Our look at free agency as it pertains to the New Jersey Devils continues today with a bit of a different look. While we’ve previously been looking at free agents that we believe the Devils could sign, or that we would like them to sign, today we look at those we don’t want them to chase starting on July 1st. Every year, there are free agents that are either overpriced or are starting to decline in quality of play that still wind up getting signed to long-term, lucrative deals that wind up hurting the teams that sign them in the end.
Some of the names we’re looking at today aren’t necessarily players that we’ve profiled in previous weeks, but they’re names that would be familiar to most NHL fans. Some of these players in years past would even be seen as positive signings, but this is 2019 and we’re of the “what have you done for me lately” mentality. Here are five high-end names that the Devils should steer clear from.
I’m not sure exactly what happened to Brassard this season, but his stats fell off of a cliff. While he posted 46 points in 72 contests last season (while playing for 2 different teams) this season saw him bounce between Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado and only manage 23 points across 70 games. His primary points were WAY down from 38 last season to just 18 this season, and his GAR plummeted from 5.4 in 2017-18 to a terrifyingly low -12.2 in 18-19. While some of that dealt with deployment, it appears Brassard is in decline.
Evolving Wild is predicting Brassard will get a three year contract at $4M per year; for the limited amount that he brought to the table last season, the Devils need to pass. While center depth could stand to be improved (especially if New Jersey were to choose Kakko over Hughes), Brassard’s best days appear to be behind him. This is one case where if the Devils are looking to sign a center in free agency, they should either shoot for a big name (Matt Duchene, Kevin Hayes, and William Karlsson even though he’s an RFA all come to mind) or a cheap stopgap until an internal or external solution presents itself.
Pavelski comes in as another center the Devils should be avoiding in free agency, albeit for different reasons. Currently a member of the San Jose Sharks, Pavelski continues to produce at a high rate (64 points in 75 contests this past season) but age is catching up to him quickly; Pavelski isn’t just on the wrong side of 30, he’s quickly approaching the end of his career. Turning 35 prior to the start of next season, it’s highly unlikely he would want to leave the team he is currently captain of for a team that is technically still rebuilding, especially as they are coming off of a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Even if he wanted to play in New Jersey, I think he should be passed over in favor of other options. His GAR dropped off from a 9.7 last season to a 6.8 this past year on a Sharks team that was seen as considerably improved from the 2017-18 squad. In addition, his shooting percentage from 2018-19 was ludicrously high 20.2%, which won’t be sustainable to repeat in 2019-20. He’s due for a regression due to age, shooting percentage normalizing and players that drive play (read: Erik Karlsson) possibly leaving San Jose. Projected to make more than $7.5M per season, Pavelski shouldn’t be on Jersey’s radar, just as they’re probably not on his.
Simmonds is a player renowned for his leadership, his toughness and his ability to chip in offensively. At 31 years old (once the 19-20 season begins) he still has some mileage in his career, though how much he has is debatable. 2018-19 saw him post his worst point total since 2010-11, when he wasn’t as established as he is now. Simmonds’ GAR has also dropped from 2.6 in 2016-17 to -0.6 in 2017-18 to -3 in 2018-19.
His low point total is concerning, especially considering that he didn’t contribute much of anything in Nashville. His primary points have declined for the past three seasons as well, and Evolving Wild has his anticipated salary around $5M with a projected contract of five years. It’s too long of a deal and too much money for someone who is more likely than not to continue declining due to his years of physical play.
This may be a bit of a controversial pick for this list; while Myers may not be the best player in terms of driving play, he is a big, semi-physical presence on the blue line, who contributes offensively. The Devils certainly could use more size as well as more points coming from anywhere in the lineup. He’s also a decent enough defender, who still has some good years left in him, as he just turned 29 in February.
The issue with Myers to me is the anticipated salary as well as the anticipated term; Myers is certain to be looking for one last big payday in his career, and this contract is pretty much it. Evolving Wild has him at seven years and just over $6M per year, but I feel as though a team will pay him even more to that due to the scarcity of NHL-level defenders in free agency. Sure, maybe he winds up being worth his money in the first couple of seasons, but beyond that I don’t see a player who will continue to be worth that money in his mid to late 30s. If the Devils could get him on a shorter deal (say around four years) I wouldn’t have as much of a problem, but if he’s looking for one last large contract, the Devils probably shouldn’t be the team offering it.
Eberle could be connected to the Devils due to his friendship with Taylor Hall as well as the fact that he’s a right-shooting right wing which the Devils need more of. Eberle has a plethora of problems surrounding him, including his drastic production drop-off this past season (22 fewer points than the season prior with only 3 fewer games played) as well as a similar contract projection/situation as Myers. Eberle just turned 29 and is almost certain to be looking for one last large payday; Evolving Wild says it could be roughly the same as Myers at seven years and just over $6M per season.
Eberle has exited his prime as a forward (as have all of the other forwards on this list) and the concerning stat to me is that his shooting percentage was only slightly below his career average, yet his production was way down. Again, a short-term deal for Eberle wouldn’t be the worst mistake, but signing him an extended deal when he already appears to be declining is poor asset management at best, and an absolute disaster at worst.
Do you think the Devils should stay away from the above listed names? Are there any other premier free agents you would like New Jersey to avoid? Do you think any of these five would be a solid addition to the Devils even if it is at the cost/contract length specified by EW? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!