Labor day weekend is coming up, which is commonly seen as the end of the summer. The New Jersey Devils may have ended theirs by tying up a significant loose end from this offseason. As reported in this noon-time post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, the New Jersey Devils re-signed Adam Henrique to a six year deal worth $24 million. The new contract will keep Henrique in red, white, and black through the 2018-19 season. The exact structure of the deal is not yet known, but he will cost $4 million on the team's salary cap all the same.
UPDATE: Tom Gulitti tweeted out the structure of the deal here:
Henrique's contract year-by-year: 2013-14 $2 mil; 2014-15 $3 mil; 2015-16 $4 mil; 2016-17 $4.5 mil; 2017-18 $5 mil; 2018-19 $5.5 mil.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) August 27, 2013
My initial reaction was that this is a good deal and that hasn't changed in the hours between reading about the news and this very post. Henrique had a great rookie season followed by a lackluster sophomore season in terms of production. He went from .68 points per game (51 in 74 games, 0.54 PPG in the 2012 playoffs) to .38 (16 in 42). I can see how one may look at that and wonder whether he deserved such a long deal. For that, you have to look at his other contributions. Henrique was an all-situations player as a rookie in 2011-12 and again in 2013. Getting power play time as a young forward is one thing, but it's a testament to his two-way abilities that the coaching staff also gave him significant minutes on the penalty kill a swell. Lou specifically cited this as a reason why Henrique is an important part of the team. From Gulitti's post:
"He’s a core player," Lamoriello said. "He’s an integral part of this team. He’s one of the key players that has to go (play well). He plays in all situations – 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill. So, he’s relied upon and he has that responsibility and has to produce."
In terms of possession in 5-on-5 situations, Behind the Net has a positive on-ice Corsi rate for Henrique in 2011-12 and 2013. In both seasons, Henrique didn't face scrubs and he had an offensive zone start percentage below 50%. While it helped that he was in between Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk as a rookie, I doubt Peter DeBoer would have kept going with him if he wasn't effective in those situations. While the production raises a question mark or two, the evidence we have points to Henrique already being an effective player at the age of 23.
As a different perspective, please look at Dainius Zubrus' last contract. They play different styles, certainly, but consider what they've done in the bigger picture. Both Henrique and Zubrus have been positive possession players who are able to play well at both ends of the rink, play either center or wing, and don't need to be sheltered at all. Until this summer, Zubrus was a six year deal at $3.4 million per year. He was never all that productive of a player, but it wasn't a bad contract in retrospect because of the other things he has done. Those are things Henrique is already doing and so the team feels he was worth at least that much. Given that he's younger and there's a possibility his production could improve in the future (plus, the cap ceiling is higher now than it was in Zubrus' time), a larger cap hit than him is justified in my eyes.
There are two other notable benefits to this deal. First, this deal also takes up two seasons where Henrique would be eligible as an unrestricted free agent. If it took an average accrued value of $4 million to retain Henrique beyond some of his prime years to age 29, then that's a risk that may be worth taking. The Devils may be spending on a potential to a degree. If he does improve as the team think he will, then today's announcement would look very shrewd. Second, the salary cap ceiling is likely going to rise in coming seasons. This will make Henrique's cap hit smaller with respect to the maximum amount available. Again, should he improve a bit, the Devils would have a young, effective, top-six forward on a very reasonable contract. If he doesn't, then he's not taking up so much of the cap to act as an albatross on the team's books. These are positives that I should not be ignored.
That all said, with new money comes new responsibilities. I'm confident that Henrique will continue to be a positive possession player at evens. I see no reason to think he won't get better on defense both at evens and on the penalty kill. With Travis Zajac on the team, he doesn't always have to face the toughest competition but I would think he could hold his own if necessary. I'm not sure whether he'll end up as a center or a wing, but I am sure he could contribute in either position. The only real question mark regarding Henrique's future is with production. Can he be regular 50-60 point player without Parise and Kovalchuk? Can he average two shots per game? Can he be an asset on the power play as opposed to just a body? Without having to recover from a torn ligament in his thumb plus a team that hopefully won't run cold at shooting percentages (I'm assuming a rising tide floats many boats), there's reason to be hopeful that Henrique's numbers may improve and he may be featured more on offense. He'll be expected to now.
I did state on past episodes of Talking Red that I would have preferred a shorter, bridge-like deal for less money than this. I'm admittedly not sure whether he will return to his 2011-12 form in the future. A shorter, cheaper deal that asks "Can you show me who you really are?" would be good in the short-run, though I know that would've been costly if he does blossom more as a player afterwards. I do think this longer deal that ties him up is definitely a defensible, understandable, and appreciable decision. Based on what I've read in Gulitti's post about the signing, I get the sense that the team is clearly confident in Henrique's abilities and it's does feel good to see that he really does want to stay in New Jersey for six more years. The Devils now have at least two contract spots left on their reserve list (Dan Kelly signed an AHL deal, it could be three if Damon Severson stays in juniors for another season) and they have roughly $3.8 million left in cap space, so they have some room to maneuver during the season. Per Lou's comments near the end of Gulitti's post, this signing likely concludes the Devils' actions for the summer. What an eventful one it has been.
In the meantime, I want to know what you think about Henrique's new contract. Do you think the Devils did the right thing to lock him up for a considerably long term? Will Henrique continue to grow as a player? Who will he play with, and will it be at wing or center? What do you expect from him in this season? What about in coming seasons? Please leave your answers to these questions and other thoughts about this signing in the comments. Please also feel free to pick your general reaction in the poll. Thank you for reading.