What Are the Devils Doing?

NHL free agency has finally arrived and a lot of names have already switched teams. Justin Williams returned to the Carolina Hurricanes, Karl Alzner went to the Montreal Canadiens and Kevin Shattenkirk opted to pass over the New Jersey Devils and sign with the New York Rangers. Shattenkirk signing with the Rangers was a real sting to Devils’ fans, as many expected him to be in red and black next season.

Losing Shattenkirk to the Rangers is not a great feeling. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Losing a player to the Rangers was not the only interesting situation that happened. Ray Shero has been involved, and not involved, in several different transactions and some of them are confusing, to say the least. Let’s examine what has happened today and see what it could mean moving forward.

How Boyle Fits

Brian Boyle was added minutes after free agency began at 12 p.m. ET. At first glance, I was not overly happy with the signing. Nick Bonino was available and I thought he would represent a much better fit. However, after seeing the contracts and reflecting on the current state of the Devils, I am more than pleased with this signing.

Brian Boyle, NHL
Brian Boyle will be a great addition to the bottom-six. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Boyle brings a veteran presence and great faceoff skills to Jersey’s team. The two-year contract is a bridge deal, which I recommended would be a great move for Bonino.

Bonino went on to sign for four years with a $4.1 million cap hit, a bit too long and pricey than what the Devils were looking for. Boyle can now play the third or fourth line center role until one of the prospects develops enough to make it their own. He is a good addition who wanted to be in New Jersey, which is always a plus.

Shero Surprisingly Frugal

Everyone expected Shero to blow the roof off when pitching to Shattenkirk. Surprisingly, he was hesitant to give the skilled, puck-moving defenseman a long-term contract. I understand being cautious in free agency. Especially, considering that Shattenkirk has some defensive deficiencies in his game. However, I am not thrilled with the frugal mindset.

After buying out Mike Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly, the Devils are rolling in cap space. If you exclude Ryan Clowe’s $4.85 million cap hit, as he will be put on LTIR, there will be about $31 million of cap space for next season. With so much space, why not give Shattenkirk the extra year or two? Hopefully, Shero has other plans for the defense. If he does not, then his hesitation will look pretty bad in hindsight.

Shero also let Beau Bennett go to the St. Louis Blues for $650,000. Bennett did not wow many with his stat line last season, but anyone who watched the Devils play saw how effective he was. Most of the time he played alongside subpar linemates and still looked good, so I do not understand letting him walk for such little money when New Jersey was the lowest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference last season.

Trades Incoming

I can understand not wanting to overpay free agents. What I do not understand is why Shero would clear significant cap space for the next two seasons if he did not plan on making a splashy move. The only answer I can think of is that the Devils have a few trade ideas in the works. The only two areas that the Devils can deal from a position of strength are at center and with draft picks.

Now that Brian Boyle has signed on for two years there is a surplus of centers. Travis Zajac won’t be going anywhere, his cap hit is too high relative to his age. He also dominated when paired with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri last season. Pavel Zacha, Nico Hischier and Mike McLeod are all young, early first-round picks still on the way up. Needless to say, they will not be moved. John Quenneville presents an interesting trade piece but is still unproven and would probably not fetch a big return.

Adam Henrique is the best trade chip the Devils have right now. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That leaves us with Adam Henrique, who has been a fan favorite ever since he scored the series-winning goal against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012. It would be painful to watch him leave but he is the only one that really makes sense to go. His numbers are good and his cap hit is relatively low for what he can bring. He could be packaged with a few draft picks, the Devils have eight for 2018 and acquire a quality defenseman. In order to compete next year, the blue line needs an upgrade and Henrique may be how that upgrade happens.