Since Ray arrived in New Jersey, the Devils have never really had the character of a team that felt like they were “going for it”. In an unexpected 2017-18 season that included a Hart trophy campaign from Taylor Hall and an unexpected dominant stretch from Keith Kinkaid, the Devils managed to get into contention for a playoff spot. Shero sensed this as an opportunity to get his young players like Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Will Butcher essential postseason experience early in their careers as well as legitimize a re-build that had yet to see any success. They added two rentals (Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon) in exchange for some assets (picks & prospects). Other than those moves, just about everything has been done with an eye to the future.
To the untrained observer, the moves made this offseason may seem not dissimilar from moves made in previous years. P.K. may seem like the latest example of a stealing a redundant player from a cap-strapped team a la Palmieri/Johansson. Simmonds may seem like a Boyle-esque short-term veteran physical presence — which is the only type of UFA Shero seems to like to jump at.
When acquired, Palmieri was a 24-year-old winger with 1 year left on a $1.47M AAV contract, Johansson was a 26-year-old winger with 2 years left on a $4.83M AAV contract that many felt was slightly undervalued at the time. P.K. Subban is a 30-year-old defender with 3 years left on a $9M AAV contract which is perceived as a pretty severe overpay considering other teams were asking Nashville to eat about $3M of it, which is in line with his current value analytically speaking.
When acquired, Boyle was 33 and had been consistently scored 13-15 goals and 20-25 points each of hte last 3 years and the Devils gave him 2 years at $2.5M AAV coming off a very similar 3-year $2M AAV deal with Tampa. Wayne Simmonds is 30 and coming off a 6-year $3.975M (6.63% Cap Hit) and was given a 1-year $5M contract (6.14% Cap Hit).
Why do I point out these differences? Because they demonstrate a fundamentally different type of player Shero and Hynes seem hungry for. They’re hungry for players who are hungry.
P.K. Subban made a point of saying he wants to bring a championship to NJ and Shero said “I love the fact he hasn’t won a Cup yet. He’s hungry for that and so are we.” P.K. is out to prove that he can provide for a championship team and show his peers that they were wrong when they labeled him “Most Overrated Player in the NHL.” P.K. is not like Kyle and Marcus. They were on their way up, looking to build stock in prep for, hopefully, their big contract. P.K. is significantly older, significantly more accomplished, and has much more to prove.
Going into last season (2017-18), Wayne Simmonds had been averaging 30 goals per season over the previous 4 years. Unfortunately for Simmonds, the Flyers nailed their projection of him and he maintatined his level of production exactly through his 6-year contract. Now, at 30, when some are looking for another big money deal, Simmonds is given a 1-year, $5M deal. The money says “we think you still have it in you.” The one-year says “now prove it.” Simmonds, like P.K., is coming off the most underwhelming season of his career. Ray Shero and the Devils have now given these players a vote of confidence. It rests on them to prove Ray right.
It’s on them to prove to the world that Ray was right to put his faith in them. It’s on the team to prove to Taylor Hall — himself, starving for a Cup run — that we will compete for a cup in his prime. It’s on the franchise to prove to the fans that we are, once again, on the precipice greatness. These transactions exemplify that mentality. Simmonds is the reigning winner of the Messier Leadership Award for leadership on and off the ice, and one of Subban’s first quotes was: “My main objective is to come in and be a good mentor for the young guys, but I’m coming to win... I’m not coming for participation, I want a Stanley Cup ring and I want to do that in New Jersey.” These guys were chosen for their talent, but also for their character, and primarily, for their hunger. The New Jersey Devils are graduating from being a fast, attacking, supportive, spunky, upstart group of youngsters, into competitive, battle-tested, hungry group of men.
Does this team feel fundamentally different in character to you after these transactions? Do these pieces feel like they are now knocking on the door of a playoff run in both talent and mindset? What’s the same, what’s different?
Thanks as always for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments below.