Today at 5 PM ET was the deadline for restricted free agents who are eligible to file for salary arbitration to file for arbitration. The National Hockey League Players Association announced that 40 players across the league have done so. According to the union’s release, three defensemen on the New Jersey Devils have filed: Will Butcher, Mirco Mueller, and Connor Carrick. The only eligible Devil who could have filed that did not was forward Brandon Baddock, who is firmly in the minors.
This news should not be that big of a surprise. It is common for RFAs to file for arbitration to provide a soft “deadline” for teams to provide a contract that is fine for both sides. Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen did it last year - neither actually It is rare that a player that filed for arbitration gets to actually have the hearing with team. There has not been an arbitration hearing in decades with the Devils. The incentive to get a deal done before the actual arbitration hearing is strong as the process itself can be damaging to the team-player relationship. If a contract is signed beforehand, then there is no hearing and everyone is pleased.
As the Devils have just over $20 million in cap space, re-signing Butcher, Mueller, and Carrick should be of no concern. I would pay attention to the terms when the contracts do get signed. I am not sure how the team regards Mueller and Carrick long-term. Should Ty Smith emerge and the team finds another young defender for the left side, then it casts doubt on Mueller’s purpose on the team. Carrick is a depth defenseman so I doubt he will get a particularly long or lucrative deal.
The big one could be Butcher. He is the same age as Mueller but he has played in more NHL games than Mueller in just two NHL seasons, Butcher has shown he can be a producer from the back (44 points in his rookie season, 30 last season), and he has been the back one in a 1-3-1 power play formation on the first unit. Butcher was arguably the best defenseman on the team in terms of 5-on-5 play as per Natural Stat Trick. He was the closest to breaking even in Corsi For percentage on a team that got wrecked in that regard and his expected goals for percentage was above 52%, which is good. Butcher is a player who should be getting more minutes than he received because he has proven himself multiple times that he can be more than a capable third-pairing defender. With Butcher three years away from unrestricted free agency, we shall see whether the Devils are able give him a contract that secures him as a Devil long-term. That would likely require plenty of money (maybe Severson-level money?) that the Devils do have. Will they use it? We shall see. I think they will.
What happens now in the meantime? You’ll likely see dates be assigned for hearings and you can expect contracts to be announced sometime before those dates. Historically, they take place towards the end of July or in the early part of August. Therefore, the news of re-signing Butcher, Mueller, or Carrick is likely to happen over the next few weeks. The main point of filing for the majority of these 40 players is to hasten the negotiation process. Unless either actually goes to their hearing and they sit down to start the process, there is nothing to worry about. There is no need to panic. So don’t panic.
Now I want to know what you think. What did you think of Butcher, Mueller, and Carrick from this past season? If you were in Ray Shero’s position, how much and how long would you re-sign these three defensemen? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the players who filed for arbitration in the comments. Thank you for reading.