Earlier this morning, the New Jersey Devils were crushing it in the news department with three announcements. In order of the news announced this morning:
First: The team recalled Brett Seney. While Seney has not been all that and a bag of chips, I have a lot more time for a 23-year old still early in his pro career and can still draw penalties and chip in points than, say, a 26-year old center with some impressive on-ice against-rate states which makes him the poor man’s Jay Pandolfo at best. In other words, not that either are great, I’d rather have Seney play center than Kevin Rooney. Given that the Devils played Seney in over 50 games, I figured he was demoted so he can get prime minutes as a whole lot of other forwards from Binghamton could be given chances. This recall confirms that New Jersey is still interested in what he can do for the future. I like it. Good for Seney, too.
Second: The Devils announced Tyler Dellow has been hired as the Vice President of Analytics. I am personally pumped by this news. Dellow is very smart, very astute, and very good at communicating how he sees things. His original blog, mc79hockey, was influential in the early days of public analytics back when the discussions and work was driven by the likes of Tim “Vic Ferrari” Barnes (now with Washington), the late Tore “JLikens” Purdy, Gabe Desjardens, Tom Awad (I believe he’s with Montreal), Sunny Mehta (who the Devils hired as their first analytics hire), Jonathan Willis, Robert Vollman (Los Angeles picked him up last year), among others. Thanks to a writing style that explained his use of stats helped with his legal background for argument’s sake, Dellow was one of the first wave of public people hired in analytics with Edmonton. Edmonton did not listen to him much and he was let go in the same summer they let Taylor Hall go for Adam Larsson. After a few years back in the public and most recently with The Athletic, Dellow is now a Devil. If nothing else, he will not be a “yes man” for hockey operations and he will provide important perspectives on what the team should consider doing.
Normally, front office staff do not get public announcements and posts on the official website. This is different. The Devils created this position and they think it is a big enough deal that they got Dellow to shout it out from the rooftops, so to speak. Corey Masisak’s article at The Athletic ($) with Dellow revealed that the hiring process started from the Sixers’ side - Devils owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer also own the Philadelphia 76ers - way back in October. This was not a rash decision. I especially appreciate that the the Devils leveraged resources from another organization to get this going. If you have the ability, then it can be an advantage over other organizations. Based on my read through of the team staff page, Kate Madigan is still there and with Dan MacKinnon in a Senior Director role, Scott Harris has taken the player information/video manager position. Rachel Doerrie, who was let go the day after the position was created, clearly and professionally took the news well.
Third: The Devils announced the signing of defenseman Jeremy Davies to an entry level contract. This is the biggest news of the day for the Devils. Davies was with Northeastern University for the last three seasons and has developed into one of the best defensemen in all of the NCAA. As per Elite Prospects, he finishes his career with the Huskies with 22 goals, 74 assists in 111 games with two Hockey East First All-Star Team selections (2017-18, 2018-19), one NCAA East All-American selection (2017-18), and one Hockey East championship (2018-19). Davies was playing a ton with Northeastern, too. The official release of the news from the Huskies’ site states he averaged 28 minutes per game in all situations. He did so well he even played for Canada in the Spengler Cup. This was not a player who just compiled points in offensive situations. This was the Huskies’ ace on their blueline and many have taken notice. Had he decided to return for his senior year, I am certain he would have broken all kinds of school records. Obviously, he will not.
We will also not see him tomorrow or on Saturday or even with Binghamton. The Devils smartly signed Davies to an entry level contract that begins in 2019-20. According to CapFriendly, it is a maximum ELC from a salary standpoint with non-maximum bonuses. The timing is important. A two-year deal will mean Davies is protected from the future expansion draft for Seattle. It also allows for Davies to start his professional hockey career with a full training camp instead of jumping right in. When the deal ends, Davies will be a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, which will be a perfect time to assess where he is in his career and determine how to proceed.
Similar to the Dellow announcement, signing a seventh round draft pick to an entry level contract usually does not garner a lot of attention. But this is not a normal seventh round draft. Davies went from being a guy picked in the final round to being a legit prospect with a legit NHL future. Davies went from a USHL defenseman that not many have seen to being one of the best college players in the country. Davies went from being #38 on the 2016 Top 25 Under 25 list to someone who finished #16 in the 2018 list and he is almost sure to shoot up the rankings further because he had another great year with Northeastern. It is clear that the Devils found a second late draft gem in their Devils’ 2016 draft class, which already boasts Jesper Bratt with Joey Anderson, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian getting their first runs in the NHL.
Of course, the biggest news of this signing is that the Devils now do not have to worry about Davies becoming a free agent next year. This possibility came up in the hockey world when Harvard defenseman Adam Fox announced that he will not sign with Carolina and he intends to become a free agent next season. (Note: The tweet is from Pierre LeBrun) Which is a perfect pivot to an ongoing issue of college players becoming free agents. Rather than a separate post about it, I’ll offer my thoughts here.
Further Commentary Relevant to the AM News
When a player is drafted in the NHL, what is selected are their rights. These rights no longer last forever. Depending on the league, a team has to decide to offer a contract before those rights end. For example, someone selected out of major juniors has their rights owned by a team for two years. If they are not signed, they could re-enter the draft. College eligibility typically lasts for four years. The NHL allows the rights to last for that long - until their college career ends. But because the players are usually over 22-23 years old, they cannot re-enter the draft so college players not signed by August 15 of their senior year are unrestricted free agents. So if your team drafted them and they do not sign a contract by then, then they are free to sign with anyone else.
The frustration is that once they sign an entry level contract, they are no longer eligible to play in college due to the NCAA mandating an amateur status. The team cannot sign a player right after the draft and still go to college like they would with a junior player. If the player does exceptionally well in college, they can pretty much reject any contract, play out their college eligibility, and then get a deal on the open market. This is rather frustrating, especially when it’s your team that drafted prospect. Over the past years, there has been one or two “high-profile” college players that await free agency on August 15. It’s something to pay attention to in the dead part of the offseason. It’s something to worry about if it’s one of your favorite team’s prospects.
The Devils have been on the both ends of both situations - in the same year. In 2012, the Devils drafted Alexander Kerfoot in the fifth round. Kerfoot was a Harvard commit and went to the Crimson for all four years. He decided to not sign a contract with the Devils. He and his representation figured he did well enough that someone else would sign him in 2017. After all, he was the captain of the team in his senior season and had a great season with 45 points in 38 games and earned loads of accolades. In that same year, defenseman Will Butcher had a sensational season with Denver, winning the Hobey Baker Award for the most outstanding college player in the country. The former third round pick of Colorado in 2012 also turned to free agency. Colorado signed Kerfoot, the Devils signed Butcher. While both teams signed a very good young college player, some teams have lost out entirely with no compensation.
Some call this a loophole and want this to be rectified. I disagree. I think this is by design. I do not think team should hold onto a drafted player’s rights in perpetuity. While a college player cannot sign a contract, this forces an organization to still treat the prospect well like any other. They may be limited in terms of what they can do with them given NCAA eligibility requirements. But they can still be in communication with the player; if he can come to a developmental camp, then its worth doing; and they can still advise the player as needed. The team still needs to make the prospect feel like they belong. Let us not forget that Patrick Roy effectively burnt the bridge for Butcher when he told him he was too small to make it in the pros. Essentially, the team still has to recruit the player and sell them on being a member of the organization just as their college recruited them to come to their school. Drafting them at all helps, but as more and more players recognize their options, the teams will have to do more than picking a young player and just let him play at school for four years.
Further, this is only a viable option for the very good college players with identifable skill sets. Adam Fox can do what he’s doing because he has been a point machine with the Crimson. Kerfoot and Butcher did what they did in part because they were amazing in 2016-17. Someone who was not as successful or even played in a larger organization would be taking a big risk in going into free agency. Just as players are wise enough to know this is an option, there are players wise enough to know if there really is a market for their services. Likewise, teams have caught on and have signed players after one to three years of college. The Devils did it today with Davies. They did it last season with Joey Anderson. They even did it before free agency after college eligibility was a thing with the likes of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.
However, this is not a one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the player and the relationship the player has with the organization. Brett Seney, the player who was called up today (there was a reason why he’s in this post), spent all four years at Merrimack and was frequently on their scoresheet. After his college career ended, he signed an ELC on March 16, 2018, went to Binghamton, and kept on playing. Could he have hit free agency? Yes. But he did not. The Devils knew he was not a flight risk and they also did not wait after he was available. I do not know for certain but I would like to think the Devils kept in touch and maintained a relationship to know what they should and should not do. Signing a college prospect after their junior year may seem safe to secure them; but as we have seen with Fox, the player can still say “no.” And sometimes the player just is not ready for the pro game too. There is no one sure way.
So keep that in mind for prospects Reilly Walsh (probably the next to sign), Matthew Hellickson (maybe next season?), Aarne Talvitie, and future college-bound or college-based prospects are drafted by the Devils. That their rights have an expiration date means the team has to be more pro-active. It is not a loophole that has to be closed. And it is not a pervasive issue that leads to a lot of college prospects trying to get away from who drafted them either. Let us hope the Devils stay in good standings with these and future prospects - which can be helped by how they’re analyzed, which should be at least a part of Tyler Dellow’s responsibilities (there’s the connection to #2) - that go through the NCAA route in their hockey careers.
What do you make of today’s news? Would you like more evening reactions to morning news provided there are larger points to be made? What are your thoughts about college players becoming free agents if they are not signed by August 15 of their senior year? Please leave your answers and other reactions to today’s news in the comments. Thank you for reading.