On Tuesday, Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that Jacob Josefson was re-signed by the New Jersey Devils. I didn't have anything to say then because I wanted to know what the terms were. On Thursday, CapGeek had the details and Gulitti confirmed them. The Devils did not just re-sign the restricted free agent, they gave him a raise. Josefson was given a two year contract worth a total of $1.6 million. That's $800,000 per year and it's a one-way deal, which means Josefson will get that no matter where he plays in 2014-15.
He will likely be in New Jersey. Josefson would have to go through waivers if he were demoted; he's played too many games at the NHL level. There are now fourteen signed forwards on the roster. It will be a point of discussion and training camp to determine what role Josefson will play. I do think there's value to keeping him around. With Ryane Clowe, an aging Patrik Elias, an aging Dainius Zubrus, Mike Cammalleri, and Martin Havlat among the group combined with the nature of a 82-game season, it's a safe bet that there will be injuries among the forwards. I am confident that Josefson will get minutes. The question is how much value could Josefson bring to the table?
It's a more legitimate question than one may think. Two seasons ago, Josefson looked like he could be a decent enough contributor on the Devils' bottom six. He wasn't in a big role given his average ice time of just over twelve minutes per game, but he played a career-high of 41 games. Hockey Analysis listed him with having the second highest zone-start adjusted Corsi percentage among Devils forwards. Limited ice time and weak competition means one shouldn't read too much into it, but it was evidence he was doing good in his spot from a possession-standpoint. He could have played more but injuries derailed a 20-year forward who showed signs of becoming somebody that season. A clavicle injury sidelined him for 36 games and a broken wrist that saw him miss the last two games of the season plus fifteen in the playoffs.
However, he hasn't been much of any body since then. The lockout-shortened 2013 season saw a bump in minutes. Josefson averaged just under thirteen minutes per game in 22 games. Yet, per Hockey Analysis, his zone-start adjusted Corsi percentage was closer to the bottom among Devils forwards. While it was still positive and still a small role, it was a sign that things weren't going as well. It got worse in 2013-14. He averaged just over ten minutes per game in 27 appearances. His zone-start adjusted Corsi was below 50% and the second-worst among Devils forwards per Hockey Analysis. Again, a limited role, but Josefson wasn't performing well in it. Mind you, he didn't suffer significant injuries in either season. It doesn't mean he's doomed to being poor, but he arguably hasn't impressed enough with the chances he has received.
And throughout all three seasons, Josefson never shown signs of being a productive player. He's only averaged at least one shot per game: his rookie season in 2010-11. His 118 games have yielded seven goals, eighteen assists, and 109 shots. Not all offense is in putting up points. Yet, he has individual Corsi per 60 rate (shooting attempts just by the player) rate of just over eight across the last three seasons according to Hockey Analysis. He's not taking many attempts, much less putting pucks on frame. He was at least accurate in making passes last season, though he didn't make all that many. Josefson will play disciplined hockey and can help a bit on defense (good at zone exits, for one), but after 118 games, I don't see him being all that offensive of a player. He appears to be one-way in the way the team doesn't really need more assistance in. Therefore, I think he really only can make the team in a limited role. Similar to what he has been receiving in the past three seasons.
Sure, maybe he could do more if he plays with better players or minutes. But (and I'm getting flashbacks to talking about Mattias Tedenby again on Talking Red) on what basis does he deserve to play with better players or get more minutes? Yeah, being stuck with Cam Janssen is a bummer; but it's not like he was killing it away from him last season per his With-Or-Without-You at Hockey Analysis. He has not necessarily been winning in his limited role. He has not displayed some talent that the team could use up front. Moreover, Josefson is now 23. I'm not sure how much more he can develop. As it stands, he's going to be battling for a fourth line spot if he's not designated as a depth player. So far in his career, he's been playing like one. With this contract, he's getting paid like one. I don't see any injustice or misuse here.
To that end, I think it's curious that he's only getting paid a little less than Stephen Gionta. On July 1, Gionta was re-signed to a two-year deal worth $850,000 per year. The decision to keep him was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser as Gionta has been arguably the weakest among the CBGB line, as argued by Alex in June. Yet, he fills the role that Josefson may be able to handle now. A 10-12 minute forward who can play center or wing, handle himself well on a second or third penalty killing unit, and chip in some points while forechecking. Gionta has done this - well, to an extent - on his way to have a NHL career. Josefson has received opportunities to do just that (he has been given 10-12 minutes per game and got PK time), but hasn't always made a strong case to stay in the lineup. He hasn't proven himself to be that much better than Gionta. And it's not exactly a compliment for a young forward to hope he's better than the twelfth-at-best forward on the roster. Josefson has played 118 games, he hasn't been a regular when healthy, and it's still an open question of what he brings to the proverbial table. If he wasn't under 25, would his non-regular status be a point of contention? I don't know.
That said, the team thinks they're worth about the same in my opinion. The contract as a whole means Josefson will get two more seasons to establish himself. The probability of injury elsewhere in the lineup for this season makes it likely he will be called upon to play. I think if he ever does stick in the NHL, it'll be in a role similar to Gionta. To do that, Josefson has to show he can contribute at least a little something going forward (e.g. shooting the puck when he has it in the slot) and demonstrate solid defending when he does play. It can be done, Josefson just has to demonstrate it and more than just once. I think the team is banking on that with this new deal, otherwise I don't think there would be a second year in it. Yet, if it doesn't work out - and that is a real possibility - then it's not much of a loss. It's not over yet for Josefson; this contract will provide the chances for him to prove himself on the ice in the best league in the world. If there's no breakthrough or spot in two years, then I don't think there will be one.