This summer's group of impending unrestricted free agents (UFA) is not very enticing. It is even less enticing when you look at right wingers. Unfortunately, that is the position the New Jersey Devils absolutely must address the summer. While the Devils may be re-building, they still need bodies to fill in those spots. Given that they have two spots open in the top-six on the right spot, finding someone to fill in for a year or two, or possibly somebody to re-build the team around is would be ideal. However, the pickings are slim - and will be slimmer if some these players re-sign with their current teams before July 1. New general manager Ray Shero is going to have his work cut out for him.
That said, we can still take a look at the market of impending unrestricted free agents and determine who the Devils should go out and get. The goal, again, is to identify players who can play on a first or second line. They may not necessarily be great offensive talents, but they should be at least better fits than trying to cram a round peg like Jordin Tootoo (re-signed) or Steve Bernier (pending UFA) into a square hole. Fortunately, there are a bunch of new CapGeek-like sites now up and running. For this post, I will use one of them as a guide as to which right winger is becoming a free agent on July 1: General Fanager.
As an aside, I intend to do this on Sundays until the NHL Draft, with similar posts about centers, left wingers, and defensemen in coming weeks. I'll resume the goal against review for Devils goaltenders later in the summer.
Your Best Bet
Michael Frolik - Age: 27 - 2014-15 Salary: $3.3 Million - 2014-15 Team: Winnipeg
Frolik checks a lot of boxes for the Devils' needs. He's a right winger, he's under the age of 30, and he has averaged at least 16 minutes per game with the Jets (2013-14, 2014-15) per NHL.com - meaning he's a top-six forward. For that reason alone, the Devils should really consider trying to get Frolik. If you want another reason, he's been a positive possession player for most of his career, as confirmed by his player page at War on Ice. Also according to War on Ice, Frolik was one of Winnipeg's best possession players last season. While he received more offensive zone starts than defensive zone starts, he did face a good level of competition in doing so - he didn't just roll over scrubs. As the 2014-15 Devils got steamrolled in that department, Frolik could be part of an effort to turn that around assuming the next head coach isn't a dummy.
That said, the big negative with Frolik is that he has never been all that productive of a player. According to NHL.com, his season high in goals and points remains his rookie season with Florida back in 2008-09. While he is not averse to shooting and he's been healthy in recent seasons, he's a career 7.7% shooter. It's all about volume as to whether he gets his points. Even then it's more likely be to be in the 40-45 range. If you want a second opinion, here's truck at Arctic Ice Hockey, who came to a similar conclusion: Frolik brings a lot to the table, but not offensive production. Ordinarily, this would keep his value a bit lower than other forwards. But with few options and even fewer top-six players under the age of 30 available this summer, a team may have to pay him in spite of his production. Putting that aside, can he really drive play and get his shots with a Devils team that does not have as much forward support as the Jets? That question will be critical should the Devils want to go out and get him.
I still would like them to do so. I do think Frolik is a player who can be a part of this transitional era of the team and possibly be valuable when the re-build eventually concludes. The Devils should have the cap space and willingness to offer a significant term. At the age of 27, giving him a five or even six year deal is not all that offensive. If it means paying him around four to four and a half per year along with that term, then I can live with that. Beyond five million, I start to squirm. With this market, it's possible though. All the same, if Shero and/or ownership wants to splash the cash on a free agent, Frolik is probably their best bet.
Certainly Not Ideal But Not The Worst
Justin Williams - Age: 33 - 2014-15 Salary: $3.05 Million - 2014-15 Team: Los Angeles
Justin Williams is something of an analytics hallmark. The guy just has great Corsi% throughout his career. It's true that he has played with some excellent talent in Los Angeles. However, I don't think a total passenger maintains such figures for so long. Like Frolik, I think it's reasonable to think he should be able to help with New Jersey's possession issues. Like Frolik, Williams has been a top six forward on a very Kings team for years - and prior to joining Los Angeles as well. Like Frolik, Williams checks off a bunch of boxes for NJ.
The issue is that his production has been dropping off. While he's had some very good scoring years earlier in his career, he was never a top scorer for Los Angeles. He didn't need to be given who else on Los Angeles, he just needed to keep driving the play, make plays at both ends, and fires the pucks without doing so because he can't do anything else. The summary of his 2014-15 by nickc79 at Jewels from the Crown says it all. Very good, but the production drop may mean he may not be a top line player for the Kings.
It is for that reason that I can't put him on the same level as Frolik in this free agency class. And Williams isn't going to get younger, which may exacerbate the issue. Still, if the Devils are willing to throw him $3.5-4 million for a year or two, then I think he could do nicely as a transitional top-six right winger until the Devils draft or sign someone for that spot long-term. He can carry lesser possession players (e.g. Mike Cammalleri) or build up But only a short-term deal. I like Justin Williams now, I'm not sure I would at 37 or 38.
Drew Stafford - Age: 29 - 2014-15 Salary: $4 Million - 2014-15 Team: Winnipeg
Drew Stafford jumped out on that list of pending UFA right wingers as I know him to be an offensive player. I'm not sure why, though. 154 career goals in 589 regular season games isn't exactly a scoring machine. Still, Stafford has been consistently scoring at least 13 goals per season since his NHL debut with the exception of the lockout-shortened 2013 season where he was snakebitten and shot at 5%. Stafford has been a shooter, as he's been able to average well over two shots per game throughout most of his career. He was quite productive after Buffalo moved him to Winnipeg.
That said, Stafford has never been a play driver. Only once in his career was he not below 50% Corsi and that was when he finished at exactly 50% Corsi according to his player history at War on Ice. Further more, HappyCaraT at Arctic Ice Hockey, summarizing his 2014-15 season, noted that he is simply not a play driver. She recommended that the Jets not try to retain him partially for that reason. That's worth some significance. The Devils sure could use a shooter who can play on the right side. However, it appears his possession woes can only be mitigated by playing with someone who can drive the play at evens. I don't believe the Devils don't have that player, and that will likely undercut the production Stafford could bring.
At age 29, he should have a couple of good years left but a long term deal is likely going to end up like how Mike Cammalleri's will likely end: ugly for all involved. That's the main reason why I think going after Frolik with a significant deal is superior to Stafford. That said, Stafford would address a need and he's certainly not the worst the Devils can do. If he is a target, it should only be for something like two to three years.
Chris Stewart - Age: 27 - 2014-15 Salary: $4.2 Million - 2014-15 Team: Minnesota
With the exceptions of Martin St. Louis, I believe Chris Stewart is the only pending UFA right winger who has scored at least 60 points in a NHL season. Unfortunately, Stewart did that only once and it was in his second NHL season with Colorado back in 2008-09. Stewart was quite productive in 2011-12 with Colorado and St. Louis and in 2013 with St. Louis. However, he has struggled to be productive in the last two seasons. He showed some signs of it when Buffalo moved him to Minnesota last season with three goals and eight assists in twenty games. The production goes with his size (6'2") and gritty play.
The size, the fact he's only 27, and he's had some past history of scoring is alluring. However, the last thing the Devils need is a big winger who's going to be limited on offense regardless of age. His history at even strength per War on Ice is very concerning in that regard. He's never been a positive possession player. He's only topped 200 shots once in his career, not so coincidentally in his 2008-09 season. If the Devils can't get Frolik, Stafford, or Williams, Stewart may be one of the better options available. But I don't think it would be a good choice on it's own. The fact he's coming off a $4.2 million salary - regardless of what he's done under his last deal - concerns me as to what he could demand. I think the Devils should be wary of him and pass on Stewart if possible.
Martin Erat - Age: 33 - 2014-15 Salary: $2.25 million - 2014-15 Team: Arizona
From 2002-03 through 2011-12, Martin Erat was a reliable 50-point winger for Nashville. For whatever reason, since then, Erat's production has fallen off a cliff. He's now more known for the amusing fact that he was traded to Washington with Michael Latta for Filip Forsberg. But that's in the past. The reality is sadder. Erat's 2014-15 finished with nine goals, 23 assists, just over a shot per game. While he's a career 12% shooter, if he's not generating a lot of shots, then he's not going to be contributing much. Sure, he isn't that bad in terms of possession but the Devils need someone who can produce something and take shots from the right side. Erat does not fit either of those bills.
A part of me could see him just signed for a year just to fill in a role. But the rest of me thinks that part is foolish. Erat would be alongside the next guy in this post as a last-ditch option if all others were taken by or on July 1. 40 or 50 points from the likes of Frolik or Stafford may not be amazing, but they have a reasonable shot of hitting those levels. I have more faith in Chris Stewart hitting that level of production next season than Erat. It's nothing personal, it's just that he's an older player and his decline has been apparent for three seasons now. I see no need for the Devils to host it for a fourth season.
Martin St. Louis - Age: 39 - 2014-15 Salary: $5 million - 2014-15 Team: NY Rangers
Martin St. Louis has had a dazzling career. Even this past regular season, at the ripe age of 39, he still put up 21 goals and 31 assists. It's also representative of a decline of sorts for St. Louis. The last time he scored less than sixty points in a season, it was 2001-02, when he put up 35 in 58 games. He's been a point machine from that point on. And even knowing that, St. Louis still out-scored all of the New Jersey Devils last season. That said, let's not lose sight of the fact that St. Louis is an expected decline. As he'll turn 40 in June, this can only continue - assuming he still wants to play next season.
I've been focusing on regular season stats as more games provides more information than the playoffs. I'll make an exception for St. Louis because the player I saw in this year's postseason was not the dynamic, fast, and frightening St. Louis of years past. He was just a guy out there. The Devils got lucky with Jaromir Jagr, a 40+ year old who absolutely fit in perfectly with Peter DeBoer's systems. While I think St. Louis may be able to keep playing, I don't think he's going to be nearly as effective. He's a name and he's got the best history among this class, but that's just it at this point: history. The Devils don't need that.
Michael Ryder - Age: 35 - 2014-15 Salary: $3.5 million - 2014-15 Team: New Jersey
Just checking to see if you're still paying attention. I don't think he comes back under any circumstances and I think that's perfectly fine.
This was not an exhaustive list of all of the right wingers but it's most of the bunch that could fill in those spots. Again, it's a weak group. There just aren't that many pending UFA right wingers who have been or can play in a top-six role. There are more who can play in a depth role. Joel Ward leads the way among them and I like Ward's game, but at age 34, I don't think it's necessary. I like Tomas Kopecky's game even less than Ward's and I'm not sure how he got his latest deal. Beyond them, it's a mix of guys who never really stood out (e.g. Erik Condra!), jerks (Steve Downie, Patrick Kaleta, Colton Orr), and others who would be filling a bottom-six role at best. If the Sergey Kalinin works out and/or the Devils re-sign Steve Bernier, then that may not be even necessary.
My main conclusion out of doing this exercise is that the Devils really should consider making a trade for a top-six offensive right winger. Even if the plan is to go all-in on the re-build or they draft someone who can play right wing at sixth overall, the team needs someone to play in those positions next season. If they can find someone who they can build around, then the re-build will actually progress. So if they can go get Frolik, great. If not, offer a short-term deal to one of Stafford or Williams. And then struggle through 2015-16 in the hopes that the summer of 2016 will be more fruitful.
That's my take on the right wingers. Next week, I'll look at left wings. In the meantime, it's now your turn. Who do you want the most from this year's crop of pending UFA right wingers? Would you agree that Frolik is the best among them? If not, who is and why? What would you want Ray Shero to do with just these right wingers? Is there any top-six caliber UFA right winger I may have missed, and would you want the Devils to get him/them? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about free agent right wingers in the comments. Thanks as always to War on Ice, NHL.com, General Fanager, and the other team SBN sites for having information available on these pending UFAs. Thank you for reading.