It’s fine. No, not in the dog in burning house meme kind of way – like, actually fine. Devils Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. seem to be up in arms about the Devils standing pat in this free agency so far. Given the frustration, I think it’s important to point out something: free agency is a stupid way to build your roster. If you draft/trade for a guy and sign him to an extension, you’re negotiating with one person’s agent. If you try to sign a UFA you’re negotiating with the same person, but now you have to also outbid all 30 other teams. These are teams that are willing to sign John Moore to 5-year contracts. Generally speaking, if you’re building a franchise to compete long term, those are not people you want to be bidding against. Ray Shero knows this, which is why July 1st is never a big day for him.
As Chris Ryan pointed out, Shero discusses how cap space, once gone, is difficult to get back. And this is important for a Devils team that has the potential to be good for a pretty long time if they set themselves up well. Shero has been shrewd with his use of cap space in his tenure here. If you look at last offseason, he used his extra cap space, not as fuel to overpay a free agent, but as leverage to pry a good forward on a decent contract away from a cap-strapped team. Having cap space doesn’t mean you have to use the cap space on dumb free agent deals. Do I like James van Riemsdyk? Sure. Do I want to give him $35M through the next 5 years? Definitely not. Is Calvin de Haan a good NHL player? Definitely. Do I want to give $18M over 4 years (higher AAV than Severson) to someone who’s been healthy 1 full season and never topped 25 points? Not really. Would John Carlson make us better? Of course. Am I giving him $64M over the next 8 years? HELLLLLLLLL NO.
Would I have given $11M do Tavares? Yeah, probably. I think it’s a bit of an overpay, but for the elite guys in the league you make it work. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for the Devils. Once again, a big name wanted to go home, and the Devils weren’t in the conversation anyway. There are very rarely bargain deals coming out of free agency. Shero rightly avoids them because the Devils have their own extremely important contracts coming up.
According to CapFriendly Will Butcher and Marcus Johansson will have contracts that are up next offseason. The year after that is Hart-winner, Taylor Hall, along with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. Now, some of those are RFAs which may impact negotiations slightly, and I’m assuming Johansson returns to form a bit after struggling with health this past year, but that’s still a lot of money that is likely to get shelled out in the next two offseasons. Three of those guys are on ELCs and the other two are on very reasonable contracts. And at the time of that second swath of deals, we will still have nearly $12M (15% of the cap) wrapped up in 35-year-old Travis Zajac and 34-year-old Cory Schneider. Hall will get Tavares money in all likelihood -- that’s another $11M (14% of cap). Nico will probably get something like Hall’s first deal which was 10% of the cap ~$8M. We’re now at 40% of the cap and all we have is 2 good forwards, and two players who should probably be retired. If we want to give anyone 3+ years, we have to think it’s worth the reduced flexibility it will give us at that time.
The last thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is that I think the Devils are already going to be better next year. Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Miles Wood were 4 of our top 6 scorers and should all improve next year (Hischier should ascend to among the league-elite). John Moore is gone which should mean more playing time for better players (hopefully Butcher and Damon Severson). And we have a few guys coming up the pipeline that may impress like top Albany forward, Nick Lappin, and USA WJC team captain, Joey Anderson.
It’s still early and I’m not ruling out Shero doing something crazy. But if he doesn’t, that’s okay too -- sometimes the deals aren’t there. I am not disappointed that the Devils didn’t spend money to go out and get new players. On the contrary, I’m thrilled.
What do you think the Devils should have done? Were there any contracts handed out that you think we should have given? Do you think the Devils will be better next year as currently constructed? Thanks, as always, for reading and leave your thoughts below!