CJ kicked us off strong yesterday looking at the two most prominent New Jersey Devils restricted free agents in Pavel Zacha and Will Butcher. Though the names being discussed today may not necessarily be seen as “flashy” or a priority, they still could wind up being a piece (or two or three) that could help to solidify the 2019-20 roster.
In yesterday’s piece, CJ also covered some of the terminology and rules that go along with a player being tagged as an “RFA” so I won’t be covering those again, as this is essentially “New Jersey Devils RFAs Part 2.” Outside of the pair discussed yesterday, there are three Restricted Free Agent Devils that finished their season in New Jersey: Stefan Noesen, Connor Carrick and Mirco Mueller. All players profiled today will have their arbitration eligibility listed, what their qualifying offer would be, as well as their projected next deal from EvolvingWild’s Model.
Qualifying Offer: $1.725M
EvolvingWild Contract Projection: 1 Year/$1.4M
Stefan Noesen has been juggled around quite a bit during his time as a Devil, which is a good metaphor for his entire NHL career so far. Originally a draft pick of the Ottawa Seantors, he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in the Bobby Ryan/Jakob Silfverberg deal. He would play one NHL game in each of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. He would get 12 more contests with Anaheim in 2016-17 before the Ducks placed him on waivers, where New Jersey would claim the former first rounder.
His 32 games with New Jersey saw him tally six goals and two assists, earning him a one-year, two-way contract for 2017-18. That season would see him play a career high 72 games where he would log 13 goals and 14 assists, with many of those coming with the formation of the Travis & the Texans line of Noesen, Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman. His strong season was incentive for the Devils to sign him to a one-way deal for 2018-19.
The past season was a tough one for Noesen; while he saw himself as a healthy scratch a few times in 2017-18 prior to T&T, fans were anticipating him having a more regular role. Injuries, inconsistency and the team’s general ineptitude last season saw him miss time both with injury and a number of healthy scratches. He would appear in only 41 contests and reverted back to a paltry season total of eight points.
Noesen was unfortunately not as useful last season as his 2017-18 had us hoping for; he posted the worst GAR (courtesy of Evolving-Hockey) on New Jersey by a wide margin at -5.2, with the next closest “regular” (appearing in half of the game of more) being Drew Stafford at -0.5. If you include all of the forwards who played less than half of Jersey’s games, the next worst player was Michael McLeod at -2.9, which is again far and away from Noesen’s number.
Looking at EvolvingWild’s projection, if the Devils are to re-sign Stefan Noesen, I think a one year deal is the right call; with how disappointing last season was for him, Noesen is going to want to bounce back in 2019-20 and prove that he deserves a multi-year contract with a higher AAV. I think the money is just about right for next season as well, as Noesen did not build off of his career high year, and while his injury certainly played a part, there were games where he was flat out ineffective and invisible.
I did state above that this would be if the Devils are to re-sign Noesen; while I certainly feel he has had useful moments in New Jersey, he has been wildly inconsistent, doesn’t seem to be favored by the coaches and again had the worst GAR on team by far. If the Devils want to be a vastly improved team next season, Noesen should probably be one of the first pieces cut loose.
Qualifying Offer: $1.1M
EvolvingWild Contract Projection: 2 Years/$1.25M AAV
Connor Carrick at the young age of 25 is already on his fourth NHL franchise after the Dallas Stars sent him to the Devils as part of the package that returned them Ben Lovejoy. In that span, he has spent parts of five seasons in the NHL (his entire 2014-15 was in the AHL), with his career high in games played being 67 which was in 2016-17 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Carrick had a rough 2018-19 in that he, much like Noesen, missed an extended chunk of the season due to injury; for Carrick, it wound up being a fractured foot that cost him 29 games. However, upon coming over to New Jersey, Carrick wound up showing some life. He contributed seven points in 20 contests, with his only coming to aid the team in squashing Our Hated Rivals in the pair’s final match-up of the past season. Additionally, while the sample size is even more limited than Noesen’s, Carrick posted a positive GAR (good for 13th out of 34 skaters to appear for NJ and 4th among 10 defensemen), though he was a -6.
I do think the Devils acquired Carrick with reason when sending Lovejoy to Dallas, as they could have simply sent The Rev over for the 3rd round pick that also came back. The Stars weren’t at the contract limit, so they could have taken Lovejoy and waived Carrick; I personally think someone on Jersey’s staff felt that this could be a player who fits the team system, albeit while needing sheltered minutes. He did play mostly bottom-pair with the Devils, as he rightfully should, as his defense was questionable/suspect at times throughout his first 20 games.
Again, I agree with EvolvingWild’s term projection; I think the Devils will give Carrick a pair of seasons to either prove his worth in a full-time NHL role, or to keep a spot filled as a stopgap until a prospect or better signing/trade comes along. I think Carrick may get a bit more than the model projects here, as I personally think he was more useful than Noesen. I think $1.4M/1.5M per season will be Carrick’s deal, with the Devils hoping that he can contribute to the scoresheet often with a more consistent role.
Qualifying Offer: $971,250
EvolvingWild Contract Projection: 2 Years/$1M AAV
Mirco Mueller might be the most polarizing player on this list of Devils RFAs; some fans believe him to be a solid defensive option, while others see him as nothing more than bottom pairing guy who could easily be replaced by a more skilled player. He did have his most prominent NHL season this past year, as he appeared in 53 games, and a chunk of the ones he missed were due to the recurring theme of this article which is injury.
There were some definite positives for Mueller this season; he reached double-figure points for the first time in his career and also reached double-digit assists. He was only a minus three in those appearances, supporting the belief that he is a good defender, as he wasn’t out on the ice bleeding goals. His GAR was not the greatest, as it was 9th out of 10 defenders, but only a -0.1, which for all team skaters ranks 24th out of 34; again, not great, but the number itself isn’t atrocious.
Mueller started off the season on the top pairing with Sami Vatanen, but had a fall from grace from there, eventually suffering the “healthy scratch” fate for a few games. By season’s end, the staff seemed to look at him as a middle-pairing option at best, with the usual trend seeming to put him on the bottom pair.
The Mueller problem for myself is that he may be an alright defender, but he doesn’t do anything else particularly well, including moving the puck up the ice. As Andy Greene and Will Butcher are essentially locks for the team, and Ty Smith will be pushing for a spot on the left side, Mueller could wind up being the odd-player out; strictly from a talent standpoint, he appears to be the lesser of those four players.
If Mueller has no problem being the 7th defender next season and rotating in as needed, then the Devils should bring him back. I disagree with EvolvingWild on the term this time; Mueller has had more time as a Devil than Carrick and is more of a known commodity in this system; I think one year at the suggested cap hit would be a better bet. If Smith is truly ready (and his latest WHL season suggests he is) then the Devils will be continuing to try and add more impactful players to their blue line, which Mueller in my opinion is not.
When CJ and I initially discussed this project, we intended to look at the Binghamton RFAs as well as the players listed above. The good news here (and I do mean good news) is that Jeff and The Panel beat us to it. If you didn’t get a chance to read Jeff’s article on Tuesday, I suggest following the above link and heading over there now; his coverage of Binghamton has been nothing short of outstanding all season, and the variety of opinions expressed in that post is far more knowledgeable than anything I could write in this section here, which is why I’m leaving it to the experts.
What are your thoughts on these contract estimates from Noesen, Carrick and Mueller? Do you agree or disagree with the term and/or value? Do you see the Devils outright parting ways with any of these players? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!