Last week, I discussed some potential free agent backup goaltenders who could hit the market come free agency in July. The Devils are still in need of a backup netminder after the mediocre-to-terrible performances of Scott Wedgewood and Aaron Dell this season, so it seems logical they might address this need on Free Agent Frenzy.
Another potential area to address is the blue line. This past season, the unit overall was fairly shallow, and with possible dealing this offseason that could see the departure of at least one piece, as noted by John on Monday, I feel there is also a decent chance the position is addressed to some degree on Free Agent Frenzy. Now, as he also wrote about, there might not be a ton of cap room after RFAs are tendered and eventually signed to bigger contracts, but with all that could potentially go on this offseason, the chance that some cap room is available to take on a free agent veteran defensemen, and one is available that they want, is plausible for sure.
That being said, when you look at the defense this past season, Fitzgerald could theoretically target a defender of any capability, but top 4 guys might be a higher priority. Currently on the Devils website, these are the defenders listed on the team, including the taxi squad: Will Butcher, Connor Carrick, Josh Jacobs, Ryan Murray, Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Ty Smith, P.K. Subban, and Matt Tennyson. Of those guys, Murray, Carrick, and Tennyson are set to become unrestricted free agents, and Siegenthaler is set to become a restricted free agent. To me, it leaves a lot of potential third pairing guys for next year, so if Fitzgerald were to target anyone to add to the blueline that could fit into a top 4 role, that would work well for this team heading into next year.
So, that being said, who could become available and who could the Devils look at? Well, they will look at anyone who could become a free agent for sure; however, Edmonton has a plethora of guys potentially coming available. Cap Friendly estimates they currently have just over $22 million in cap space for next year, and never mind defenders, they also have the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Alex Chiasson entering unrestricted free agency without new deals, and a bunch of restricted free agents too. They will have to let some people walk, and there is a good chance at least some of the people they let walk are defenders. That would give an opening for Tom Fitzgerald and the Devils to pick one up. Here are the potential options. Stats below are all from Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise linked, and cap and contract data from Cap Friendly.
The former Devil, who was part of the infamous one for one trade that brought Taylor Hall to New Jersey, is going to become a UFA this offseason. After being swept in the playoffs, you would assume that Edmonton will look to reevaluate all that it can, even though Edmonton deserved to win multiple games in that series, if not all of them. While you would think that they will bring back Larsson after having a quality year, there is no guarantee, especially with Edmonton. And if he hits the open market, Fitzgerald probably should court him if he has the money. The guy had the second-best WAR when specifically looking at even strength defense this season among all defensemen, behind only Chris Tanev. Coming off a deal where he had a $4.16 million cap hit, and at 28, he could be expensive. However, he was a possession nightmare this season, with a CF% at 46.0, good for 189th out of 229 defensemen who played at least 200 minutes at 5 on 5. And he is not offensive, producing only 10 points in 56 regular season games. So perhaps he could be gettable. And he would instantly help to solidify the top 4, something this team needs.
The other big potential free agent defender coming out of Edmonton, Barrie has been around the block at this point, playing for three teams in the last three seasons. If that trend continues, it could be Barrie who hits the market. He is a monster offensively, and produced 48 points in 56 games, and is a 1A power play quarterback. But he also had one of the worst even strength defense WARs among all defensemen in the league, and is not particularly strong in his own end. The Devils are fairly weak when it comes to blueline scoring, so they could use his offense for sure, but he would be a liability in other areas, so it is debatable whether or not it would be the best signing. It would depend on the price really. He is coming off a deal where he had a $3.75 million cap hit, and he is 29. He could easily make more than that considering his 48 points in 56 games this year, and honestly I might be happier not bringing him to New Jersey if he gets too expensive, but he could be worth a look.
You guys all know who Kulikov is and what he did this year. He was a revelation and was an analytical darling, something no one expected. No one also expected him to be rental material when NJ signed him, but he was. Considering the way he played while he was here, why not try to lure him back if at all possible? He played really well and more than handled himself as a top 4 guy, and even with the strong year, should not be crazy expensive, and you probably wouldn’t need to give him a long term either. This year he signed a one year, $1.15 million deal with NJ. He will get an upgrade after his strong play this season, but at 30 years old, probably not a huge one. If you don’t want to make the big splash with someone like Larsson or Barrie, but still want top 4 help, this could be the guy.
Slater signed a one year, $850k deal with Edmonton this year, and ended up only playing in 18 games for the team after suffering a broken collarbone back in February. He was not having a season to write home about up until then, with only 1 point and a 41.58 CF%. However, of the four guys listed, this is the one with the potential upside. It isn’t top pairing upside, but if he can come back and improve his game, a possibility given he is only 27 years old, he maybe could end up as a middle pairing type of guy. And considering what happened this season, he isn’t getting some long term contract or lots of money. Some other team will probably want to give him a prove-it deal, and it could be NJ, as why not? Camp competition, a chance to prove yourself, make the team. And he could want to come to a place like NJ where there are lots of young players and a legitimate chance to get quality minutes. It could be beneficial for both sides, and would be very inexpensive for the team, almost like a “couldn’t hurt” sort of thing.
And there you have it, the four potential UFA defensemen from Edmonton this season. The odds they bring all four back have to be pretty small, and that gives NJ a chance to court at least one of them if they have the cap room to do so. What do you think? Should the Devils look to bring in one of these guys if they hit the market? If so, who would be the guy you would want them to bring in? Which one could fit the best on this team next season and potentially beyond? Are there any of these guys you do not want NJ to bring in, for any reason? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.