Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils announced that they have re-signed defenseman Connor Carrick. The new deal is a two-season contract worth $3 million, where he will be paid $1.5 million for each season. His cap hit will be worth the same amount. With the new contract, Carrick and the Devils will not go to their scheduled arbitration hearing for July 25, the first of three involving the Devils this season. He is set for 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Carrick’s new deal is a small raise over his last contract. According to CapFriendly, the 25-year old right-sided defenseman made $1.3 million last season on a one-season contract. That one-season deal followed a two-year (and one-way) contract worth $1.5 million total, which followed his entry level contract. It is not by much, but Carrick has been getting raises at least. At the same time, the contract is far from ludicrous and far from being unmovable should the Devils need to do so in the future.
What Carrick Did
Carrick was an interesting sort of defenseman last season. He was not particularly amazing in his time with New Jersey. Since being acquired in the Lovejoy trade, he played in 20 of the team’s remaining 21 games. He primarily played in 5-on-5 situations and, like the rest of the blueline, got to play a lot of defense. According to Natural Stat Trick’s stats from February 23 through the end of last season, Carrick did not rate well in his on-ice stats among Devils defensemen with a CF% of 44.35%, a SF% of 46.04%, a SCF% of 44.24%, and a HDCF% of 50.43%. That’s just not good to see from any player, nevermind a defenseman.
There are mitigating factors. First, Carrick played a lot in 5-on-5 situations as a Devil. His ice time per game was 17:16, which was easily the highest on the team since he arrived in Newark. That’s more minutes than Greene, Butcher, Severson, Santini, and others. This meant more opportunities to be out there and more chances to suffer. Second, the Devils had little to play for when he came to the team. They were sellers in February and the Devils effectively were out of the playoffs by the time he was acquired. I think that contributed to how much he played. Third, his production was quite good. Carrick provided one goal and six assists in 20 games. His 0.35 point per game rate in New Jersey was his best ever in his NHL career. For a non-offensive defenseman, that is good. His goal was also a finisher off of Drew Stafford’s sweetest move of all of 2018-19. That and being a game winner against Our Hated Rivals makes it a bonus. Fourth, the expected goals model suggests his play was not as bad as the results may indicate. Per Natural Stat Trick, Carrick had a xGF% of 47.27%. That was well above his actual GF% of 42.86% and it was fourth on the team and within a percentage of second. That helps support those who saw him and thought it was OK - which was surely helped by the fact that the season did not matter that much.
Is this all worth $1.5 million? Again, look at his prior contract. He made $1.3 million last season. For a right-sided defenseman who’s 25 even as a depth defender, a raise of $200,000 is not much at all. I think he can justify it.
What’s Next for Carrick
Carrick will now be a Devil to start this season and the team is prepared to have him back next season. He will not play as much as he did when he came to New Jersey last season. Given that the Devils have P.K. Subban, Sami Vatanen, and Damon Severson on the right side of the blueline, Carrick is easily #4 on the depth chart on that side. It is all but guaranteed that he will start with a more reduced role, assuming he is active. That is just fine. In fact, I think Carrick would thrive more in a third pairing role. By playing less often which would lower the impact and the possibility of poor shifts in the run of play by him and/or his teammates. As per PuckIQ, his on-ice CF% was much higher against the weaker competition and his GF% was even at 50%. There’s some reason to believe this to be the case.
He will have to battle for his minutes. At least in training camp he will and it is not a guarantee he will succeed. Not that it is ideal to have someone making $1.5 million to potentially be the team’s seventh or eighth defenseman, but it is possible. Even if he is, expect Carrick to play more than just a handful of games. Based on rosters in the NHL last season, every team had at least seven defensemen play in at least 10 or more games and the majority had at least nine. Injuries happen. Poor performances happen. Rotation by scheduling happen. And transactions happen. Carrick will get his opportunities even if he does not start on the team’s top six to start this season. Then, he can justify a reasonable $1.5 million contract.
What Does This Allow the Devils to Do Now
Had the Devils not make the P.K. Subban trade, there would have been an opening for a third-pairing RHD. This would have been fought for between Carrick, Santini, and others (possibly Davies?). Fortunately, the Devils did get Subban. Now there are four NHL defensemen for three positions. Again, Subban, Severson, and Vatanen are all better than Carrick. That is a strong trio for the right side. However, is it really utilizing Severson or Vatanen to the best of their abilities to keep them as a third-pairing defender? Can they make good value on their $4+ million salaries in such a role? Wouldn’t Carrick be more of a fit?
I think so and to that end, this signing makes it more possible for the Devils to consider trading Severson or Vatanen. Given that Vatanen is on an expiring contract and Severson does about as well as he does while also being younger and a bit cheaper, I would prefer Vatanen to be the one to be moved. Such a move reduces the depth on the right side of the blueline, but a Subban-Severson-Carrick right side can be viable. Vatanen may be able to net a player to fit a more immediate need such as a left winger for the second line. I do not think a trade is inevitable; but I can see it being considered a little more by management.
Aside from trades, this signing allows Ray Shero to move onto the next one. Three defenseman filed for arbitration this year: Carrick, Mirco Mueller, and Will Butcher. Today’s news means one is down and there’s two to go. Do not be surprised if team announces new deals for Mueller and Butcher over the next week or so. The next hearing is for Mueller, which is scheduled for July 28. (Butcher is set for August 2.) There is plenty of time for management and Mueller’s people to figure it out. Provided Shero does nothing else, there are three signings left that the Devils have to make this summer. With over $18.3 million in cap space, there is plenty of room to re-sign Mueller, Butcher, and - eventually - Pavel Zacha.
I am fine with today’s news. I am fine with Carrick receiving a small bump in pay and two more seasons in New Jersey. I am fine with $1.5 million for a third pairing RD. As ugly as his on-ice numbers were with the Devils, I am confident he can provide better performances (which means better on-ice rates and percentages) in a more limited role. I would be fine with that and I think management may feel the same way. I am also fine with this move possibly leading to a trade involving the right side of the defense, which may or may not happen. If not, then I am fine with the team taking care of Carrick first before moving on to Mueller and Butcher before their respective arbitration hearings. I am fine with this.
Are you fine with this signing? Do you like it or do you not like it? What do you think of Carrick as a player? Do you think he can be more effective in a third pairing role? Should this signing lead to the Devils trading Vatanen or some other defenseman? What do you expect for Mueller and Butcher knowing Carrick re-signed for $3 million over two seasons? Please let me know your answers and other thoughts about Carrick in the comments. Thank you for reading.