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What to Expect in Free Agency for the Devils

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With the Draft in the books, the New Jersey Devils will now turn their attention to free agency, which begins on Wednesday. They will need to tender and resign their own players that they want to keep, and then look outward. What should we expect?

Mike Cammalleri was the big signing last year.
Mike Cammalleri was the big signing last year.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Building off of yesterday's post, today let's delve into what to expect from the New Jersey Devils in free agency.  Wednesday will begin Free Agent Frenzy, and there is a decent chance that the Devils partake.  Last year, New Jersey dipped into the well a few times.  First, they went out and inked Mike Cammalleri to a big deal.  Not too much later, they also got Martin Havlat on an inexpensive one year deal.  Looking back of course, it was pretty clear that one contract has so far paid off while the other was a bust.

Nonetheless, as John referred to yesterday, expect the Devils to be players again.  Looking back to CJ's post over a week ago, the roster has holes that need to be filled.  First, some players will certainly need to be re-signed, then once that happens, free agents will be brought in, and there is a good chance that at least one gets a contract offer and signs.  Let's analyze at what position that might be, and go from there.

The Roster

First, we need to look at the roster and see where the holes are.  Below is a chart of New Jersey's roster by position.  Those in italics are restricted free agents, and while they have not yet been tendered, they still can be, and that would keep them in New Jersey.  I also have not listed anyone who is going to be an unrestricted free agent unless there is a strong chance that the team re-signs them.  And finally, I also only listed players with at least a decent chance of playing a good amount of the season up with the big club.

Center

Left Wing

Right Wing

Defense

Goalie

Travis Zajac

Mike Cammalleri

Stephen Gionta

Andy Greene

Cory Schneider

Patrik Elias

Ryane Clowe

Jordin Tootoo

Jon Merrill

Keith Kinkaid

Adam Henrique

Tuomo Ruutu

Sergey Kalinin

Damon Severson

Jacob Josefson

Dainius Zubrus

Kyle Palmieri

Adam Larsson

Reid Boucher

Eric Gelinas

Stefan Matteau

Seth Helgeson

Vojtech Mozik

There are of course others to mention.  I did not write names such as Reece Scarlett, Raman Hrabarenka, Graham Black, or others that have not played any real minutes in New Jersey, but potentially could if injuries or stellar play dictates a call up.  Nonetheless, I feel that this chart gives a decent view of the roster by position, and shows clearly where there are holes to fill.

The most obvious holes would be where there are the least amount of players.  There are definitive holes at center and right wing.  At center, we have Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique mentioned, but they both have played significant minutes out on the wing as well.  They can play center and fill that hole, but it might not really be the best way to maximize their talents, especially Elias who has never been a fantastic faceoff man.  In that regard, finding a free agent center who could fill that void for a couple seasons would be highly beneficial.  John discussed the free agent center pool here.

And as mentioned, right wing is light on people as well.  Stephen Gionta is listed as a right winger here, but has played considerable time at center and could really slot there.  Doing that, however, would leave only three right wingers on the team, two of whom have yet to ever play a game for the Devils.  If these four were the four right wingers on the team opening day, who would you play on the first line?  While John clearly mentioned that there is an extreme lack of talent in the free agent pool at right wing, finding someone who could play a role would be greatly beneficial, especially in case of injury.

Finally, while the defense looks deep, there are in fact very few of them who are actually signed, and only one who is signed beyond this season.  Andy Greene will be a staple of this blue line for years, but as for the rest, only Merrill and Severson have contracts to play this year, and both of their contracts expire after this season.  Of course, it is all but assured that Larsson and Gelinas will be tendered and signed to deals, and I would bet that Helgeson is tendered as well.  With those contracts, the defense is technically complete.

However, when you look at it more closely, the Devils could really do well with adding another veteran presence on the blue line.  After Andy Greene, Helgeson and Gelinas are the oldest players on that list at 24 years old.  It is an extremely young blue line, and while that is not bad at all in a year where the team is looking to rebuild and grow stronger for years to come, having another veteran on that squad to act as a leader and to take some minutes would be greatly beneficial.  This is especially true for when injuries occur.  John discussed the available free agent defensemen here.

So to quickly sum up, of the five positions, three could really use a boost through the free agent market.  While it is no guarantee that the team will address all three positions by signing free agents, it certainly is possible.

The Cap

Almost a week ago, when the new salary cap was announced, John wrote up a good post about the salary cap situation for New Jersey.  I do not want to repeat what he analyzed in his post, but I feel like a quick summary here would make sense.  Currently, the Devils are under the cap floor by almost $5 million.  However, the contracts of Larsson and Gelinas alone, when they get signed, will almost certainly raise the Devils' salary to at or above the floor.  Reaching that threshold will not be an issue.  Then, the team will have considerable space to spend on free agent contracts should they wish to do so.  The cap ceiling is $71.4 million.  Once they hit the cap floor, they will have just under $20 million in cap room.  Essentially, what that means is that the Devils can afford to get whomever they want, and they can certainly overpay for people if they really want them badly.  While I would never suggest overpaying for anyone, it is a feasible option if Shero believes the free agents in question to be worth it.

Conclusion

In the end, I would certainly expect the Devils to do something in free agency, and I feel like there is a good chance that they make a splash during Free Agent Frenzy on Wednesday.  The reason for this expectation is twofold: there are holes in the roster that need to be filled, and there is plenty of cap room.  Of course, the question becomes who the team should sign, but that is a different conversation for another post.  What I will say is that the line will need to be drawn by the organization.  If they want to make this a year where developing young talent is of the highest priority, then the team should not sign numerous free agents.  Let the kids play, and see what you have.  Let them make their mistakes on the ice and get better, so that eventually they can turn this team into a contender.  If your main priority is winning as soon as possible, however, then perhaps signing a couple free agents could really help with that.  An acquisition like Mike Cammalleri last year could really help this team in the immediate future.  Of course, a signing like Martin Havlat would not, but that is where talent evaluation comes into play, and as fans we need to just hope that they know what they are doing.

Regardless, I do feel like the Devils will do something, as there are just too many holes to fill, and injuries will undoubtedly create even more of them.  The question then becomes who and how many, and as to that we will see.  What do you think?  Will the Devils sign anyone on Wednesday or beyond?  What positions should they target, and why?  Do you have anyone in mind that you would love to see in a Devils uniform?  Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.