Now that Tom Fitzgerald is the full-time general manager of the New Jersey Devils and we know the salary cap will be flat for next season (and beyond), the organization can get to work about preparing for the 2020-21 season. The Devils are among seven teams who are not returning to play in a few weeks. This means they can offer deals for next season as well consider extensions for players whose contracts will end in 2021. Among pending free agents, the Devils have two major restricted free agents who will need new deals for next season. One of them is winger Jesper Bratt. His entry level contract ended with the 2019-20 season and he should remain as a Devil. The major questions are for how long, how much, and how Fitzgerald and his staff regard Bratt’s future with the organization. This post will explore possible answers to get to what one could expect with his next contract.
Who is Jesper Bratt?
Jesper Bratt is a successful NHL winger. The majority of players selected in the sixth round of the draft never make it to the NHL. Jesper Bratt is definitely unique in that regard. He was selected at 162nd overall in 2016, played one season with AIK in 2016-17, and then impressed everyone in training camp in the Fall 2017. At the young age of 19, Bratt earned a regular spot on the roster with the New Jersey Devils. He has maintained it ever since with 185 games and 100 points in the last three seasons. Again, the majority of people picked in the sixth round do not play in any NHL games, much less put up a point per game rate of 0.54 over three seasons. By any measure for draft picks and especially late round draft picks, Bratt is an unqualified success just for getting to be able to consider a second NHL contract.
Bratt primarily played at right wing for the last three seasons. Although he has a left-handed shot - he is able to play at left wing as well - he has demonstrated the ability to play on both sides of the rink. Bratt was born on July 30, 1998, so he will turn 22 at the end of this month. He is considered to be one of the young talents on the Devils roster to be built around for the future. He was the fourth youngest Devil to suit up for a game last season with Jesper Boqvist, Nico Hischier, and Jack Hughes being the only younger Devils per NHL.com. Bratt is not big as he is officially listed at 5’10” and 174 pounds. However, he is quick, he has handled three seasons in the NHL, and he is rather disciplined given his low career total of thirty penalty minutes.
Bratt is also someone whom the fanbase has plenty of time for. On a Saturday night, I took to the official All About the Jersey account on Twitter and simply asked what Devils fans thought about Jesper Bratt. I received over 30 replies fairly quickly on a Saturday night with plenty of opinions. Again, you Devils fans are all indeed the People Who Matter. Most of it was positive, highlighting his skating and his hands. When Bratt is on, he is swift and smooth with and without puck. And in the rare times he gets it off, Bratt’s shootout move is sublime. In any case, it is fair to say that the fans like him.
If he is not regarded as part of the team’s young core, then he should be as he is fourth among all Devils in scoring over the past three seasons per NHL.com. His raw production has been bested only by Taylor Hall (now a Coyote), Kyle Palmieri (The Pride of Montvale, NJ and the team’s top right winger), and Nico Hischier (the team’s top center). To add to his raw stat line, Bratt averaged just over fourteen minutes per game over the last three seasons. While Bratt did play plenty with Hischier, he was not consistently receiving a lot of ice time over the last three seasons compared with some of his peers. While Bratt has never topped his total of 35 points from his rookie season - he was on pace to do so in 2019-20 prior to the Pandemic-cause Pause - he produced more than most of his teammates.
To this end, he is considered to be a scoring winger. That seems like an odd-fitting label for a player who has never scored 20 goals, topped 40 points, or took over 101 shots. I think it fits and to understand that we need to compare his production and his rates of production with respect to all forwards in the league.
How Jesper Bratt’s Production Compared with NHL Forwards
Natural Stat Trick remains as one of the premier hockey stat sites on line. Its easy user interface and filters allows one to see how a stat compared with the league as a whole or a player’s team. I used it to compile multiple offensive individual stats for Bratt and see how they stacked up among all other NHL forwards who have played at least 150 minutes in the situation I used. This filters out all of the call-ups and brief appearances that may skew things. For each of Bratt’s three NHL seasons, this limited the group to 450-460 forwards.
I split up 5-on-5 and all situation stats in order to highlight how Bratt did in both categories. The majority of hockey games are played at 5-on-5; therefore, it is important to identify how much he produced in the most common game situation. As for the highlights, I literally colored in values where Bratt stood out well. If Bratt’s value was among the top 50% of all NHL forwards, then it is highlighted in yellow. If it was among the top 25% of all NHL forwards, then it is highlighted in green. If it was in the top 10%, then it was highlighted in dark green with white text.
First, Bratt’s counting stats:
Bratt did not get to play a lot of minutes in the last two seasons, but his raw production was not at all shabby. While no one is going to throw a celebration for point totals in the 30’s, it was consistently better than at least half of NHL forwards. There were a handful of stand out stats. In his sophomore season, he finished among the top 25% of NHL forwards in primary assists in 5-on-5 and secondary assists in all situations. Last season, his goal count was in the top 25% as well. That really shows that reaching even just 20 goals puts one ahead of most of their peers at the forward position.
What is notable is that Bratt was not a frequent shooter. While he finished in the top half of the league last season in shots and shot attempts in 5-on-5, they are modest compared to more prolific shooters. Likewise, the count of individual scoring chances as well as his individual expected goals count was not much to write home about. He at least exceeded it in both 5-on-5 situations and all situations in each of his last three seasons. That all stated, it is important to note that you can see some positive trends over the last three seasons. His 5-on-5 expected goal count increased in each season. He took more shot attempts and put more of them on target in 5-on-5 last season than in his last two. He achieved more scoring chances. All while not receiving a lot of ice time compared to his rookie season.
This is more obvious when one looks at Bratt’s rate of production. Bratt did miss time each of the past three seasons and did not have a lot of ice time in the last two. If we take that into account, Bratt’s production is more impressive than what his raw totals would suggest.
Bratt’s ice time per sixty minutes was either just above or just below the 50% mark among all NHL forwards that met the minimum ice time. This adds to the impressive nature of his rates of production. I was stunned when I saw his 1.24 goals per 60 rate in 5-on-5 hockey was among the top 45 forwards in the NHL last season. Likewise that his all situations 1.14 goals per 60 minute rate was among the top 113 NHL forwards last season. Despite a fairly limited amount of ice time, Bratt put up high rates of his primary assists and at least two points per sixty minutes in each of the last two seasons. It raises the retrospective question of why he did not receive more minutes.
Even the shots, attempts, chances, and expected goals look very promising from a rate perspective. You can see that Bratt has been shooting the puck much more last season compared to his rookie season. While his rate of individual scoring chances is still low compared with most forwards in the league, that has also increased in each of the last three seasons. Bratt’s individual expected goal rate has also rose in each of the last three seasons. This surprised me when I obtained the data and I am very glad to see it. It is evidence that Bratt has been on the rise as a scorer. This is absolutely something that the Devils would want to reward as well as try to grow further.
I understand that Bratt’s production rates may suffer if he did receive more minutes in the past two seasons. However, he would have been able to achieve the raw production that would make it clear to more fans that he can produce quite a bit. You may think 20 goals or 40 points in a season is not a lot on its own and it is not compared to the top scorers in the league. To the majority of forwards, they are more than most. Being able to produce at a rate to achieve or exceed that while not even getting twelve minutes per sixty in 5-on-5 or fourteen-and-half minutes per sixty in all situations is a great sign that the player is doing what he can with his ice time. And that he should perhaps get more of it.
It is not all sunshine and lollipops for Bratt’s production, though. As great as his production rates look in context, you may have noticed that most of it is at 5-on-5. This is quite good but it also points to more middling production outside of 5-on-5 play. In other words, the power play. Let us take a quick peek at the power play production for Bratt. Rather, the lack of it.
(Quick Aside: Per the ice time stats at NHL.com, Bratt played fewer than ten minutes of shorthanded ice time in the last two seasons. Therefore, I see no value to look at his play as a penalty killer. The PK was one of the few things about the Devils that was good in recent seasons and if Bratt was not part of it then, I do not see why he should be considered for it going forward)
Bratt did make the ice-time cut off that left around 214 forwards in the group. Bratt just did not produce very much. Even when you take the ice time into account and look at his rate stats for the power play, it is still mostly unimpressive.
While Bratt’s assist rates look comparably good, that speaks more about how most of the NHL forwards do not produce a lot of assists. Bratt’s rate of points on the power play decreased in each season. So did his already-low rates of goals, expected goals, and even scoring chances. Bratt did not shoot the puck a lot on the power play, and so that would hinder the expected goals and actual goals.
Why was Bratt able to put up encouraging rates of production in 5-on-5 but not on a man advantage? Multiple reasons come to mind. Part of it was because he was usually used on a secondary power play unit. Those units do not receive a lot of ice time, they typically do not feature the team’s best offensive talent, and so they are not that successful. Part of it was because Bratt was definitely not used as a shooter when he did receive a power play shift. There were flickers of that when he was a rookie, but he was primarily distributing from the half wall since then. The only way to get on the scoresheet in such a role is if other score. With less ice time than the primary power play unit and less talent, those opportunities were more limited.
If Lindy Ruff and his staff want Bratt to be more of a producer on power plays, then they would need to re-think how he is used on it and how the power play functions as a whole. If they find something successful, then Bratt could be in a position to produce even more. This benefits everyone. However, the lack of PP success for Bratt means his even strength production was the main driver for whatever he puts up in a season. For the purposes of his next contract, how Fitzgerald sees this production and where he thinks it can go will play an important factor in negotiations.
What Happened When Jesper Bratt Took a Shift in New Jersey
Of course, a forward is not defined by his production alone. What happens on the ice absolutely matters to how a player contributes. Can he help push the play forward? Is the team attacking more when he takes a shift? Does the team often have to pray their goaltender is on point whenever he takes a shift? We can answer these questions by looking at the team’s on-ice rates when Bratt is on the ice.
Since 5-on-5 hockey is the most common situation in hockey, this matters most. The Devils under John Hynes (and Alain Nasreddine) were bad in general in 5-on-5 situations. Is Bratt part of the problem or is he part of the solution? We can figure that out by going back to Natural Stat Trick and compare Bratt’s on-ice rate stats (more accurately, the team’s rate stats when Bratt is on the ice) with his fellow forwards. I filtered out Devils forwards who played fewer than 100 5-on-5 minutes in Bratt’s seasons. Stats in the top three are bolded.
You can see a lot of improvement over the last three seasons. As a rookie, when Bratt took a shift, the Devils were getting out-performed in every category. They were out-shot, out-attempted, out-chanced, and out-scored. Since then, things have been better when #63 took a shift. While the Devils were still being out-done by their opponents in attempts, shots, and scoring chances, it was closer to 50% last season compared with Bratt’s rookie season. In terms of goals, expected goals, and high danger scoring chances, the Devils were actually out-doing their opponents with Bratt on the ice in those stats. There is real progress here.
What is also telling is that Bratt went from being among the worst forwards on the team in terms of against rates, to being more consistently one of the best. Look at the team ranks in each of his three seasons. Even when he would have one of the higher for-rate stats among Devils forwards, he would have one of the worst against-rate stats among the same. In this past season, Bratt had better rate stats both for and against the Devils than over half of the forwards on the team. In most of those, he was in or close to the top three. The only exception was in GA/60 and that may speak more to goaltending rather than Bratt. While the 2019-20 Devils were indeed a Bad Team, Bratt was not the problem in the run of play that he may have been as a rookie. This is very encouraging to see as he gets older.
The encouragement increases when you look at his relative on-ice rate stats. That is, how do the team’s rate stats change when Bratt is on the ice compared to when he is off the ice. For the for-rate stats, positive values are better. For the against-rate stats, negative values are better.
Bratt’s impacts on the for-rate stats have went from being detrimental as a rookie to outright positive in his sophomore and junior seasons. What is really amazing is that the against-rate stats went in the favorable direction almost across the board. Goals against per sixty minutes was the only unfavorable relative rate stat change when Bratt took the ice. In all other stats, though, the Devils performed better in each stat when Bratt was on the ice. While he did not have the largest favorable impact in any particular category among all forwards last season like he did for shooting attempts in 2018-19, the Devils performed much better on the ice in 5-on-5 with Bratt than without. The relative rate stats show this to support what is seen in the on-ice rates from the previous chart.
Again, Bratt was able to have this positive impacts despite that he was just eleventh in 5-on-5 ice time. I understand that the team’s rates when Bratt was on the ice and the change in those rates when Bratt was on compared to when he was off may not necessarily hold up with more ice time. However, I see no reason why he should not be given the chance. Bratt has shown improvement over the last three seasons in these respects. It points to Bratt improving on and off the puck in 5-on-5; if only because the team is not drowning in the run of play when he is on the ice as much as they did when he was a rookie. Given that the Devils as a whole have been bad in 5-on-5, Bratt should be given more opportunity to help turn that around or at least stop the bleeding.
What about the power play? I will save you two charts to show you that the Devils’ rate stats in power play situations were not good when Bratt was on the ice. Bratt’s rates, on-ice or relative, were either the worst or next to the worst in a majority of the categories. Again, Bratt was used on a secondary unit and he was not a shooter, so he did not have much control over that. If there is hope to make Bratt more valuable on a power play, then Ruff and his staff will need to re-think his usage and perhaps the power play as a whole.
In summary, there is evidence that Bratt has improved as a player in 5-on-5 situations. He went from being detrimental to helpful compared with his peers on the Devils. It is not lost on me that the Devils forwards, as a group, needs a lot of help. Bratt may not look as good on a deeper team that handles its business well in 5-on-5. But, again, we have to live with the reality we have. The reality is that Bratt has grown to be more effective in the run of play in 2019-20 compared to his rookie season. Since he is 22 and entering his fourth NHL season, there is reason to believe that he can keep improving. This makes him more of an asset to the team beyond his production. Which, I remind you, has also shown improvement and evidence that he is indeed a scoring winger.
Possible Comparable Contracts for Jesper Bratt
All of those words and charts were to show that Bratt is a scoring winger and he is improving as a young forward in the NHL. Now we have to go into more detail about contracts. Deals are not made in a vacuum. With the knowledge that the salary cap will remain at $81.5 million for next season and possibly further, all GMs have to be judicious with the space that they have. While the Devils have a lot of space now, Fitzgerald needs to have money available to spend for Mackenzie Blackwood’s second contract, a second goaltender, possible extensions for Palmieri and/or Nikita Gusev, replacements for those two if they are not extended, Jack Hughes’ second contract, and future improvements to the team’s forward and defenseman depth. This means that it is in his best interest to get Bratt to agree to a contract that leaves him with space for the future and, ideally, one that Bratt can over-perform.
One could be bold and suggest a long-term deal for Bratt right away. If Fitzgerald is confident that Bratt will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, then why not try to lock him up for five to six years right away? While it is not a fair comparison, look at Taylor Hall as an example of this concept. Edmonton gave him $6 million per season for seven seasons right after his ELC ended. Hall arguably out-performed that $6 million salary in most of those seasons. Granted, it was not all for Edmonton, but Hall’s play made that seem like a bargain. More contemporary examples would be Ottawa’s six year, $28.5 million deal with Colin White and San Jose’s four year, $24 million deal with Timo Meier. While Bratt is not anywhere close to a $6 million player now (and maybe ever?), you could take the concept and see if Bratt is willing to sign a five or six year deal at $3.5 million each season. If it works out, then the Devils have another bargain deal. If not, then it is not so odious of a deal that it cannot be moved.
Of course, that would not necessarily be in Bratt’s interest. Bratt is 22 and is entering the peak years of his career. The next four seasons could be his most productive on and off the scoresheet. And, unless I miscounted it, he becomes an unrestricted free agent at age 26. I am sure that someone has told him that hockey is a business and the goal is to go get paid as much as you can while you are still in the business. While he does not have a lot of options as a RFA, that does not mean he needs to settle for whatever is offered. And a long term deal that could take away one or two of his UFA years would not be it. It would be a smarter play to request a “bridge” deal. A shorter contract with a raise but with the intention that at the end of it, he could command a more lucrative deal. The risk is that the team may have to pay him a lot of money based on past successes - and not on what he could do in the present.
Unfortunately for those who prefer longer team deals, the bridge deal has been more common for RFAs like Bratt. This does provide a number of comparable contracts to look at to get an idea as to what to expect. (Contract details are from CapFriendly and are linked within the details of their second contracts.)
- Pavel Zacha - 3 years, $6.75 million, 2.76% of Salary Cap at Signing - Fitzgerald should be familiar with how the negotiations worked out for Pavel Zacha. Zacha, a former first rounder, received a bridge deal last Fall where his salary would increase with each of the three seasons on his deal. I do not think it would be controversial to state that Bratt is better than Zacha. When putting the charts together in this post, Bratt was constantly ahead of Zacha. While Zacha can play center, kill penalties really well, and has plenty of tools in his tool box, Bratt has been more productive and effective in 5-on-5. My takeaway is that if I am Bratt’s agent, I am looking to get more than $2.25 million average accrued value for Bratt.
- Andre Burakovsky - 2 years, $6 million, 3% of Salary Cap at Signing - Washington selected a this winger 23rd overall in 2013. After sliding one of his ELC seasons, he completed his three seasons with Washington with 95 points in 196 games. That is a rate of production smaller than Bratt’s, but it is not too far off. The Caps offered him a two-season bridge deal in 2017. Burakovsky did not really ascend as a player in those two seasons. Washington dealt him to Colorado before he hit free agency. The Avs gave him a $3.25 million deal for one season in July 2019. Burakovsky did at least produce more for Colorado with 20 goals and 45 points in 58 games - career highs in both. This is what could happen if Bratt needs more time to break out. It is worth noting that 3% of the current salary cap ceiling is $2.445 million.
- Kasperi Kapanen - 3 years, $9.6 million, 3.93% of Salary Cap at Signing - Pittsburgh drafted him, Toronto acquired him in a trade, and let his ELC slide for two seasons before being a regular in the NHL. While Kapanen did not hit the ground running like Bratt did, he did put up 20 goals and 44 points in the final year of his ELC. This led to the Leafs giving him a three-season contract with a cap hit of $3.2 million last season. While Kapanen did not match the rate of production on the first year of this current contract, he was a solid player playing solid minutes for them. Bratt did out-produce Kapanen, especially during their respective ELC seasons. So while you may see this number on the higher end of what Bratt could get, it is entirely possible. Plus, three seasons would still keep Bratt as a RFA at the end.
- Sam Reinhart - 2 years, $7.3 million, 4.59% of Salary Cap at Signing - This would be the top end of the comparables. While you could argue that Bratt has done more than Zacha, Burakovsky, and Kapanen in their ELC years, Reinhart has him beat by quite a bit. Granted, Reinhart is a former second overall pick and went right into the NHL at 18. However, Reinhart put up 62 goals and 139 points in 240 games during his three ELC seasons. There is little doubt that Reinhart was better than Bratt. Still, Buffalo gave him a two-year bridge deal with a cap hit of $3.65 million in September 2018. Therefore, I see this contract as something that would be too high for Bratt. By the way, 4.59% of the current cap is $3.74 million. I would use that as the high end of range.
While this is not the be-all and end-all of comparable deals, it does provide a range of what one could reasonably expect.
What Jesper Bratt’s Next Contract Could Be
Let us put it all together now. Bratt is a scoring winger who has improved quite a bit over the last three seasons. He’s quick, he has good hands, and he has offensive talent without being a defensive disaster. At the least, he seems to be better at defense than he was as a rookie. This is all supported by the rates of production in 5-on-5 hockey as well as in the team’s on-ice rates when he is on the ice and compared to when he is not on the ice. Is he the team’s top right winger? No. The top left winger? Maybe by default. Could he become either more definitively? It is possible. The gains in improvement over the next three seasons could continue. If Lindy Ruff is as adept in developing young players as it was made out to be during his press conference, then Bratt could become much greater than anyone expected. Then again, he already exceeded expectations just by being a top-six young scoring winger for New Jersey for the last three seasons.
As bridge deals are common for pending RFAs, I expect Bratt to receive a two or three season contract. This would mean Bratt has an incentive to earn more in the future, which is a risk. However, it also keeps Bratt as a RFA at its conclusion and perhaps by then the organization will have a better idea of where they are and what Bratt has become. Is Bratt a first line caliber winger? Now, no. In the future, maybe. As such, I expect his next deal to go along the lines of what Kapanen and Burakovsky received. Two or three seasons and re-assessment afterwards.
In terms of money, the percentage of the cap hit is worth noting as the cap of today is not the same cap of the comparables I found. Expect Bratt to get a contract with an average accrued value in the $3 million range. Anything above $3.6 million will likely be too much given what Reinhart received. But anything from $3.2 million (what Kapanen received) to $3.4 million would be reasonable. Plus, it ensures he will get more than Zacha, which would be fair. If Fitzgerald has to go above that, then he should only do so for a longer contract that goes into his UFA seasons.
And through such a deal, it would reflect how Bratt should be regarded. He should be lining up on the first two lines; but he is still a young player that has room to develop. Not a lot of room, but the stats showed enough improvement over the last three seasons that he is at least a useful offensive player. He is the sort of forward that all successful teams have in their depth. He is not necessarily on the first line, but he does not need to be to contribute. The next two or three seasons will be crucial for the Devils to get as much as they can out of him anyway. They should see how Bratt handles more minutes because he does deserve more ice time in 5-on-5. They should re-examine how he is used on the power play. They should also look to see who else he can play well with other than Nico Hischier or Pavel Zacha. Ruff and his staff will have plenty to figure out, but the point is that the next deal should instill confidence to treat Bratt as part of the team’s young core while also providing the incentive for Bratt to justify the deal and the flexibility in case things go awry.
That is what I expect out of Bratt’s next contract: Two (or three) seasons with a $3.2 to $3.4 million per season cap hit. As always, I could be wrong.
We shall see what Tom Fitzgerald does with Bratt’s next contract in the coming months. Now that you know what I think of Bratt, how he has grown over the last three seasons, and what I expect out of his next contract, it is now your turn. What do you expect out of Bratt’s next contract? What do you think of Jesper Bratt as a player so far? What do you think he can become for New Jersey? Are there any other comparables for his contract? Do you prefer the bridge deal approach or a longer term deal? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Bratt in the comments. Thank you for reading.