NHL Free Agency opens tomorrow afternoon, and while there’s no guarantee that our New Jersey Devils will be busy, they certainly have some open cap space to play with if they choose to do so. With few moves made at the draft (trading a 7th this year for one next year counts as a move I guess), and only 16 roster slots filled (including three qualified RFAs)
1.) Figure Out What the Plan Is for This Upcoming Season
Do the Devils want to try to be a competitive team despite still have some holes in their roster? Is the 2020-21 season going to be more about growing young players in the NHL? Or is the team going to be flat out bad, attempt to recoup assets for expiring deals and develop youth outside of the NHL all while playing for a high draft pick? That is the primary directive that new Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald must answer before doing anything at noon tomorrow or after.
If the goal is to try to be competitive, then he can proceed with the rest of the guide below while assessing need. If the focus is on developing the young crop that the team has in the NHL, then the best question is to determine if anyone needs insulating (having a more experienced/better player ahead of them) and making signings based on that. If the goal is to (for a lack of simpler terms) be bad, while letting the youth develop away from the big show, then any signings will simply be to plug lineup holes and make sure there’s enough bodies to ice a team every night.
The team will probably be making signings any way we look at it, but the plan determines exactly who the Devils will chase.
2.) Get Someone to Help Fill Out the Defense
There was speculation abound that one of the three first round selections that the Devils had could be used to find some more immediate help for the Devils utterly depleted back end. This did not come to fruition, and the Devils find themselves roughly 25 hours from the opening of free agency still armed with cap space, but less draft capital to aid in immediately improving the blue line.
Of additional disappointment, some of the names that were expected to hit the free agent market, such as Winnipeg’s Dylan DeMelo and Washington’s Brenden Dillon (who I really would have liked in red and black) wound up re-signing with their teams over the past couple of days. There are still some good mid-tier players out there to be signed, and as long as Fitzgerald doesn’t overpay any of said players (especially when looking at comparable contracts) the team could still well ice a stronger defense core than they did last season. I think this is the area where the Devils will (and rightfully should) add some personnel.
I would still rather see Jersey’s Team find a way to swing a deal for a player buried behind their team’s depth (looking at you Carolina) but if the Devils come out of free agency without locking themselves into a number of deals that will age poorly, it’s still a win. Also a final note for this section, no, Alex Pietrangelo isn’t coming here, not even if we beg, but speaking of begging PLEASE Fitz stay away from signing Jack Johnson.
3.) Secondary Scoring
The other major area of need here for the team would have to be scoring, more specifically anything beyond what Kyle Palmieri and technically Jesper Bratt were potting. I’m including Bratt as he was the team’s second leading scorer after Blake Coleman was traded last season. The Devils need to score more goals, plain and simple; I don’t feel like anyone will argue here. I do, however, think that fixing the defense should be a higher priority as it is on this list.
The Devils have some young players who deserve a look in training camp on the offensive end, while on defense, there’s less to work with. I could see New Jersey adding a player or two up front, but it really depends on the route they want to go for player development this year, as I stated earlier. If they think the kids are ready, then maybe we will see more PTOs rather than outright signings during free agency. Personally, I don’t see the Devils being serious competitors this season, but I do think they have enough forwards who are at the age where we need to see what they have to contribute. As such, I see maybe a depth signing for forwards, with possible PTOs once training camp begins.
4.) Sign an AHL Goalie at Most
Unless Cory Schneider is put on waivers today for the purpose of a buyout (and if he is, I’ll probably either update or remove this section) the Devils should not be investing much in net. As the title says, maybe sign a guy for the AHL, or sign a cheap guy to compete with Cory for the backup role, but don’t invest in a lot here. 2020-21 is truly the MacKenzie Blackwood Make or Break season; while he needs a new contract as an RFA, I think the organization realizes that Big Mac is getting the lion’s share of the workload for sure this year. Give him a bridge deal, see how he performs, and invest accordingly at the position from there. With Robin Lehner already re-upping in Vegas, there aren’t very many enticing options anyway.
EDIT/UPDATE: News broke just prior to noon:
So the Devils will at least be looking for a backup goalie at this point.
Do you agree with my assessment of what the Devils need to do in free agency? Would you like to see them sign a large crop of players? Do you only see/want them signing a couple of guys to plug holes? Is there any specific splash you’d like to see the team make? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!