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Ten Thursday Thoughts: Free Agency Edition

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Thoughts on different subjects regarding free agency and the Devils as we get even closer to the July 1st opening of the signing period.

Dallas Stars v New Jersey Devils
Get this man a long-term contract!
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Free agency frenzy is descending upon the NHL and our New Jersey Devils will certainly get caught up in it to some extent; with signings set to begin for unrestricted free agents on Saturday, New Jersey can look at external avenues for improving the team. At the same time, they have a number of qualified restricted free agents that they can re-sign to improve the roster as well; today we take a look at contracts, players to move on from, players who will see role changes, and a bit of everything else as we look at some random free agency related thoughts.

Does Damon Severson get an “Adam” Deal?

New Jersey has had two talented Adams in their system the past few years (though one of them has since been traded to the Edmonton Oilers) that received similar deals. Both contracts were for 6 years, and both clocked in at just about $4 million per season, with the traded contract being slightly larger. Is Severson at that level of contract yet?

The answer for me is a resounding yes; of all of the Devils promising D prospects that came through over the past few seasons, Severson and Steve Santini are the only two who remain. Damon may have had some gaffes on the back end last season, but he’s only going to be 23 at the start of next season, and he finished tied for 5th on the team in scoring last season. No one else in the organization brings the tools that Sevs has to the table, so I say lock him up long term now, while you can still afford a lower price point. If he keeps improving each season (as he has been for the last few years) on a bridge deal, he will cost more when he’s able to become an unrestricted free agent. The Devils can and should pay less now for a player that will certainly be important to this team for years to come.

Will it Blend?

One of the contracts that I’m interested in seeing will be Joseph Blandisi’s new deal; while he’s not a Severson level of important, Blandisi has brought a spark to New Jersey each time that he was been called up from Albany. I fully expect him to sign a new contract for a million or less as a “prove it” deal, but I have no idea what the term will be. Additionally, I think Blender has all of the tools to be a solid contributor on this team, and if the Devils move on from certain players (more on that later) I think there’s a spot for him to win come training camp.

Deja Vu for Bennett?

Of all the Devils RFA, only Beau Bennett was not extended a qualifying offer, which to some fans could be alarming and seem like the team does not want Beau back. It’s too early to panic however, as Bennett was in the same boat last year where he was not qualified, but was signed to a new contract before the free agent signing period began. I fully expect this to be the case once again this year; Bennett wasn’t a prolific scorer, but his underlying numbers showed that he helped drive play forward, and in a middle/bottom 6 role, I think he’ll do just fine.

The New Guy

New Jersey paid two draft picks prior to both the Expansion and Entry drafts to acquire Mirco Mueller from the San Jose Sharks. Mueller, as a restricted free agent, was qualified by San Jose prior to the trade, meaning the Devils did not have to do it themselves, but do still need to work out a new contract. I see Mueller in the Blandisi boat where he gets a smaller deal right now to prove to the team what he can bring to the table. Based on the way the defense played last season, we can only hope the Mueller starts living up to some of his potential as a former first round pick and that he fits in with John Hynes’ coaching system.

The Split

Speaking of former first round picks, Jacob Josefson’s one year contract from last season has taken him into unrestricted free agency; we’ve discussed it many times on this site, but inquiring minds want to know if this is finally the year that New Jersey and Jake part ways. Despite being a first round draft selection back in 2009, Josefson has never been able to put it all together at the NHL level due to injuries and inconsistencies in his game. His career highs to this point are 62 games played, 6 goals (both in 2014-15), 10 assists and 14 points (the latter two both in 2015-16) which just aren’t going to cut it for a guy that doesn’t have enough grit (or good health) to play a bottom line role. If I’m Ray Shero, I thank Josefson for being a good soldier and send him on his way.

Building Binghamton

While New Jersey is not starting a farm team from scratch, the AHL Devils are in need of some players before they make their debut in Binghamton. Based on qualifying offers from the Devils’ Twitter, it’s safe to assume that Blake Coleman, Blake Pietila, Kevin Rooney, Ben Thomson and Scott Wedgewood will all be back and more than likely AHL bound. Vojtech Mozik was also qualified, but he has signed with the KHL, meaning New Jersey will retain his rights, but he will not be in Binghamton next season; Karl Stollery and Petr Straka have also departed to play overseas.

The Devils will need some fresh blood to replace players that they’ve lost or ones that could play a full time NHL role (such as Blandisi and John Quenneville) next season. While I’m not exactly sure who to advocate for signing outside of the organization to fill these gaps, I can say I wouldn’t mind a couple of the unrestricted free agents, such as Carter Camper and Andrew MacWilliam, to be brought back. MacWilliam fills a need one the back end and management doesn’t call him up at every turn as they did with Seth Helgeson, which is a good thing as neither is an everyday NHL player. Camper had a good season for Albany last year, and could be useful in helping new players adjust. One more comment I do have for the AHL Devils (and technically the NHL team too): please, please, please do not bring Luke Gazdic back.

Our Goalie Cup Runneth Over...Sort Of

Speaking of Scott Wedgewood, I feel there has to at least be some thoughts in management of moving on from Keith Kinkaid as the team’s back-up goalie. With Wedge signed, if the team brings back Kink, that would result in 5 goaltenders at either the NHL or AHL level. Mackenzie Blackwood had a rough start last season, but came on strong at the end while Ken Appleby was fairly solid from start to finish last year. I don’t see New Jersey sending either of these guys to the ECHL (as they did with Appleby before he proved himself last season) and I don’t see a 3 goalie rotation happening at either level. It will be worth watching to see if the Devils re-sign Kinkaid before Saturday, and even if they do not, they could still bring him back during free agency. While none of the mentioned players are Cory Schneider levels of important, if Kinkaid re-signs at any point, there’s going to be competition for one or more goaltending jobs in the organization, which could lead to some interesting roster moves.

Koval-Gate: The Final Chapter?

If Ilya Kovalchuk’s intends to return to the NHL for this upcoming season, as we all know it must go through the New Jersey Devils. Ray Shero can sign and trade Kovalchuk and gather more assets for the team should he be able to do so. Everyone has been wondering what a 34 year old Kovalchuk could be worth; if he truly intends on coming back to the NHL from Russia this season, we may now have to wait long to find out his worth. I’m personally more interested in the possible return rather than if he comes back; Ilya is a free asset for us right now that we didn’t think we’d have and if he can’t find a deal that suits us, then I doubt Shero brings him back to NJ. Maybe this is how Ray improves the defense.

Unrestricted Free Agency

I know I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the Devils RFAs, and a couple of their UFAs without addressing targets from outside the organization, and that was mostly by design due to CJ’s awesome article from yesterday. You want my picks for who we should sign? Read that article, because after reading the data and discussion, I’m in full agreement.

Final Free Agency Thought

Ray... Mr. Shero... whatever we fans wants to call you; all I can say as a final plea as we march towards Saturday is please, PLEASE do not let this team walk into the season with the roster it currently has. No one is expecting a couple of moves that will make us a cup contender this season, but we want a more competitive team, specifically on the back end. If we walk into this season with Severson, Mueller, Santini, Andy Greene, John Moore, Michael Kapla, and Ben Lovejoy as the 7 defenders for opening night, then we really hope you have a good plan going forward.

P.S. Send Dalton Prout down to Binghamton; you’ll thank me later.

Your Take

Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on the impending free agency period; which Devils from the past season do you want to see the team part ways with? Who gets re-signed; does Severson get a 6 year deal like the Adams did? Who do you want to see the team sign? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!