHL defensemen don’t hit their full potential until skating in the NHL after four-to-five seasons, which fits the 2011 draft pick’s mold entering this offseason.
The Devils can provide Edmundson room to grow as a leader and player while offering him money other teams may not be willing to spend. Most importantly the timing is right for Edmundson to run with the Devils.
If the season officially ended prior to its return from postponement, then the Devils would have ranked 24th in the NHL for goals-for per games-played (2.68). Forward Kyle Palmieri would be the only current skater that recorded 20 or more goals with 25.
Adding a forward whose primary skill is finding the back of the net would be of the essence for Jersey’s team. That’s when forward Mike Hoffman enters the conversation.
The UFA market favors the players this offseason due to the lack of talented depth at all three positions, but Hoffman is bona fide goalscorer who the Devils should consider overpaying.
The 2009 fifth-round draft pick has recorded 20 or more goals in a season since 2014-15 and is fresh off a career-high 36-goal campaign in 2018-19 with the Florida Panthers. Prior to the league’s stoppage, he netted 29 goals and chipped in 30 assists. It’s safe to say Hoffman would’ve added another career year to his hockey resume had the season continued.
The winger’s 30 helpers would rank second on the Devils, which keep in mind is six more than the next skater in Pavel Zacha.
At 30 years old, there could be some skepticism on signing Hoffman to a lucrative contract. The chances are the forward would ask for five years and anywhere from $8-9 million, per year. New Jersey can afford that contract given the amount of salary-cap space it has. However, the major questions are is if the veteran worth that money for his tenure and does he hit the team’s needs moving forward?
The answer is yes.
The following offseason’s UFA class doesn’t have the best group of talent either, for what it’s worth. While Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine are scheduled UFA for 2021, it’s unlikely their respective teams don’t extend them prior to that summer. That would leave Edmonton’s Ryan-Nugent Hopkins as one of the few notable options on offense, but that’s a conversation for another time.
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Adding a quality goalscorer such as Hoffman at the moment would make more sense for the Devils rather than trading for an asset or overpaying a different skater that’s not as talented as Hoffman in 2021.
Youngsters such as Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes will need a veteran and point producer’s support for their respective developments. Aside from Palmieri, the Devils entail minimal threats in the goalscoring department. Teams need depth to succeed in the NHL and advance to the playoffs, but also multiple skaters who can score on a consistent basis.
New Jersey took a chance on one Russian forward last offseason when it acquired Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden nights via trade, and this summer might call for similar actions.
Forward Vladislav Namestnikov is a skater New Jersey should highly consider pursuing this offseason. The 27-year-old offers diversity compared to other UFA since he’s able to play either the wing or center position. Having those types of options on offense for the Devils is an x-factor that’s arguably been missing for a number of seasons.
Namestnikov has never recorded more than 50 points in a season but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t with a new team and scenery. The forward has displayed his offensive capabilities with his skating and stick handling, and it’s arguably just a matter of finding the right fit and consistency for the current Colorado Avalanche skater.
The 2011 first-round draft pick (Tampa Bay Lightning) recorded one of his best seasons in 2015-16 while skating alongside the likes of Steven Stamkos. If Namestnikov proved then that he could produce with superstars during the early stages of his career, then his potential moving forward should be intriguing, especially for a team with skaters such as Hischier and Hughes.
Let’s not forget that if Namestnikov and Gusev were paired on a line together, let’s say with Hischier at center, then the two Russian natives may have some productive chemistry.
It’s fair to say that there’s a concern for signing Namestnikov. The former Lightning player was traded twice this season after he was acquired by the New York Rangers in 2017-18. However, a different environment — one where he’d be relied upon as a top-six forward — could end up being the best thing that’s ever happened to his career and could be a genius signing by the Devils’ front office.
Expect New Jersey during the offseason to acquire a top-tier goalscorer but also primarily focus on adding depth and role players.