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The Quietest Free Agent Frenzy Yet for Ray Shero & New Jersey Devils

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As the evening sets on July 1, Free Agent Frenzy was anything but for the New Jersey Devils. General manager Ray Shero opted to make only minor signings as the players the Devils need were not available for one reason or another one. It is the quietest one yet - as this summary of the day’s relative lack of activities show.

Edmonton Oilers v New Jersey Devils
Right: The Devils’ “biggest” signing of the day, Eric Gryba.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Unless something significant happens tonight, the New Jersey Devils made all of three signings on the first day of unrestricted free agency. All of them are short-term deals that were likely made for Binghamton: defenseman Eric Gryba (post), defenseman John Ramage (post), and forward Kurtis Gabriel (post). General manager of the Devils, Ray Shero, went into today with ample amounts of cap space and roster spots. They still have it as those three deals combined are worth $2 million.

Last year, I was disappointed by the lack of action by the Devils. They did even less than that this year and, yet, I’m not as bothered by it. This year’s free agency class was not that strong in terms of talent. There was no word about the Devils making an offer to a player they really could have used but ended up making a relatively small one. You cannot spend on what is not really available even with loads of roster and cap space available.

The Devils needed another left-shooting defenseman. Ideally, an eventual replacement for or someone to supplant Andy Greene’s role on the blueline. There really is not one available unless you really, really believe in Calvin de Haan. And he’s pretty much the only name defenseman still unsigned as of this typing. I would take a chance on him but I recognize he’s an injury risk. The good news is that the Devils are in on him according to David Pagnotta. Unfortunately, so is LA, Montreal and Toronto.

The Devils could have really used another scoring winger to bolster an offense so Taylor Hall does not have to do it all himself. Most of those wanted to and did sign elsewhere. James van Reimsdyk went back to Philly, David Perron has signed with St. Louis, Paul Stastny went to Vegas, and players like Evander Kane were extended even before today. The big names remaining are Patrick Maroon and James Neal, the latter of which is 31 and wants a six-year contract per Kevin Weekes. It would be a stretch to call either top-six wingers anyway. Maroon was not used as such and an aging Neal would probably get a similar role. Maroon is a popular man right now, so it remains to be seen if and when he’ll make a decision.

The Devils really could have swung big for John Tavares. The star center could have really made New Jersey much more of a contender in the short term more than anyone else. However, Tavares did not want to talk to the Devils in this past week. (It is not known if the Devils tried, but if the UFA isn’t interested, he isn’t interested.) He has since moved on to Toronto for $77 million over seven years. Toronto was ahead of New Jersey in the East, but this move will make them big players for the future as he joins a terrifying offense led by Auston Matthews.

To that end, what is there to be disappointed about? There’s a larger concern that since the Devils made the playoffs in 2018, there are now expectations to do it again in 2019. Nico Hischier and Will Butcher are still on ELCs, Taylor Hall does not yet need an extension, and the Devils have no really bad contracts holding them back them. The time to make a move towards contention is arguably now. No such move was made. But, again, you cannot sign who is not really available. Spending money just to spend it does not make a team better. I understand and accept why the Devils just made minor signings to strengthen the B-Devils roster depth today instead of likely overpaying someone to be who they are not.

With the two defenseman signings, there are now a quantity of defensemen with NHL contracts in New Jersey. Returning from the NHL team are Greene, Sami Vatanen, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, Mirco Mueller, and Ben Lovejoy. Binghamton adds Gryba and Ramage to Brian Strait, Colton White, Josh Jacobs, qualified RFA Michael Kapla, and the incoming Colby Sissons. The wild card is Egor Yakovlev. I would not be surprised if the KHL veteran gets a long look in New Jersey camp. He is a left-shooting defenseman; maybe he can take a third pairing spot as Butcher moves up to replace John Moore’s minutes? We shall see. I think the team can certainly find room to add someone like de Haan or bring someone in for a trade. But with 14 defensemen in the professional system, it is getting a bit crowded.

Speaking of Moore, he is one of a number of Devils who have signed elsewhere today. Boston decided that John Moore was worth a five-year contract worth $13.75 million. Fans of the B’s will soon learn that Moore sure loves to pinch in and not prevent shots. Michael Grabner broke his own signing on Twitter; he signed for three years worth $10.05 million with Arizona. Given how disappointing he was with the Devils, I do not think he will be missed all that much. In a similar vein, Jimmy Hayes signed a minimum deal with Pittsburgh. I think the only free agent that Devils fans may seriously miss is Maroon - assuming he does sign elsewhere and that may even depend on the terms of the contract.

There is still some small hope that Shero could make a trade in the near future. The big names being thrown around for potential trades in general are Erik Karlsson, Ryan O’Reilly, and Artemi Panarin. There has not been much news on the Panarin front. O’Reilly’s trade is largely driven by the fact he is owed a bonus tonight; who knows if it will result in anything. [8:56 PM Update: Yep. Dealt to St. Louis for a package of assets.] Karlsson was recently offered a contract extension by Ottawa - which may cool off those trade rumors. The Devils could theoretically pull off a trade that nobody really sees coming. But with no extra picks in 2019 (they don’t have a third unless Anaheim extends Adam Henrique) and 2020, the Devils are a little more limited than they were in 2017. They may need to move a player to get a player, which may be the ask from another team regardless.

What happens next? There are seven qualified RFAs who are up for a new contract, so they will need to be re-signed. Assistant coaches Geoff Ward and Ryane Clowe left New Jersey, so they will need to be replaced. Development camp is planning to have a scrimmage on July 14, so I would expect the camp to take place on July 8 or July 9. So there will be some activity by the Devils soon. But the biggest day of free agency, Free Agent Frenzy, was just a quiet one for Shero and the Devils. It is what it is. Unless, of course, something major happens tonight. Let me know what you think should happen now in the comments. Thanks to Jeff for helping out throughout the day, thanks to everyone who commented in the open post, and thank you for reading.