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A Close Look at Four UFA Scoring Wingers for the New Jersey Devils this Summer

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The New Jersey Devils offense was largely carried by Taylor Hall and his line. To get to the next level, they could add another scoring winger to bolster the offense. This post takes a close look at four impending UFA wingers and whether the Devils should go after them this summer: James Neal, Rick Nash, Evander Kane, and James van Riemsdyk.

Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Three
Want to imagine him in a Devils uniform? It may not be that bad of an idea...
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

As we know from this past season and from the playoffs, the New Jersey Devils need help with scoring. After Taylor Hall’s line, there are some good players but not a lot of consistent scorers. The Devils’ had all of three 20+ goal scorers last season: Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri (Miles Wood missed it by 1). They had all of two 50+ point scorers: Hall and Hischier. While points are not the be-all end-all of offense, these facts highlight this issue with the team at forward.

One possible solution is to go out and try to obtain the biggest pending free agent that could hit the market on July 1: John Tavares. (I think they should, read this post for more on that.) As he is a legitimate first-line caliber player on nearly every team in the NHL, he will cost a lot of money. Maybe he is not available. Maybe he is not interested in New Jersey. Maybe Tavares will demand too much. Whatever it is, the Devils should consider some alternative approaches in free agency. Fortunately, there are a couple of scoring wingers who are pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) for 2018.

Rather than drag out and look at each one, I’ve decided to pick four of the bigger pending UFAs and highlight them. I’m talking about wingers that can score goals, take shots, and take on minutes in the process. Basically, a player similar to what Kyle Palmieri does for the Devils. While these four players are left wingers, the Devils could make a fit work. Marcus Johansson can play all three forward positions, and Miles Wood and Blake Coleman fit in just fine in a bottom-six role. In a perfect world, maybe the Devils do not need to make any signings. Johansson would be fully healthy and can produce so much more than he could have last season, Wood would continue to progress, Jesper Bratt plays more like he did from the 2017 portion of the 2017-18 season (and hopefully not requiring Hall or Hischier to do so), and other players step up. But this is not a perfect world and the Devils should do a bit more than rely on a lot of hopes. Therefore, they should at least talk about these four players. We can do so in the meantime.

The Four Wingers for Comparison Purposes

#1 Evander Kane - Buffalo/San Jose - 2017-18 Salary: $6 million, 2017-18 Cap Hit: $5.5 million

Evander Kane signed his current contract after having his first and currently only 30-goal season in the NHL in 2011-12. His 57 points remain a career high in a season. While Winnipeg signed him for six-years, he ended up being traded to Buffalo in 2015 after a tumultuous run where locker room issues and issues with the organization led to his transaction. While with Buffalo, Kane was involved in two legal issues. In 2015, Kane was investigated for an incident in a hotel room in December. Kane was cleared of any wrongdoing by March. In June 2016, he was sued for non-criminal harassment, disorderly conduct, and trespassing from an altercation at a bar. Kane pled not guilty and the charges were dismissed in October 2016. On the ice, Kane did not come close to repeating the season he had that earned him the 6-year, $31 million deal from Winnipeg. However, Kane was seemingly on the upswing in 2017-18 and he caught fire when he was traded to San Jose. Kane couldn’t stop producing and he was a dominant force, ultimately finishing the 2017-18 season with a level of production close to his career best: one goal shy of 30 and a three points fewer than 57.

It’s going to be tough to sign the 26-year old. According to Sportsnet, Kane stated the following regarding free agency:

“Common sense tells you, there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.”

He’s right. We’ll see what he prioritizes for July.

#2 James van Riemsdyk - Toronto - 2017-18 Salary: $5 million - 2017-18 Cap Hit: $4.25 million

The New Jersey-born winger was signed to a six-year, $25.5 million contract extension by Philadelphia in 2011. He would not suit up for the Flyers for any of it. He was traded to Toronto in June 2012 before that extension kicked in. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Van Riemsdyk flourished from then on. With the Maple Leafs, he put up 18 goals in the lockout-shortened season of 2013 and at least 27 goals in all but one of the other five seasons in that contract (he was injured and played in only 40 games in 2015-16). He just set a career high in goals in a season with 36; he had more points in other seasons but that’s a hefty amount of production. James van Riemsdyk is 29 and could stand to get paid real well this Summer.

#3 James Neal - Las Vegas - 2017-18 Salary & Cap Hit: $5 million

When I did some straw polling through the @AAtJerseyBlog account on Twitter, I was taken aback about a negative response to James Neal. That he’s too old. He’s less than two years older than Van Riemsdyk. The thing about Neal is that he is a consistent scorer. In all ten seasons in the NHL, Neal has scored at least 20 goals in each one. His career best was in 2011-12 when he tallied 40 along with 81 points in Pittsburgh. The Pens the gave him his current contract of six-years at $30 million. He’s been moved around and ended up in Vegas through the expansion draft. While he has not had a career year there like some of the other Golden Knights, he still reliably broke the 20 goal mark with 25 and surpassed 40 points again. He continues to produce in the postseason with three goals and seven points in eleven games so far. As he’ll be 31 at the start of the next season, Neal has a lot left in the tank - and that shot remains strong.

#4 Rick Nash - Rangers / Boston - 2017-18 Salary: $8.2 million, 2017-18 Cap Hit: $7.8 million

Rick Nash is easily the biggest name based on experience. In his 15 seasons so far in the NHL, Nash has scored more than 20 goals in a season 13 times, he scored more than 30 goals in a season 8 times, and he passed 50 points 9 times. Nash’s best season in terms of production was in 2008-09 and he signed the eight-season, $62.4 million contract extension afterwards in July 2009. The man continued to produce, although the level of his production has dipped in New York - especially after the 2014-15 season. Still, Nash is able to put up at least 20 while contributing in a lot of situations. When he’s on, he’s remarkably tough to stop. Nash will turn 34 so him being on isn’t that often. Still, he has the pedigree of the kind of winger to review for this post. He absolutely has the experience to do so. And there’s also the possibility of coming much cheaper for a short-term deal.

While he’s not a UFA, I’m going to include Palmieri in these tables of stats being compared to show how he stacked up. I will forewarn you, Palmieri’s 2017-18 will not look so hot by the end of this post.

Basic Stats

Let’s look at basic stats. The stats you can easily find at NHL.com by going to their stats page. Things like points, games played, average ice time, power play points and goals, and so forth.

2017-18 Basic Stats
2017-18 Basic Stats
Source: NHL.com

Kane and van Riemsdyk were the most productive in this crew that all scored at least 20 goals last season. Kane was particularly productive by the sheer number of shots he took on top of a very large amount of ice time per game. Van Riemsdyk was the hottest shooter of the bunch with a 14.5% shooting percentage. While his totals do not initially belie that, Palmieri ended up having the best points per game rate on top of having the most power play points. He was just ahead of van Riemsdyk in that regard.

There are some surprises here. First, Kane, Neal, and Nash did not produce a lot on the power play for their teams. Given their skill sets and how much they have played on power plays, low numbers like those should raise an eyebrow. Also raising my eyebrow is van Riemsdyk’s relatively low ice time compared to the others wingers here. Ditto (I don’t have three eyebrows) Neal’s relatively low shots per game average. As it will turn out, Neal did not exactly have the best of seasons with Vegas.

These basic stats stick out because they are common ones and they speak to the player’s level of production. However, if I’m Ray Shero or a GM of some other team, then I want to know how well the players perform outside of the scoring. Do they tend to be involved in helping their team pushing the play forward? Are they getting beaten on in the run of play? A winger truly contributing on offense will do more than just get points, they’ll have a positive effect on shooting attempts, shots, and scoring chances. This also means the team should not be giving up more of those than what they generate when the player is on the ice. To answer that, we must dive into each player’s 5-on-5 stats.

5 on 5 Stat Comparison for the Wingers

For this post, I’m only going to focus on the 2017-18 season. I also broke up the tables by stat as to cut down on throwing a giant, ugly table of numbers out there. Since Kane and Nash were traded, I split up their stats by team rather than trying to combine them. These stats all come from the invaluable Natural Stat Trick.

Since I’m interested in wingers who can score goals and take shots with the intent of bolstering the Devils’ offense, let’s start by looking at their shooting stats and individual attempts and chances counts.

Shooting & Individual Stats

2017-18 Shooting & Individual Stats
2017-18 Shooting & Individual Stats
Source: Natural Stat Trick

Kane scored nearly as many goals in 17 games with the Sharks as he did with 61 with the Sabres. He went from having a really poor shooting percentage to a more potent one. Again, he got really hot after the trade. But it’s more than just goals. Kane took a higher rate of shots and had a slight improvement in the ratio of shots on net to shooting attempts. Even in Buffalo, Kane generated a good number of high-danger chances and that also continued in San Jose.

Also standing out is van Riemsdyk. While Kane had more attempts and shots than him, nobody else in this group came close to van Riemsdyk’s 300 attempts. Not even Kane touched his 200 scoring chances or his 21 5-on-5 goals either. His shot to attempt ratio is the lowest among the bunch so it is possible he could have been more judicious with some of his tries at the net. But the man provided volume and results.

Rick Nash definitely does not look too shabby. With only 11 games with Boston, he had the opposite experience from Kane. He got cold. As such, he only had one goal in 5-on-5 play with the B’s. This is not to say he didn’t try as he averaged three shots per game, he had the best shot-to-attempt ratio of this group, and a majority of his scoring chances were high-danger chances.

On the disappointing end, there’s Neal and Palmieri. Neal had only a slightly better shot-to-attempt ratio than van Riemsdyk, he had a lower shots-per-60 rate, and he’s fourth out of the four UFAs in terms of chances generated. Thankfully for him, Palmieri is included in here as someone who looks worse. Even with fewer games played, Palmieri’s shot rate was the lowest and he didn’t generate a lot of chances. It’s not a good start in this stat-down for the Devil here for comparison purposes.

On-Ice Attempts

Attempts are not just tries to get a shot on (or in) the net. They tend to represent offensive possession. Most players will not take shooting attempts from the neutral zone. They’ll only do it from their own end of the rink at an empty net. Generally, if you see a shot, a missed shot, or a blocked shot, then it is coming from the offensive zone -which is where we would want to see offensive players be in and those players to help their team get there. We cannot so easily answer the latter part, but we can see how each team did in Corsi For and Corsi For% (shooting attempts) when the player was on the ice.

Relative stats are included here (and in the subsequent charts) to show the change of the team’s stat when he is on the ice compared to when they are not on the ice among forwards. I also included ranks from their respective teams to highlight whether a player’s stat was among the best on that team or not.

2017-18 On-Ice Attempts Stats
2017-18 On-Ice Attempts Stats
Source: Natural Stat Trick

Hello, James van Riemsdyk! He posted the best CF% and relative CF% out of the whole group. He was the best on his team in each of those stats too. Why didn’t he get more than twelve minutes of 5-on-5 time per game? Also showing up well: Kane and Nash, especially after their trades. Both Buffalo and New York were bad in the run of play this season. So for them to be just below 50% and rank among the top three forwards in that stat is quite good. More than that, their relative CF% stats are great - it means that when they stepped on the ice, things were better for their team. That’s always a good thing. Also good is that they each saw a boost in CF% with their new, better teams in 2017-18.

On the opposite end, Neal and Palmieri ranked middle of the forward groups on their teams. While Neal did break even in CF%, it was not by much and his CF/60 was not all that hot. Palmieri had a better relative CF% than Neal, but he didn’t break even in CF% and his CF/60 was lower. I’m starting to wonder about Palmieri now.

On-Ice Shots

Attempts are good, but shots on net are telling for these kinds of players. They are known for their shots and they should be firing away and helping others do so. We know from the individual stats how they have been firing away themselves. What is their impact on their teams?

2017-18 On-Ice Shots Stats
2017-18 On-Ice Shots Stats
Source: Natural Stat Trick

The bad news here is Neal. Even Palmieri was a bit better than him. Neal actually had a negative relative SF%; which means that when he stepped on the ice, Vegas took fewer shots in proportion to total shots. That’s not what you’d like to see out of offensive players. Again, other Vegas forwards were just better.

As for Kane, van Riemsdyk, and Nash, they were among the best on their teams. Even before any trades. All three finished above 50% in SF%, which is good to see. All three have not just positive relative SF% stats but really high ones. A jump in at least 3.75% in SF% means that when they step on the ice, the team is taking a larger percentage of shots in the game. All five players have SF/60 rates above 30, but Kane and Nash really stand out with some solid rates on their old teams and some mind-boggingly great ones on their new teams. Yes, the population size (games) is smaller, but they suggest that those guys would thrive with better teams and they did - goal scoring aside for Nash.

On-Ice Scoring Chances & High-Danger Scoring Chances

Of course, we want our scoring wingers to not just help generate attempts and shots. We want scoring chances. We want the plays to be in the slot, in the high slot, at the crease, or in the inside halves of the faceoff circles. Attempts there are considered to be scoring chances as they are the most common areas on the ice to score from. The high-danger chances are the ones in the slot and at the crease; that’s where most goals do come from and attempts from there are very hard to defend. Here’s how the group did:

2017-18 Scoring Chance Stats
2017-18 Scoring Chance Stats
Source: Natural Stat Trick
2017-18 High Danger Scoring Chance Stats
2017-18 High Danger Scoring Chance Stats
Source: Natural Stat Trick

I nearly did a double-take when I saw Nash’s and Kane’s numbers. They were excellent on their original teams. They took it to a remarkable level with their new teams. The fact that the percentages are so high mean that their respective teams really dominated the chance categories when those players were on the ice. While it can’t be that Kane and Nash were involved in every single chance, it’s more than a coincidence - especially knowing they were among the top forward on their old teams too. Once again, James van Riemsdyk also looks superb here on his own and given his rank on Toronto.

Also once again, Neal and Palmieri did not look good here. Neal was especially poor when it came to high-danger scoring chance percentages. When he stepped on the ice, Vegas took fewer ones of their own. That’s not good for an offensive player. His rate of both scoring chances and high-danger chances were also quite low on their own. Palmieri had a slight negative impact on high danger chances and was just poor for scoring chances as a whole. I know I’m repating myself a bit, but I must reiterate that I’m wondering whether Palmieri really did well last season. Does scoring at least 20 goals make one immune to this?

On-Ice Goals

Goals are still important. While they cannot necessarily control goals against or team goals forward in a big way, how did the team’s scoring change when they were on the ice?

2017-18 Goal Stats
2017-18 Goal Stats
Source: Natural Stat Trick

Here, it is not so pretty for everyone. Granted, we’re talking wingers - they don’t play goalie. That said, Palmieri looks really good here with positive relative GF% and straight up GF%. A GF/60 of 2.56 is not so amazing, but it was positive for New Jersey. The only other real positive here is Kane. While his GF% in Buffalo was well below 50%, that it was the second best rate out of 15 Sabre forwards should give some idea to how bad Buffalo was last season. Kane’s relative GF% was a high 8.67%, so it was not as if the goals against soared when he was out there. If anything, the goals weren’t being scored if a GF/60 of 2.03 is considered to be an improvement than what it was without him. Again, Kane goes to San Jose and sees his 5-on-5 stats skyrocket to amazing town.

As for the others, well, van Riemsdyk’s relative GF% was negative which was odd to see. After ranking so high in the other stats on his team, he was closer to the team median here. It’s still way better than Nash, who suffered from a lack of team scoring when he was on the ice, and way, way better than Neal. I wonder whether Neal unfortunately followed Vegas’ high-scoring career year forwards. A 2.72 GF/60 is not that bad! Alas.

Common Teammates

Teammates are important, so I looked at the five most common skaters who were each player’s teammates in 2017-18.

2017-18 Common Teammates for Players in 5-on-5 Play
2017-18 Common Teammates for Players in 5-on-5 Play
Source: Natural Stat Trick

That Palmieri put up some less-than-impressive 5-on-5 stats while playing so much with Hall and Hischier is weird. Both of those players were better in 5-on-5 than this. Granted, Palmieri did have some significant time away from them. It also did not help that he had the high-event-against John Moore as his most common defensive partner.

Neal did play a lot with David Perron, who racked up an astounding 50 assists, and Erik Haula, who topped 50 points himself. Both had career years with Vegas. That didn’t necessarily lead to great 5-on-5 play though. The defensive support from Vegas is what it is.

As for van Riemsdyk, I question whether he benefited from other Leaves taking on more and possibly tougher minutes. He did play mostly with Tyler Bozak and Connor Brown, with Mitch Marner stepping in when Brown was elsewhere. Not a bad group, but definitely not Toronto’s top unit. Having Jake Gardiner as defensive support can help as he can pass the puck well. Roman Polak, eh, not so much but it wasn’t a huge deal.

Kane went from being a mainstay with Buffalo’s top line to being almost exclusively kept with Joe Pavelski in San Jose. That combination worked beautifully as Kane’s numbers attest to. Having Brent Burns as support also helps a lot - much more than Rasmus Ristolainen or Marco Scandella. Nash saw a similar upgrade; he went from playing on a top line in New York to playing and fitting in well with David Krejci and Torey Krug in Boston.

The point is that among this group, van Riemsdyk and Neal did not play with the team’s top forwards on a regular basis in 5-on-5 play. OK, Nash and Kane didn’t on their new teams either; but they did on their old teams. This speaks to how well (or not well in Neal’s case) they can perform away from the best players. Since one of the goals of this exercise is to identify a scoring winger who can bolster the team’s scoring, it really helps to know whether a player can do well without the other team’s best players. Taylor Hall is great but the Devils only have one Taylor Hall (and if they get Tavares, they likely will not have the room for these guys either).

5-on-5 Conclusions

I was stunned when I saw how good van Riemsdyk and Kane looked in 5-on-5 play. I knew both players were strong, effective wingers. But they were really effective on their respective teams in 5-on-5 play. Kane played a lot on a top line on a bad Buffalo team and honestly was one of their better performers even if the production did not match. He caught fire in San Jose, but the 5-on-5 numbers were so good that Kane was doing more than just racking up points. Again, van Riemsdyk did so well in 5-on-5 play in Toronto that I wonder why he did not play more. His linemates weren’t scrubs. It’s possible he thrived in part because he was not taking on the big minutes like, say, Auston Matthews. I thought this would be a closer comparison, but Kane and van Riemsdyk blew me away.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see how good Nash looked here. For an older player, it is expected that they’ll decline. The production apparently has for Nash, even though I think he could still pot 20 goals in a couple more seasons. But Nash was not an albatross on the ice. He contributed quite well relative to other forwards in New York and his short stint with the B’s went really well despite infrequent scoring by Nash or his new teammates.

On the flipside, these numbers reduced my confidence in Neal. Sure, he scored 25 goals, but the run of play was not kind to Vegas when he was on the ice. Other forwards showed up better than him in these stats and some of them were just not that impressive on their own. Not even the scoring was in Neal’s favor, not compared to other Golden Knights. It’s tempting to think that he’s now hitting his 30s and this is a sign that he’s hitting them hard. It could also just be a poor season that he’ll bounce back from. All the same, these numbers are a red flag of sorts for Neal.

Lastly, I included Palmieri to be a point of reference. I did not expect him to look worse than three or all four of the pending UFAs in most categories. The harsh reality I realized is that Palmieri did not do well in 5-on-5 play in 2017-18. Given that he played with Hall and Hischier more than other forwards makes me question whether that should be a line for 2018-19. It did not help that Palmieri missed 22 games and he was shuffled around in the line up for a bit. Still, knowing that Hall and Hischier posted better 5-on-5 numbers makes me think he may be the odd man out. Maybe, like Neal, it was just a poor season and Palmieri will bounce back. I hope so - he is still the best right winger on the team.

Power Play Stats

No disrespect to the penalty kill, but the interest here is scoring wingers. The New Jersey Devils certainly needed help in that regard in 5-on-5 play. They also could use more weapons on their power play. While the team had a strong conversion rate at 21.4%, the underlying stats suggests that there is plenty of room for improvement to threaten more often when up a man or two. Let’s see how these four impending UFA wingers did on the man advantage last season.

Individual Production & Ice Time

2017-18 Power Play Individual Stats & Ice Time
2017-18 Power Play Individual Stats & Ice Time
Source: NHL.com, Natural Stat Trick

Curiously, Kane and Nash were not even in the top five on their old teams on the power play based on ice time per game. They each saw big jumps on their new teams. Not that it led to a lot of gains. Nash had all of two goals and three points in eleven points. Kane tried but earned nothing with San Jose. While not apparent here, Neal was not nearly as much of a factor on Vegas’ power play as he was in Pittsburgh or Nashville. The amount of production is decent but he’s done more and better in the past.

On the positive side, Palmieri really was a power player for New Jersey. He attempted a lot of shots, they did not always get on target but he managed to get more shots than almost everyone else here and as many goals as anyone else. The almost is because James van Riemsdyk. He was more accurate on his attempts, he had more scoring chances and way more high-danger chances than anyone else here. He racked up as many goals as Palmieri with only three fewer assists. The power play ice time per game seems low, but it was the most among forwards in Toronto. Oh, and Toronto finished second in the NHL in power play conversion rate at 25%; he’s a reason as to why.

Power Play On-Ice Rates

I’m a little skeptical about how to best determine who has been a positive factor in terms of on-ice rates for power plays. There’s almost no reason to look at a percentage of total attempts or shots or what-have-you because it is a primarily offensive situation. However, most power plays are driven by the primary power play unit. Players on a secondary power play unit will likely not look good by default. So you may want to take this table with a grain of salt:

2017-18 Power Play On-Ice Rate Stats
2017-18 Power Play On-Ice Rate Stats
Source: Natural Stat Trick

Two things are notable here. First, Nash was generally a positive factor even on a what I presume was playing on a second unit in New York. That continued in Boston, when he was given much more ice time. With the exception of goals being scored, of course. Again, Nash’s puck luck was just not on his side in 2017-18. Second, Neal just was not having much of a positive impact on Vegas’ power play which is, again, odd because he’s done so much more on power plays in the past. While his presence led to more PPGs for Vegas and PPGs end power plays, those rates are just plain low. Other than that, Palmieri and van Reimsdyk look good and Kane saw big gains going to the traditionally and statistically frightening San Jose power play.

Conclusions

Going into this post, I expected James Neal and James van Riemsdyk to come out well and Palmieri to be on these players levels. I had fewer expectations for Evander Kane, who got hot in San Jose, and Rick Nash, who is entering his mid-30s. I ended up finding out that Evander Kane had a really good season beyond just almost having a career year in goals and points. I ended up finding out that Nash was a solid hand on the ice and that despite some rough puck luck, he still managed 21 goals. I ended up finding out that Neal was not all that good in Vegas despite continuing his career-long 20+ goals per season run. I ended up finding out that Palmieri really was not all that good last season and needs to be better in 5-on-5 play. The only guy who met my expectation was van Riemsdyk, even there I still question why he only played just over twelve minutes in 5-on-5 play when he was crushing it in those situations.

While neither of these four players can really replace Palmieri (they’re all left wingers), there is reason to believe that the Devils can benefit from signing either of them. From digging into their 5-on-5 and power play stats, there is certainly an order of preference.

Fourth would be James Neal. I can believe he can bounce back and be utilized more in another environment. I will not bet against him not scoring 20 goals again. But despite mostly playing with two guys who did have career years, there’s not a lot from 2017-18 that would make me think he can really help out the Devils. Yes, scoring goals helps. But the Devils also need better 5-on-5 players and Neal did not demonstrate that in Vegas. As for the power play, I get the sense that to be most effective, he needs to be shooting more and he has done that more in the past. Would he be given that role in New Jersey where Hall and Palmieri will likely play key roles on the PP? He will be 31 at the start of next season; I do not believe he’s done as a contributor. I don’t believe he’ll help out the Devils as much as the other three players.

Third would be Rick Nash. Despite being older and knowing that he’s not going to bust out big seasons in production, his 5-on-5 stats suggest he still has a lot to contribute. He can still play in all situations and add to a power play on top of that. A lot of teams could use Rick Nash even at the age of 34 to start next season. Given his age, it may be possible to obtain him for far less money than what he was making and for a short period of time. The big risk for the Devils, other than the age, is that they could aim a bit higher. Nash could be a useful band-aid for a season or two, but I think the Devils could use a scoring winger for a bit longer that could produce much more.

Second would be Evander Kane. The guy was a silver lining in 5-on-5 play in Buffalo. While he was on a hot streak in San Jose, the underlying numbers all going up with him point to the real possibility that he was just a great fit. The Sharks put him with Joe Pavelski and the two were just awesome together. And Kane played quite a lot for both teams, suggesting that he has a lot to contribute. He will be 27 for next season, so he carries the least amount of risk of a age-based decline. So why is he second? Again, look at the age and what he’s done. He’s well under 30, he nearly put up 30 goals in a strong 2017-18 campaign. He is going to be very popular if he hits free agency. So much so that he could stand to make more than $6 million and then one has to be concerned without how much he could be over-paid. He was very good last season, but good enough to be a $6-7 million player? I don’t know.

As an aside: I also do not know him personally, but based on that Sportsnet article, it seems to me that San Jose appreciated what he did for them in a short time frame. I can’t help but think whether it would be best for San Jose and Kane to just stick together. Kane may not get as hot on the scoresheet, but he can do a lot of damage with Pavelski and others for years to come while Kane gets to be on an organization that makes the playoffs on a fairly regular basis for a change. Make it so, San Jose. (It would also likely keep the Sharks out of the Tavares sweepstakes, which is also a plus.)

First would be James van Riemsdyk. Forget John Carlson. If the Devils need to spend for a Jersey guy to come to Newark, then they would be better served with this player. He’ll be 29 at the start of next season so if he’s going to decline, it would likely be in a few years. He was fantastic in Toronto in the run of play while producing quite a lot. Both are needs for the Devils at forward and he checked them off last season with authority. No, he’s not likely going to score 36 goals again; but 25 to 30 for a couple more seasons is absolutely possible. Yes, it’ll be a challenge to figure out where he could fit in on a power play; but he would be an asset all the same. He would absolutely be a scoring threat behind Hall at left wing while helping out tremendously in the run of play. His talent will give John Hynes and his staff more flexibility in the line up. If he’s willing to come to New Jersey for four years at $22 million ($5.5 million cap hit), then I’d say make it happen and we’ll enjoy some more goals. Especially if Tavares is not going to come.

Of course, the Devils may ultimately decide to not go in this direction at all. They should not if they’re going to go all-in on Tavares (who they Devils should still try and get). They should not if the prices for these players become ridiculous; just because they have the cap space does not mean they should just spend it all freely. They may be able to get away with not signing one of these bigger names at wing and instead hoping that a healthy Johansson, further improvements from Bratt and Wood, a rebound season of sorts from Palmieri (please do better in 2018-19), and perhaps retaining Patrick Maroon would be enough to give the Devils more offense behind Hall, who may not be able to replicate his legendary 2017-18, and Hischier, who could continue to rise in his second NHL season. I still think that considering these kinds of players would be in the Devils’ best interest instead of relying on a lot of hope. And if they go in this route, I will recommend van Riemsdyk followed by Kane, Nash, and Neal.

Your Take

What do you think these impending UFA wingers: Kane, Neal, Nash, and van Riemsdyk? Do you think they can help the Devils in next season and beyond? If so, who would you want the Devils to sign and for how much? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about these players and how they can help the Devils’ offense in the comments. Thank you for reading.