Today, Ray Shero made his first free agent signing since becoming the general manager of the New Jersey Devils. It was rumored for about a week now that the team was interested in Avangard Omsk center and team captain Sergey Kalinin, also known as Sergei Kalinin. The team made it official today. Their website announced that he was signed to a one-year deal.
As you would expect, Tom Gulitti has more information about Kalinin in this post at Fire & Ice. Kalinin's deal is an entry-level contracts at the maximum possible salary: $925,000. As with all entry level contracts, it's a two-way deal. Per the Contract Bargaining Agreement, since Kalinin is 24, he could not be signed for any longer than one year. He will be a restricted free agent once it is over.
Kalinin has come up through Avangard Omsk's system and has played five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League with them. Last season, he was their team captain. That's pretty high praise for a 23-year old. Especially one who does not have incredible numbers. Here are his regular season stats per Elite Prospects.
Kalinin has 31 goals and 38 assists in 213 KHL games. While that's not necessarily bad, it should be enough to dampen any hopes that he's an offensive machine. Still, he's definitely a player of interest. Team Russia doesn't name him to World Championship squad - the 2014 team that won - unless he can play. A team isn't going to name a young player captain unless he can play. NHL teams don't go out and sign guys who were just making up the roster numbers in European leagues unless he can play.
Justifying this notion that he can play are his stats at the KHL website. While he hasn't been a scorer, his ice time per game has increased from 11-12 minutes per game at the beginning of his Omsk career to 16 last season. Furthermore, his shots per game have increased from an average of 1.6 to 2.3, which is indicative of his involvement going forward. It somewhat correlates with his increase in ice time, which suggests to me that he contributed something offensively. Again, he wasn't a scorer in the KHL, he finished sixth on Omsk in regular season points, but he wasn't a plug either.
In a way, it's rather fortunate that we're talking about his immediate future. Ryan Kennedy at The Hockey News had this frightening report. Kalinin was rocked by a body check in a playoff game against Barys Astana back on March 8. His helmet came off from the impact, and so his head hit the ice. He immediately went into convulsions. While he was conscious the next day (per Kennedy's headline), Kalinin suffered a concussion and brain injury. Rich Chere at NJ.com asked Shero about this and Shero confirmed that he's healthy now and he could've possibly played in the WCs, but it was too close. I would expect him to be 100% by the time training camp comes around, but coming back from injury is one more thing that Kalinin will have to get acclimated to (e.g. rink, style of play) when he comes over.
Ultimately, I'm fine with a deal like this one. While Kalinin should not be expected to really address the team's offense in a meaningful way, he does address the other glaring need among Devils forwards: youth. Kalinin is 24, he's earned increased minutes and a significant letter - the 'C' - with a significant KHL team. He should have a NHL-ready body as he is listed at 6'3" and 190 pounds. That he played wing and center should give the head coach (whoever that is) some options in how to use him. If it does work out, then so what if he's only a bottom-six forward? He will likely be far younger than most of the others in those positions. If it doesn't, then it's over after a rebuilding 2015-16 season. I would have liked to have seen a more offensive player plucked from Europe for a max ELC salary; but in terms of trying to revamp the whole roster, this is an OK risk to take.
Shero's first signing of a free agent turns out to be Sergey Kalinin of Avengard Omsk. However, they were not the first signings he has made even this week. On Wednesday, Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that Ryan Kujawinski and Blake Pietila were signed to entry level contracts. While these two are technically Shero's first signings - since we know Jordin Tootoo was in the works before Shero's hiring - they were formalities. Generally, teams won't just let prospects like them go for free. Especially teams that need all the help they can get at forward, both in the minors and in the NHL like New Jersey. While I'm not all that confident in Kujawinski or Pietila becoming regulars any time soon, Albany is a perfect place for them to get utilized, get on the ice, and determine through play whether they have a real future. Their ELC deals are entirely appropriate and expected.
However, Shero is not done with all things entry level just yet. Blake Coleman remains unsigned. As he went to Miami University, the Devils have until August 15 to sign him. I think they'll get that done; again, I don't see a reason why the Devils should just let him become a free agent. At the end of this article about Kalinin, Chere reported that Anthony Brodeur and Myles Bell will not be tendered contracts. I think those are the right moves. Neither were standouts on their respective teams last season, and nothing they've done suggests they'll become future Devils. Brodeur never became a starter in major juniors; Bell struggled to produce at the ECHL level. It's best to let them move on and use those spots on the reserve list for others.
Shero will have a more pressing issue though. Per the Detroit Free Press, Chris Solari wrote that Josh Jacobs is leaving Michigan State. Jacobs made the Big Ten all-freshman team and he was playing a significant role for the Spartans. Alas, he will forgo the NCAA for Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League. As Solari wrote in the article, the Sting drafted Jacobs and pushed to sign him. It appears their recruiting efforts worked. Unless I'm misunderstanding the rule, this transfer also makes Jacobs an unrestricted free agent. If Shero can lock him up, then he should do so as soon as he can. This isn't a low-level prospect, Jacobs was the team's second round pick in 2014 and played a big role on Michigan State's blueline immediately.
UPDATE: Thanks to mlc14 in the comments, Shero does not have to act fast to retain Jacobs. Tom Gulitti wrote at Fire & Ice that the Devils have until June 1, 2016 to sign him. I was wrong, the rule about jumping from the NCAA to the CHL's leagues does not lead to immediate free agency; Jacobs' timetable is as if he was in juniors all along.
Once that's dealt with, though, expect the Devils to be quiet until A) they sign a head coach and B) it's NHL Draft week. Both should be coming sooner rather than later, with Shero's first shot at free agency as Devils GM coming shortly after that. The offseason will remain somewhat quiet, so enjoy it while it lasts. In the meantime, what do you make of Shero's decisions? Do you like the signing of Sergey Kalinin? What do you expect from him? What do you expect out of Kujawinski and Pietila now that they're signed to ELC deals? Will Coleman be signed? Can the Devils keep Jacobs? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's signing Wednesday's signings, and other ELC-related signings to come in the comments. Thank you for reading.