By the time you read this, the 2019 Prospect Challenge is likely over for the New Jersey Devils. In less than a week, training camp will begin. Preseason games will start next week. The work for all involved in the organization to put together a full roster for opening night will begin in the very near future.
Per CapFriendly as of September 8, they already have 22 players considered to be on their main roster. What is interesting to me is how they became Devils in the first place. Let us take a quick look at how they came to the Rock in the first place. Using Hockey-Reference and CapFriendly to nail down their dates of acquisition, here are those 22 players:
Of the 22 players, nine were acquired by trades, nine were drafted by the Devils, two were undrafted free agent signings, and two were unrestricted free agent signings. The different colors differentiate who was the general manager of the Devils when the player was first acquired in New Jersey. The sixteen in green were first acquired by Shero. The six in magenta were first acquired by Lou. It is worth noting that the current contracts for Damon Severson, Miles Wood, and Blake Coleman were issued by Shero. Therefore, Shero has only three players still on the books from the Lou Era. As I have pointed out last season multiple times, this is Ray Shero’s team.
Ray Shero is definitely a wheeler and a dealer. Of those nine Devils acquired by trades, eight were by Shero. They range from the glorious (Hall a.k.a. One For One) to the more minor (Hayden). A closer look at those eight trades under Shero shows he has not sent away anyone of real significance. The players sent away were Adam Larsson for Hall; John Quenneville for Hayden; Steve Santini and prospect Jeremy Davies for P.K. Subban; Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi for Sami Vatanen; and Ben Lovejoy for Carrick. Out of that group, the only significant players were arguably Henrique and Larsson. Henrique is a fan favorite but there has not been any clamoring or teeth gnashing that he was sent to Anaheim. No one has really missed Larsson given that he brought back Hall. Unless Davies becomes a good NHL player in Nashville, I do not think you can claim that Shero gave up a lot in these moves. Also of note is that all eight of Shero’s trades that led to this roster (and the trade Lou made for Schneider) were with Western Conference teams. Yes, Shero has dealt within the East in the past (let us remember the Grabner trade - or not) but no one on this roster was a part of that.
Related to that, this roster is short on free agent signings. Shero has been quiet in free agency since becoming the GM of the Devils. Only two are going to be on the New Jersey roster for this season. The newest is Wayne Simmonds, Shero’s one and only major signing from this Summer. The oldest is easily Shero’s most impactful free agent signing, Will Butcher - who opted for the free market as he did not want to sign with Colorado from the University of Denver. That number only increases if you add undrafted free agents or players signed out of college or juniors. Even then it is only one more player that Shero signed, Kevin Rooney. The team captain, Andy Greene, was signed out of Miami University way back in 2006 by Lou. It was understandable why Shero has not splashed a lot of cash in free agency since becoming GM. It makes little sense to spend a lot of money when the team is expected to be bad. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy of how the 2019-20 roster is built much more from trades and draft picks than with players signed from the open market.
With the terms of the salary cap and how entry level contracts work, drafting players have become more critical than ever for a re-building team (or a team looking to sustain its success). Sure, it does help a lot to have two first overall picks on the roster. Nico Hischier is already the team’s top center and it may not be long before Jack Hughes takes over from him one day. However, of the nine drafted players on the roster, only five were under Shero’s reign with two of those happening shortly after he took the GM position: Pavel Zacha and Mackenzie Blackwood in 2015. The Devils are still receiving some level of contribution from Damon Severson, Miles Wood, Blake Coleman, and Travis Zajac; all of whom were drafted under Lou’s reign. This should not be huge surprise. Most prospects need some time to develop and Shero is entering his fifth season. So this will shift in the near future.
We got to see plenty of that last season. Joey Anderson and Brett Seney had long looks in New Jersey last season. Mostly due to injury and the Devils essentially being out of the playoff picture by January 1, 2019, plenty more of Binghamton’s players got a taste of the NHL. Since they are all under entry level contracts and are easily retained, most of Binghamton’s players are Devils draft picks. Only Ben Street (UFA), Jeremy Groleau (undrafted free agent), Brain Strait (UFA), Colby Sissons (undrafted free agent), Matt Tennyson (UFA), and Dakota Mermis (UFA) were free agent signings. Everyone else was picked by the Devils at some point. Unless those five players - four of which are defensemen - do rather well and management wants to see them get a chance in New Jersey, you can bet on call ups to be result of the draft. The non-roster section at CapFriendly is full of them.
And that section does include Ty Smith and Jesper Boqvist. They both have different situations than most of the other signed Devils. It’s either they make it onto New Jersey’s roster or they play somewhere else. For Smith, it would be back to major junior hockey with Spokane. For Boqvist, his European assignment clause means he would go back to Brynäs in the Swedish Hockey League. The roster is nearly full as-is, so both Smith and Boqvist will have to impress in drills, practices, and in preseason games to force the decision-makers to make some tough decisions to have them in New Jersey. Should they do so, then the roster will lean more to being filled with drafted Devils as opposed to players acquired by trades.
Nevertheless, even if you disagree with the 22 players CapFriendly has identified as being on the roster, it still goes to show how the Devils have been re-built. There indeed has been more of a focus on younger players and getting lucky with winning the lottery in 2017 and 2019. Yet, several of the key parts of the expected roster to start 2019-20 were acquired in trades, such as with Hall, Palmieri, and Subban. But the next wave of draft picks is on the horizon and should a number of them develop and become contributors, it may not be long before more drafted Devils under Shero are ready and able take more control of the squad. In the case that they are not, or they are not able to take on certain needed roles on the roster, then it is not a cause for total worry. Shero has demonstrated his willingness to make a deal happen for what he perceives the team needs. So far, none of these trades have really blown up in his face or have been a detriment to the squad. If nothing else, that has built up a lot of the confidence and trust the Devils have in Shero despite the team only making one playoff appearance under his tenure so far.
Such is how the 2019-20 roster has been built. I now want to know what you think about all of this. How do you think the roster will be shaped for seasons to come? Do you anticipate Shero changing his strategy in the future, whether it is more trades or signing more free agents from the open market? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about how the 2019-20 Devils were acquired in the comments. Thank you for reading.