Wingers on the Wire
After a painfully long off-season, the Devils and the rest of the non-playoff NHL are finally approaching the part of actual off-season where they can begin to wheel and deal on players looking to test the free agency waters. There are some big names out there, but who is actually worth looking at, who might the Devils actually try to sign, and who should they avoid?
Wingers NOT to Sign
There are enough country songs in Nashville that I shouldn’t need to explain to y’all why you don’t get back with your ex after they hurt you.
The Devils are a strong, independent hockey team who don’t need nobody who—
alright, I’m done I swear.
All jokes aside, the Taylor Hall-iday season was fun while it lasted, but his poor performance in Jersey followed by a sudden and miraculous turnaround play in Arizona this past season shows that relationship just wasn’t built to last.
As for Ilya Kovalchuk— while I’ll admit I do sometimes daydream about the Devils signing him to a league minimum contract and then banishing him to the minors, I think we all know that is not going to happen. Barring that possibility, the Devils should have no further dealings with Kovalchuk except for fans to continue to boo* him at every possible opportunity.
(*side note—I do not ever recommend booing players, whether for poor performances or leaving the team or any other reason. Yes they are professionals but they are also people. Except Kovalchuk, he is a snake and I will boo him until my own voice turns to a hiss as well).
Other UFA Wingers That Are Probably Not Worth Pursuing
Evgenii Dadonov—Yes, he’s a well-known and good player, but there’s very little working in the Devils favor for this winger. For one, though he hasn’t re-signed yet most reputable voices believe Florida can and will reach a deal with him if possible. For another— if Florida can’t re-sign Dadonov, other teams will be ready to swoop in. He’s a moderately big name in a relatively small pond. For any team that knows they’re not in the running to get the likes of Taylor Hall, Dadonov is going to be a highly sought-after consolation prize. He’ll probably fetch an asking price that’s more than he’s worth, if he even ends up being on the table at all. Thank you next.
Jesper Fast— Too little impact. Too ‘New York Rangers’. Too many Jespers on one team. Next!
Matt Nieto— I like a good grinder as much as the next fan, but the Devils are up to their horns in players you might notice on the ice but wouldn’t on the scoresheet. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be interested to see Nieto in black and red— some NHL experience on a back end that’s seen a lot of rookies in recent years wouldn’t be a bad thing. I wouldn’t be displeased if the Devils were to find themselves signing Nieto, I would just prefer we don’t spend our off-season chasing him over other players.
Who the Devils Should Try to Sign
I know this might not be the most popular opinion, but I think Toffoli has the potential to offer something worthwhile to New Jersey. His offense has stalemated a bit in recent seasons with the Kings, but managed he ten points in ten games after a trade with Vancouver and finished this past season with a respectable 44 points in 68 games. That may be a drop in productivity for the high-expectations LA fanbase or the young offensive powerhouses in Vancouver, but here in New Jersey that’s better than just about the entire team this past season. He won’t be one of the biggest names out in the free agency pool, but he definitely should be worth more than a spare phone call from the New Jersey Devils. He’s coming off a three-year, 4.6mil AAV contract, so a similar term but probably slightly lesser figure would be in order— maybe 3 years at 3.8mil?
I know I probably sound like a broken record by now, but in the absence of Devils hockey to watch and scream “SHOOT!” at the TV, I have taken to screaming “SHOOTers!” into the abyss at any possible moment. The Devils have built an impressive young core of playmaking weapons, but this past season proved that core is nothing without someone to pull the trigger at the end of those plays. It should be a top priority of the Devils to fix that oversight this off-season. That means bringing in a shooter. Enter, Mike Hoffman.
Hoffman is a quiet, underrated sniper. Spending a career with the two teams possibly least likely to get any fanfare in all of North America will do that to a guy, though Hoffman has spent most of his hockey career being underrated, never given the second look his talent deserves. Will that happen again this off-season? Hopefully, for us! Hoffman and New Jersey seem destined to be— overshadowed by flashier nearby stars and/or geographical locations, its a perfect match. If and when other teams again look past Hoffman to the bigger, brighter names on the free agent roster this fall, the Devils can be there to swoop in and collect the real prize— arguably the best bang for your buck shooter on the market.
Hoffman hasn’t posted a sub-20 goal season since his first full season in the NHL in 2014-15. In 493 games he’s put up 172 goals and 187 assists for a career .73ppg. His past two seasons he’s put up a 70 point pace. He’s scored at an above-average career 11.8 SH%. His on-ice impact isn’t huge, but his overall impact is tangible. Put simply, the guy gets pucks to the net, and that’s what the Devils need. For reference, he has a slightly lower shooting percentage and a slightly higher ppg average than Kyle Palmieri, with a similar style and purpose.
Even better—we can afford him. The Devils are expected to have about $26 million in cap space for next season— we do have a few important RFAs to resign, but most of them will not make a dent in that. Mike Hoffman is projected to look for around 5-6million AAV for ±5 years. We can and absolutely should pursue and sign Mike Hoffman.
Who are you hoping the Devils take a run at this off-season? Anyone I didn’t mention? What would you be willing to shell out for a top UFA? Leave your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading!