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New Jersey Devils 2016 Free Agency Primer

This Friday is the last big date in the NHL offseason as it is the first day for unrestricted free agents to sign. This post is a quick primer on what the Devils’ situation ahead of free agency fully beginning at the end of this week.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils
Kyle Palmieri will be back in New Jersey...and with a big new contract. How much, we’ll find out soon.
Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

On Friday, we will have Free Agency Frenzy. That is, on July 1 at noon, unrestricted free agents (UFA) are free to sign contracts with any team in the National Hockey League. All thirty teams were able and have been discussing with pending UFAs since last Friday at midnight. On Monday, qualifying offers had to be sent out to any pending restricted free agent (RFA) to maintain their rights with the team. Anyone who did not becomes an unrestricted free agent. These free agents will go to where the minutes, the opportunities, and, most of all, the money are. All teams that have immediate needs for their roster will be able to address them by putting pen to paper starting at noon July 1. Needless to say, this Friday is a big one for this offseason.

The New Jersey Devils are no different. To make up for the lack of content from the last two days and to focus on this upcoming event, here is a summary of the team’s situation with respect to free agency. All numbers unless otherwise specified are from General Fanager.

The Current Roster On the Books: 5 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 2 goalies. Note that this list assumes Pavel Zacha stays with the NHL team. If not, make it four forwards. This totals a little over $34.45 million.

The Additional Space Taken Up: Ryane Clowe and Marc Savard are expected to stay on injured reserve as they will not play again. Their cap hits for next season totals $8.877 million. There’s also the $250,000 (or $0.25 million) of the recapture penalty on the books because Ilya Kovalchuk wanted to go home.

The Current Cap Situation: The Devils have an estimated salary cap hit of $43.583 million. The salary cap floor for 2016-17 is $54 million. Therefore, the Devils are below the floor by about $10.416 million.

The Qualified RFAs: Four forwards, one defenseman. The forwards that were qualified were Kyle Palmieri, Jacob Josefson, Reid Boucher, and Sergey Kalinin. The one defenseman isn’t on New Jersey’s roster; it’s Reece Scarlett. Since they were qualified, they will be re-signed by the Devils at some point. Unless they get traded, they’ll return.

The Unqualified RFAs: Two forwards, two defensemen. The forwards are Devante Smith-Pelly and Beau Bennett. The defensemen are Jon Merrill and Raman Hrabarenka, who isn’t on New Jersey’s roster. Per Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice, the team is hopeful on signing these players.

Why not qualify them at all? Easy. A qualifying offer locks in a minimum raise on their contract. Not qualifying them means the team can offer a different deal. Given that Merrill is injured and Bennett was recently acquired by the team, it’d be a big surprise if they hit the open market on Friday and find any takers. Smith-Pelly did surprise me a bit, but it was likely done for the same reasons. Hrabarenka, you can take or leave as depth, but I would expect Bennett, Merrill, and Smith-Pelly to be back in the red and black next season.

The Pending UFAs That Weren’t Unqualified RFAs: In New Jersey, there seven forwards and two defensemen who have been set to become unrestricted. The defensemen are David Schlemko and David Warsofsky. The forwards are Patrik Elias, Tuomo Ruutu, Stephen Gionta, Jiri Tlusty, Jordin Tootoo, Tyler Kennedy, and Bobby Farnham.

Off the NJ roster, there’s three forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie up for a new deal. The forwards are Mike Sislo, Jim O’Brien, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond. The defensemen are Marc-Andre Gragnani, Brandon Burlon, and Dan Kelly. The goalie is Yann Danis.

Among this motley crew of UFAs, Elias is the only one who has any certainty with him at the moment. As reported in this article at Sportsnet by Luke Fox, Elias will wait until he starts skating in August and determines whether he can keep playing before discussing a return to the team. This is what Teemu Selanne did at the end of his career. As for the rest, well, we’ll find out.

The Needs: Assuming all of the RFAs - qualified and unqualified - are brought back, the Devils will have eleven forwards (including Zacha), five defensemen, and two goalies. How much those contracts to bring back those six NHL players will collectively cost is unknown. While I expect Kyle Palmieri to get a significantly large contract, I don’t think it will all add up to ten million dollars.

So the immediate needs will be to add a few forwards, a few defensemen, and spend enough to do so reach $54 million to get those players. While the Devils only absolutely need two more skaters, injuries are bound to happen. Some depth will be needed. In terms of position, the Devils appear to need at least one more right winger (ideally for the top six), a bottom six center (assuming Kalinin is used as a winger), and a second pairing defenseman. They could use more - a top-six left winger would be very nice - but I see those as the big ones in a quick glance.

The Market as a Whole: With the big-name defensemen mostly gone, there are plenty of second-pairing caliber defensemen available. Whether or not Ray Shero wants to spend $2 to $3 million to do it, I don’t know. But it would help the blueline, especially if Schlemko walks, as well as reaching the cap floor.

As for forwards, expect the Devils to look for cheaper options to fill in the gaps in their roster. While a top-six winger or two would be great, most of the departing UFA forwards were bottom-six players. That’s where the depth would come in. Therefore, there isn’t a need to spend a lot of money on a bunch of those players. The Devils may have the space to add a relatively big name, but the re-building nature of the team will surely take them out of any contention. Unless they really, really, really want to be in the area and go through that process. And/or the Devils over-pay like whoa.

A closer look would be ideal ahead of July 1, but I wouldn’t expect Shero to make a big splash short of a burning desire to get this re-build over and done with as soon as possible.

The Articles: Before switching over to prospect profiles for most of the site’s content for the better part of the last two months, we’ve written a little bit about most of the pending free agents coming out of New Jersey. Here’s a quick rundown to refresh your mind.

The Take from Readers Like You: Expect news to come out sooner rather than later involving the Devils. We’ll try to stay on top of it as best as we can. In the meantime, I want to know what you think. What do you expect Shero to do on Friday? What holes in the lineup do you think need to be filled? Should pretty much all of the UFAs that weren’t unqualified RFAs go? Who among free agents on the market should Shero take a look at a why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils and the upcoming Free Agency Frenzy in the comments. Thank you for reading.