With the Stanley Cup Final over, it’s now time for the NHL offseason to begin. There are plenty of rumors floating around, and teams will be active the closer we get to the NHL Entry Draft on June 21 and free agency on July 1. One team that needs to make sure they’re active is the New Jersey Devils, who had an abysmal 2018-19.
They have plenty of needs to address, both on offense and defense, and general manager Ray Shero has the assets to work with. They’ll also need to add more talent to ensure their star winger Taylor Hall signs a long-term extension when the time comes. Here’s how Shero can make that happen.
Devils Need Scoring Depth
Things could be much worse for the Devils’ forwards. They have a good core to build around with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, both of whom won’t be 21 years old until next season. Hischier produced at a 55.8 point pace per 82 games, while Bratt produced at a 53-point pace. Both are still on their entry-level contracts for one more year, so that’ll give Shero some room to spend.
Then there are the more established veterans, Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall. Palmieri finished with 27 goals and 50 points in 74 games and was one of the team’s best players. Since being acquired in 2015, he’s averaged 29.4 goals per 82 games. Hall, meanwhile, is one of the league’s best players and was the Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP in 2018.
Not all rebuilding teams have that kind of top-six talent to build around, but the Devils are fortunate enough to be in that position. With that said, they need more skill, and it starts with the first-overall pick at the Entry Draft on Friday. If they select Jack Hughes, they’ll have a great 1-2 punch with him and Hischier down the middle. If they choose Kaapo Kakko, they’ll have a potential star right wing who could play alongside Hall and Hischier. A win-win situation.
The next biggest need for Shero to address is a top-six wing. And he’ll have options in free agency, even with Jordan Eberle re-signing with the New York Islanders. Gustav Nyquist finished with 60 points in 81 games and would be a great option as a second liner. Other possibilities include Richard Panik, who could be a steal as an unrestricted free agent (UFA), and Micheal Ferland or Joonas Donskoi, who’d give the Devils scoring depth.
Shero also has plenty of trade bait to work with as he has 10 picks at Friday’s draft. There are more than a few teams who need to free up money. And the Devils have the cap space to help a team out like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Toronto Maple Leafs as long as there’s a sweetener in return. Shero could also look to acquire someone’s negotiating rights as the Philadelphia Flyers did with Kevin Hayes, which would give them a leg up on signing a UFA before other teams.
The Blue Line a Top Priority
Another pressing need for the organization is finding a top-four defenseman. However, the options in free agency are not the same as they are at forward. Erik Karlsson is the biggest name available, but it seems unlikely he signs with the team. Jake Gardiner would be a great fit, but it remains to be seen whether the two sides would have any interest in each other.
The options after those two are slim, so a trade seems like the most likely route. Nine of the first 20 players on TSN’s trade bait list are defensemen. Some of the names listed include Jacob Trouba and P.K. Subban so there are players who can help right away.
Trouba won’t be cheap to acquire, but the Devils have enough in the cupboard to make an acquisition work. He’s a restricted free agent (RFA), meaning they’d have to get him signed, but I don’t think Shero would give up valuable assets without being sure Trouba inks a deal. He’s only 25 years old, so he makes perfect sense for their long-term plans.
Subban may be the most intriguing name available. He didn’t have a great 2018-19, and he’s on the wrong side of 30, but he can still skate with the best of them. The Nashville Predators are looking for scoring and are rumored to be the favorites for Matt Duchene. They’d need to move salary to make it work, which means Subban could be the odd man out. He has a cap hit of $9 million but is only signed for three more seasons, which is the ideal term for someone over 30. If the price isn’t astronomical, he’d be a suitable target.
The Devils will also have some help from within the organization. Top prospect Ty Smith was named CHL Defensemen of the Year, and there’s a very good chance he’ll be in the NHL in 2019-20. Even if it’s in a third-pair role, he’ll be able to help. There’s also Jeremy Davies, who finished a stellar career at Northeastern University and will have a shot at a roster spot out of training camp. So they won’t have to rely solely on outside help.
Shero Set Up to Make Moves
It’s a lot to take care of for Shero and the Devils, but they have assets. They hold 10 draft picks, as mentioned before, and they’ll have around $35 million in cap space to use in free agency and trades. If they want to acquire someone like Subban, they have the chips and money to take on his contract (the same goes for Trouba).
The free agent class is shaping up to be one of the better ones in recent memory. I wouldn’t expect a July 1 spending spree, but it’d be a mistake for Shero to stay completely quiet. All of this ties back to Hall, who is eligible for an extension on July 1, and they need to bring in talent to convince him to do so. He’s the type of player worth paying eight figures, but he won’t do it if the roster is the same as last season. And that’s why you should expect Shero and his front office to be active.
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