Devils Need to Avoid These Free Agents

Every July, there are a few free agents who end up with monster contracts well above what the player is worth. That’s the last thing the New Jersey Devils need as they try and return to the playoffs. One way for them to get there is by being smart in unrestricted free agency (UFA), which means avoiding bad signings. Here are five UFAs general manager Ray Shero needs to steer clear of this summer.

Tyler Myers

Myers has spent the last four-plus seasons as a member of the Winnipeg Jets. He’s compiled 114 points in 270 games during that time, finishing with 31 points in 80 games in 2018-19. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound defenseman may not be back with the Jets and will have his fair share of suitors if he becomes a UFA.

Tyler Myers - Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I can see why Myers would appeal to teams. He can chip in on offense and it’s tough to find a defenseman of his size, but that’s where the buck stops. His goals above replacement (GAR), which shows how many goals a player adds to his team relative to a replacement-level player, is minus-1.2 since 2016. He ranks 276th in the NHL among defensemen which is not great.

Evolving Wild’s contract projections have Myers landing a seven-year deal worth about $6.1 million per season, which is asking for trouble. If Shero can sign Jake Gardiner through free agency, that’d be his best bet. Otherwise, he should stay away from Myers and look to the trade market instead.

Wayne Simmonds

Simmonds is coming off a rough campaign, where he finished with 30 points in 79 games, his lowest total since 2010-11. He began 2018-19 with the Philadelphia Flyers but was acquired by the Nashville Predators at the Trade Deadline. Things did not go well with the Preds as he had just one goal and three points in 17 games.

The Devils could use a player with Simmonds’ skillset. He’s 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, plays with an edge, and can score goals. They don’t have a player like him in their middle six, but I’d be wary of signing him this summer. Simmonds has a GAR of minus-1 since 2016, which is the same as Tom Pyatt and Hunter Shinkaruk. Despite being able to score goals, he is a liability on the ice more than anything else.

Wayne Simmonds multi-season RAPM from Evolving Hockey

He has a negative impact on shot attempts (Off_CF), expected goals (Off_xG), and even scoring goals (Off_GF). It’s much of the same on defense as he gives up his fair share of shot attempts (Def_CF) and expected goals (Def_xG).

Simmonds is projected to fetch a five-year deal with a cap hit just above $5 million. He’ll be 31 years old by the start of 2019-20 and, given his underlying numbers, anything with term will be a problem in the not too distant future. His style of play doesn’t lend itself to aging well; more reason for the Devils to look elsewhere.

Alex Edler

Edler has spent his entire career with the Vancouver Canucks, 13 seasons. The 33-year-old defenseman has 368 career points in 814 games played and finished with 34 points in 56 games in 2018-19. The Canucks would like to have him back, but the two sides have yet to agree on terms.

Edler has a GAR of 7.4 since 2016, which is the same as Ben Chiarot, Keith Yandle, and Kevin Gravel. However, he did finish with a GAR of 8.7 in 2018-19, ranked 41st among NHL defensemen. That said, there are some issues with Edler that give me pause on signing him.

Visual by CJ Turturo (@CJTDevil), data from Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine)

One of the Devils’ main issues on their back end is their ability to transition the puck. Damon Severson excels at this, as does Will Butcher, but that’s about it. Edler would not offer much improvement. He has a limited impact on shot contributions and has poor zone entry and exit rates. It also doesn’t help that he can’t break up zone entries by the opposition.

Related: Should the Devils Target Olli Maatta?

Edler is projected to earn $5.8 million per season on a three-year deal. That’s a high cap hit given his age, especially for a rebuilding team like the Devils. A one-year contract would have Edler earning around $3.45 million, which is the only way I could see him being a fit. Otherwise, the Devils should pass on anything beyond that.

Jordan Eberle

Eberle has been with the New York Islanders since 2017, where he’s totaled 96 points in 159 games. He’s coming off a down season with only 37 points in 78 games. Plenty of Islanders saw their production fall under head coach Barry Trotz’s new system, but there’s more concern with Eberle than the others.

His points per 60 minutes (P/60) at five-on-five fell from 2.49 last season to 1.41 in 2018-19, which is a significant decline in production. He also has a GAR of 8.5 as an Islander, which isn’t great for a forward. That ranks him just behind Dmitry Jaskin and Andre Burakovsky, both of whom are bottom-six forwards.

Jordan Eberle
Jordan Eberle is due for a payday this July. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Eberle is going to get paid by someone this summer, but it shouldn’t be the Devils. He just turned 29 years old and is projected to get a seven-year deal with a cap hit over $6 million. History tells us those type of contracts don’t work out too well in the long run, and that’s not what leads to sustained success. There are better UFA options that will command less money and term than Eberle, so they’d be preferred choices.

Jeff Skinner

Skinner is coming off his first season with the Buffalo Sabres, where he finished with a career-high 40 goals in 82 games. He was acquired last August from the Carolina Hurricanes and fit in nicely alongside Jack Eichel. All signs point to him re-signing with the Sabres, but if he doesn’t, he’ll be one of the most sought after UFAs.

Skinner has been highly productive since 2016, averaging 2.05 P/60 at five-on-five, and has been a positive possession player. He also has a GAR of 39.1 over that span, ranked 21st among NHL forwards. Those numbers make it seem like a pretty bad idea to avoid Skinner in free agency, but his talent isn’t the issue.

Related: Devils’ Scoring Woes Can Be Improved Through Free Agency

The Sabres and Skinner were rumored to be closing in on an eight-year deal that could pay him $8.5-9.5 million annually. He’ll get something close to that if he becomes a UFA and I don’t think the Devils are yet in a position to take on such a signing. Taylor Hall is in the last year of his contract, while Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt will be restricted free agents next summer.

Jeff Skinner
Sabres center Jeff Skinner (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

That’s a lot of money to be spent, especially on Hischier and Bratt who’ll likely get big pay raises from their entry-level salaries. Hall and Skinner are both left wingers, so tying up that much money in one position isn’t a great strategy moving forward. The smarter move would be signing someone like Gustav Nyquist or Richard Panik, both of whom would be upgrades and could cost as much as Skinner combined. That’ll put the Devils in a better cap position down the road.

The Devils’ Most Important Summer

It’s been a while since the Devils have had this crucial of an offseason. They have to make the right signings that ensure the long-term future of the organization. And if they go about things the right way, the chances of Hall signing an extension become more likely. That’s why avoiding bad contracts and being smart in free agency is a must.

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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey. Contract projections from @EvolvingWild