Defenseman Jon Merrill was not qualified as a restricted free agent earlier this week. Between recovery from a shoulder injury and some less than impressive numbers, I did not expect another team to pick up Jon Merrill. Within this past hour, no one else will be able to do so. The New Jersey Devils re-signed Merrill to a two year contract. He will get a million next season and $1.275 million in the following season. This means his cap hit will be $1.1375 million.
Jon Merrill staying with #njdevils. Two-year deal - $1.0M and $1.275M.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) July 1, 2016
The best word I can use to describe Merrill’s time with the Devils so far is enigma. No, it’s not a code word for a Russian/European player that one may not understand. Merrill is a giant question mark to me. I’ll watch him on some nights and conclude that he understands how to be a non-flashy, decent defenseman in the NHL. Other nights - or even other shifts in the same game - he’ll look like an AHL player. Here are his numbers at Puckalytics. While the team’s Corsi For% took a dive over the last two years, two straight years in the 46th percentile is ugly. Over the last two seasons, Merrill has had a SA/60 rate of 28.4. That puts him squarely in the middle among all defenseman in 5-on-5 play from 2014-15 through to 2015-16. That’s not bad, but it’s also not all that good relative to others in that same time frame. Again, he’s not a standout on that front. He also has primarily been a 5-on-5 player. Merrill does not play on the power play; he only received secondary minutes on the penalty kill and still was well behind Moore and Schlemko. As for offense, Merrill has not produced many shots or points. I don’t even know how to describe or even predict what the 24-year will become as a defenseman. Right now, I think he’ll just be a guy. Someone to really fill space as opposed to someone who can command minutes, if that makes sense.
To that end, while I understand why he was signed, this contract is very much a “prove it to me” contract. It will be up to Merrill to prove it to the Devils that he can be more of a contributor to the team. The cheap amount and short contract length suggests to me that he will be dealt if things don’t work out. Just like Eric Gelinas last year, who also signed a similarly short and low-cost deal last summer. In that light, I’m quite comfortable with this contract. Either Merrill rewards the Devils and eventually rewards himself, or he’ll be easily moved to be someone else’s question mark.
What do you think of the Devils re-signing Merrill for two years and just under $2.3 million? Do you think Merrill will establish himself to be more of a contributing player in this coming season? Do you think the contract will lend Merrill to becoming trade-bait? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Merrill and his new contract in the comments. Thank you for reading.