If I wanted to keep this piece short, I think it’s fair to say that the Devils have a lot of needs - a lot of which free agency won’t solve on its own.
A basic analysis of the team paints a dire picture - The team struggles defensively, yet struggles to score at the same time. Years of John Hynes leading the team have stalled the development of the Devils’ young forwards, and possibly have delayed the Devils rebuild indefinitely.
However, with success comes patience, and the Devils need to use free agency to find some stopgaps, who could help steer the team in the right direction. Some players may be more temporary, with the purpose of leadership or aiding development. Others can be dangled as trade bait, like the Wayne Simmonds’ or Brian Boyle’s of the past. Regardless, this piece will serve to help identify positions where the Devils could use help, followed with brief details on what players could help fit these roles.
Need #1: Wingers
Just having a quick glance at the Devils roster reveals a gluttony of centers, and not much else. In fact, out of the 12 forward spots listed according to their NHL roster, seven of those players have “center” as their primary position.
The wingers on the Devils roster are Nikita Gusev, Jesper Bratt, Kyle Palmieri, Miles Wood, and Joey Anderson.
Gusev and Bratt both overcame slow starts last season, and finished strong prior to the abrupt end to the season. Kyle Palmieri is an established top-six forward for the Devils, who can slot in upwards of 30 goals a season. Joey Anderson is an up-and-coming youngster for the Devils, who showed improvement in his game this season. Miles Wood is fast, and hopefully finds a way to get back to that near 20 goal player.
There are spots available to be taken on this team, with players like John Hayden hopefully never playing for this team again, and players like Kevin Rooney better suited as an extra man. Michael McLeod is still a wild card, and youngsters like Janne Kuokkanen, Nick Merkley and Brett Seney have yet to establish themselves as viable NHL options.
As such, I think the Devils should sign minimum one top-six forward, who can add additional scoring in both the short and long-term, and who can be flipped if the situation doesn’t work itself out.
If we’re being realistic, Taylor Hall won’t come back, no matter how much we dream. More realistic options include Tyler Toffoli, Mike Hoffman, or Evgeni Dadonov. Of the three, Toffoli is the youngest, at 28, while Hoffman is historically the most statistically dominant (Dadonov is a great player in his own right).
Some sleeper picks could be Jesper Fast, Valeri Nichushkin and Jimmy Vesey. All players are still young, and could see some improvement with greater roles. I do think these players should be viewed as safer, backup options, signed to short-term deals who could potentially be flipped midseason.
Need #2: Left Defenseman
A quick glance at the Devils defenseman shows a clear talent discrepancy favored to the right side. The RD’s on the team are PK Subban and Damon Severon, who whilst are maligned, are quality NHL defenseman. The left side, on the other hand, has Will Butcher and the relative unknown that is Dakota Mermis.
Mirco Mueller, Matt Tennyson, Connor Carrick and Fredrick Claesson have done nothing to convince the team that they are reliable NHL options, and should only be kept as depth pieces in emergency situations. As such, that leaves the team with 3 defenders locked in for next year as of now, with a possible 4th in Dakota Mermis. Assuming Ty Smith is ready to make the jump, that leaves 1-2 open spots which the Devils need to fill up. Assuming that Colton White or Josh Jacobs don’t make monumental progress in their development, that means the Devils will need to explore the trade market for viable options.
A common name has been thrown around by Devils fans is Brenden Dillon. A 29 year old defenseman for the Capitals, Dillon offers a type of play that none of the other Devils offer. He is a physical player, and can be found at the top of the hits and penalty minutes leaders in the NHL. He is excellent defensively, and could offer some stability that the Devils would be lacking.
Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen are former Devils, who I’d be for bringing back if they were interested in short term deals. Sami Vatanen will likely not be looking for that, but if no other options exist bringing back Andy Greene for leadership would not be the worst idea in the world.
Higher tier options such as Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug are unlikely at best, but if interest is mutual should be pursued (Pietrangelo more than Krug). Krug is a bit of a riskier pick, as an offensively minded, smaller defenseman, which the Devils may not need. However, Pietrangelo is a game-changer on the ice, and can instantly vault the Devils back into contention in years to come. Will they likely be looking to join the Devils? Probably not, but one can hope.
Just looking at the rest of free agency, not many appealing options exist that can be seen as more than stopgaps. Cody Ceci is young, but isn’t particularly good. Joel Edmundson is an interesting option, but could price himself outside of Devils interest (Is he worth 6 million long-term?). Kevin Shattenkirk was previously pursued by the Devils - It wouldn’t hurt to get him now that he’s cheaper.
While I “only” listed two needs, its clear that the Devils need help badly if they want to even think of contending for the playoffs. Also, while the other positions weren’t listed as “needs”, all positions could stand for some improvement, whether it be a more reliable third line center, or more depth on RD.
Changes need to be made, and fast.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Do you disagree with everything I said? Are there any realistic options you’d like the Devils to pursue, that I may have missed or forgotten? Let me know in the comments below. Have a good day!