While NHL superstar Taylor Hall isn’t re-signing with the New Jersey Devils this offseason, that doesn’t mean general manager Ray Shero can’t acquire a notable unrestricted free agent (UFA) on July 1.
No, the 2020 free-agent class doesn’t entail the same quality skaters in comparison to recent summers, with the likes of Erik Karlsson or John Tavares. Still, it’s evident New Jersey needs to upgrade its roster in several areas and UFA this offseason is one route the Devils can pursue to specifically upgrade the team’s blue line. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is a top UFA the Devils need to pursue.
Why the Devils Wouldn’t Sign Pietrangelo
Whichever teams pursue the St. Louis Blues’ captain will overpay for the 2019 Stanley Cup champion. That aspect is just the reality when a free-agent class is arguably weaker overall from top to bottom – the players at the top of that respective list have the upper hand to demand length and value with a contract.
There’s no arguing that the fourth-year captain with the Blues is at the top of the 2020 UFA list, and the market is in his favor. The 2020 UFA class headlines other notable names like Nicklas Backstrom, Torey Krug, Jake Muzzin, Braden Holtby, Hall, Tyson Barrie, Mike Hoffman, Sam Reinhart and Evgeni Dadonov.
The Washington Capitals are more than likely to re-sign their future Hockey Hall of Famer in Backstrom, which removes him from the conversation. Aside from Holtby, Krug and Hall, Pietrangelo’s competition in the UFA market bodes well for his value and a bigger contract than he arguably deserves.
The big question is if the Devils want to overspend for the 2008 fourth-overall selection? The 6-foot-3 blueliner is set to become 30 years old in January and has logged a plethora of games and ice-time since his first full season with the Blues back in 2010-11.
Is another large investment worth it for the Devils after they acquired P.K. Subban last offseason who’s earning $9 million a year? Subban has struggled to fit in with Jersey as a top-two defenseman while the 30-year-old has recorded six points in 35 games played, thus far.
Alternatives to Signing Pietrangelo
Boston Bruins’ defenseman Torey Krug is another potential option for New Jersey to acquire this offseason, but No. 47 will potentially demand more years and money considering he’s younger (28 years old) than Pietrangelo. Krug is the only other blueliner that provides competition and upside in comparison to the 2019 Stanley Cup champion. Yet, Krug’s playing-style may not be the right fit for a Devils team desperate for a well-rounded and defensive-minded blueliner.
Yes, Devils fans are also hopeful that prospects like Ty Smith and the newly acquired Kevin Bahl can see NHL ice-time next season. One fair perspective is that adding a top-tier defenseman such as Pietrangelo could place Smith or Bahl’s opportunity to play at the NHL on hold for at least another season or two.
Ice-time and exposure to the NHL level are necessary for young defensemen to develop and fulfill their potential as top blueliners. Adding a veteran with Pietrangelo’s potential contract could harm the Devils’ growth for the team’s younger defensemen noted above.
Why New Jersey Needs Pietrangelo
Devils fans can’t argue how New Jersey’s defense corps lacks quality talent, depth and stable leadership heading into 2020-21. Captain Andy Greene most likely retires this offseason after the Devils miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. New Jersey’s most talented defenseman in Sami Vatanen could also be traded before he’s set to become an UFA this summer.
That leaves two major holes in the blink of an eye on an already questionable Devils’ blue line for next season. Keep in mind that there are minimal options for New Jersey to pursue via free agency to upgrade its blue line, not only this offseason but the following summer too. For the 2020-21 UFA draft class, Carolina Hurricanes’ Dougie Hamilton would be the only potential defenseman the Devils could consider; and that’s if Carolina doesn’t offer him a contract extension prior to that time.
The Devils need to add an all-star defenseman to their lineup and one that’s not named “Subban.” The timing seems right for New Jersey to offer Pietrangelo a contract, especially given the circumstances that the Devils won’t have the option to add a caliber skater such as the Blues’ captain for a couple of seasons after 2019-20.
Even if the Devils wanted to preserve money to sign an all-star caliber forward to solve the team’s scoring problems up front, it wouldn’t seem realistic. Patrik Laine and Alex Ovechkin are the only forwards worth pursuing in UFA come 2020-21, but that likely won’t be an option for any NHL team considering those skaters should re-sign with their respective teams prior.
New Jersey is projected to have over $15 million come off the books alone from pending UFAs, which doesn’t include the five other restricted free agents. While the salary-cap ceiling could increase from $81.5 million to $84 this summer, the Devils will shave plenty of room to take a chance on signing and overpaying for a skater such as Pietrangelo and add additional notable skaters.
There’s also a perspective that if the Devils invest in both Pietrangelo and Vatanen this offseason that the team’s blue line would immediately experience a domino effect in a positive sense. Nor Vatanen or Subban are meant to see No. 1 defenseman caliber minutes on a nightly basis like both have with Jersey and it’s no surprise the two have struggled this season.
Adding Pietrangelo would decrease Vatanen and Subban’s roles overall, which could impact their performances for the better. The reality is that Subban was a more effective player when he was with the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens. The 2012-13 Norris Trophy winner wasn’t relied on the same way he is now with the Devils.
That also means that skaters such as Will Butcher, Mirco Mueller and Damon Severson would experience less ice-time and be relied upon differently in ways that would benefit themselves as players and the team.
Let’s not forget that the Blues signed 27-year-old, Justin Faulk, to a seven-year extension during the offseason. The chances are St. Louis inked Faulk long-term to prepare for the loss of their captain in Pietrangelo. Unless, the 6-foot-3 blueliner decides to take a discount with a legitimate Stanley Cup contender than New Jersey is in prime shape to add a top-tier defenseman to its roster, which also means that Pietrangelo potentially acts as the lone skater on the Devils who owns a Stanley Cup ring.
Kyle McKenna is a social media specialist & freelancer who also covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Fansided & Hooked On Hockey Magazine.