Here in Devil-land, it’s been a very quiet offseason on pretty much all fronts. The Devils have made no trades, had fairly run-of-the-mill draft in Dallas, and have made few signings (with even fewer of those being of any substance for the NHL roster). At the open of free agency on Sunday, Ray Shero and New Jersey were about as close to silent as a team can be while still technically making transactions. For a team still trying to piece together a roster that can move beyond being a playoff bubble team in the near future, the Devils’ have been noticeably inactive. Understandably, some portions of the fanbase are getting a little bit restless with the lack of any really substantive movement from the team.
On Wednesday, CJ made the argument that the Devils taking a ‘status quo’ approach to the offseason is a perfectly acceptable state of affairs. The argument being, correctly, that an active free agency often leads to overpayment and can easily get teams in trouble. I will admit that, while I agree it’s fine that the team didn’t swing for the fences, I am still a bit uneasy with an offseason of standing pat — intentional or not — on a team that clearly has some holes to fill. It is probably something I should make some peace with, though, because a quick look back in recent Devils history shows that if nothing happens by July 5th, there is a high likelihood that not much is happening at all.
I’m not just talking about free agency here, though. Very few significant transactions (and I’m strictly talking about moves that are new additions, not re-signings or ELCs) have occurred for New Jersey past the first few days of free agency. The Devils have obviously been involved in some pretty substantial trades in each of the past three summers, but the latest of those, the Marcus Johansson deal, occurred on July 2nd. Once you get past the 5th of July, as we currently are, it becomes a metaphorical desert of substantive acquisitions.
A look through the last 10 Devils offseasons reveals how barren the landscape has been for the Devils past the opening of free agency. With a couple notable exceptions (one of which is really a special case), the transaction log after July 5th is pretty barren in the new acquisition department. Plenty of re-signings have come later in the summer, Ilya Kovalchuk being the most significant example, but new additions to the organization that could/would move the needle have been rare. Here’s a rundown of the past 10 years of post-July 5th transactions for New Jersey (via ESPN’s team transaction log), with the criteria being any summer trade or signing that brings in a player not already with the organization in some capacity:
- 2017 — Will Butcher (not UFA until 8/15)
- 2016 — Luke Gazdic, Brandon Gormley
- 2015 — N/A
- 2014 — N/A
- 2013 — Jaromir Jagr
- 2012 — Krys Barch, Bobby Butler
- 2011 — Cam Janssen, Eric Boulton
- 2010 — N/A
- 2009 — Yann Danis, Cory Murphy
- 2008 — Jay Leach, Jon DiSalvatore, Chad Wiseman, Fedor Fedorov
Save for Jaromir Jagr and Will Butcher, who is sort of a special exception because he didnt become a UFA until August 15th, that’s a whole lot of not much. There may be value to be had in the later stages of free agency, but save for some moves near or during training camp in September, the Devils have not acquired too much of it. In fact, beyond Jagr and Butcher, it would be tough to assemble a list of acquisitions more grim than this. So with that in mind, Devils fans should probably start getting comfortable with the roster as constructed and hoping for some improvement from within heading into 2018-19.
I will offer a bit of a caveat/postscript here: Many of you have likely seen the little bit of smoke surrounding the Devils as a potential third team in to help facilitate an Erik Karlsson deal between Ottawa and Tampa Bay. Count me in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” camp, but yeah go ahead and, uh, disregard the whole post about how nothing is going to happen if that actually occurs.