As John wrote about this past Monday, the Protocol Pause continues for our New Jersey Devils; originally scheduled to return to action tonight, the NHL postponed three more of the team’s games due to 17 players still remaining in protocol as of yesterday. So what is there to look at for a team that hasn’t played since January 31st?
Well, the future is always a good place to look. The play of the team’s young players should certainly inspire hope for the team’s long-term future, but what about the short term? Particularly prior to next season?
New Jersey will be forced to make some roster decisions toward the end of this truncated 2021 campaign that will have at least some bearing on the 2021-22 roster. From this year’s team at the NHL level, Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Travis Zajac, Sami Vatanen, Ryan Murray, Connor Carrick, Dmitry Kulikov, Matt Tennyson, Aaron Dell and Scott Wedgewood are all set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer. Even with the taxi squad expansion to rosters this season, that is still 10 players that could all be gone when next season gets underway.
There is always roster shuffling for every team as a season concludes, particularly if you’re still trying to find a recipe for success, as the Devils are. At the same time, you can’t just say “hey, thanks for everything, we’ll see you later” to 10 guys while expecting to improve upon all of them with prospects and/or free agent signings. Part of what the Devils should be doing this season is assessing who is going to be here for at least the next few season to continue turning this ship around.
Looking at the names above again, let’s start in net; I think Dell has a good chance of sticking around as the backup to MacKenzie Blackwood if he is interested in signing a new contract after this season. The Devils went out and claimed him even after having already claimed Eric Comrie, and goaltending depth is always necessary in today’s NHL, particularly so if there are still pandemic-based roster rules next fall.
In terms of guys I don’t see coming back? It all truly depends on if the NHL has less restrictions next season or not; we already know there won’t be much movement in terms of the salary cap. If I had to choose, I would go with Vatanen, Carrick, Kulikov, Tennyson, Wedgewood and one of Gusev/Palmieri. Again, if there’s more movement and less restriction on the league by fall, I could see Wedgewood, Carrick and Vatanen each trying to find a larger role/contract elsewhere, particularly the former two as they are falling on the depth chart. Tennyson has struggled and if said struggles continue, I could see the team parting ways with him after this campaign. Kulikov I feel could go either way, as he has looked good for the Devils, but also could be in the larger opportunity/contract boat.
Gusev/Palms are an interesting situation because both bring scoring to the team (or at least they did prior to this year), but both are also exiting the primes of their career and will probably looking for one large deal taking them into their late 30s. I don’t think the Devils giving one of them that deal would be a bad thing, but giving both of them a longer contract could really affect long term cap flexibility. It would also be a disaster if their lack of production so far this year, winds up not being a one season thing.
Per the last two skaters, I bring Ryan Murray back; even with the issues he has had staying healthy in the past, he’s been the solid defender this team has been lacking for years now. Murray may not bring the points, but he’s not bleeding them for the other team either, and after the last half decade plus, that alone should have quite a bit of value to this franchise. Travis Zajac should be given a short term deal to stay on as a veteran mentor; he’s the longest tenured member of the team, and still a very effective defender. If he feels he has a couple more seasons in the tank, I think having him as a Bottom 6 defensive specialist doesn’t hurt.
Hot and Not
This is going to be a much shorter section this week (due to the Devils still being inactive) but will be based on some AHL watching; shoutout to their website for offering some free game watching to start the season!
For the positive this week, the Devils look like they could have a player in Nolan Foote; while still raw, he did score his first professional goal in the team’s season opener; I know it deflected in off of him, but hey, how many not how, right? After last night’s victory, he finds himself with his first two points in the team’s first two games. The more important thing about Foote is that he is noticeable almost every time he steps onto the ice and in a good way. It’s a very small sample size to be sure, but there’s more to hockey than points (even though he is a point per game player right now!), and Foote does the right things when he is on the ice. Watching his development this season should be one of the fun storylines for Binghamton.
As for the not section, I’m just giving the downvote to no Devils hockey at the NHL level. I’m happy the league and team are being safe, and I wish the players in protocol nothing but the best. At the same time, it doesn’t feel right to criticize AHL guys after only a pair of games, and it’s a bummer to not have Devils games on TV, so yeah, “no NHL Devils hockey” gets the thumbs down this week.
On the Horizon
Hopefully the Devils taking care of business against Our Hated Rivals on the 16th.
What are your thoughts on the roster decisions the Devils might have to face in 2021-22? Are there any players you would like brought back that I feel might go or vice-versa? Any thoughts from other who happened to see some Binghamton games this week? Do you think the Devils will be back on Tuesday? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!