Nathan Bastian has become the first of several pending restricted free agents (RFAs) to be re-signed by the New Jersey Devils. This morning, the team announced on their official website that they have given Bastian a two-season contract worth $1.65 million. Per the team’s own announcement, the 23-year old right-winger will be paid $775,000 for the 2021-22 season and $875,000 for the 2022-23 season. This means his cap hit will be $825,000.
There can be few, if any, complaints about this move. Pending RFAs are generally re-signed by their teams. The questions for Bastian (and the other pending RFA Devils) were more about when he would be signed and for how much. Those were answered this morning. Instead of waiting about a month, Bastian is now secured and so GM Tom Fitzgerald has one fewer contract negotiation to deal with. The cost is minimal. The minimum salary for NHL players starting next season is $750,000. Bastian is getting paid just above that next season and will see a modest bump in pay in the following season. Given that Fitzgerald has a ton of cap space this offseason and needs to maintain plenty of it for 2022, this deal fits in very nicely. It is cheap, it is short, and it may give some perspective of what the team may be aiming for with Michael McLeod and Nick Merkley, who are also bottom-six forward RFAs the Devils will likely retain.
It is also a good signing just because Nathan Bastian was a fine fourth liner for the Devils last season and figures to be a fine fourth liner in the future. The 23-year old was often lined up with McLeod and Miles Wood. While the unit fell below 50% in CF% and xGF%, it was not by a lot and the actual goals ratio was nearly even in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick. Among those three, Bastian (and Wood, too) had respectable on-ice rates in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick. When Bastian took a shift, the Devils had a CF% of 49.93%, a SF% of 48.35%, an actual GF% of 51.43%, an expected GF% of 50.27%, a SCF% of 48.28%, and a HDCF% of 51.28%. In terms of production, Bastian scored three goals, racked up seven assists, and took 44 shots out of 71 attempts in 5-on-5 play. While those are not game-breaking numbers, they are pretty good for someone who played a bit under 11 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time per game. As 2021 went on, Bastian started to get some shifts on the penalty kill. Not that much from the 2021 Devils penalty kill should be praised, but Bastian’s on-ice rates were more respectable than the other forwards who played at least 30 minutes on it last season.
Should that hold up, then the Devils have an acceptable fourth-line right-winger who can help kill penalties on the books for less than a million dollars each for the next two seasons. That alone makes it a very good signing. Additionally, Bastian will still be a RFA at the end of this deal. He will then be 25 and the Devils can decide what direction they want to go in with him. Maybe he progresses and then commands more money. Maybe he stays the same and is satisfied with his current role. Either way, today’s signing is a good, team-friendly signing. I do not think many fans will be or should be bothered by this announcement, this term, or this amount.
However, there is one caveat: the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. As I and others have pointed out, all non-Las Vegas NHL teams need to expose at least two forwards who are signed through next season and have met a games requirement (40 last season or 70 over last two). The Devils had five forwards who met those requirements up until this announcement: Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, and Andreas Johnsson. Bastian now makes it six. Today’s re-signing may ultimately lead to someone being protected (e.g. Wood, Johnsson) at the expense of exposing Bastian to meet the expansion draft requirement for forwards. This is not guaranteed, though. The Devils have a little over a month to re-sign other forwards who could also be exposed. Protection lists are due on July 17. Should Fitzgerald be able to ink McLeod or Merkley by then, then they may get exposed and that may ultimately protect Bastian. Alternatively, Fitzgerald may opt to “convince” Seattle to take a certain Devil through a deal, which would protect Bastian and others. There are multiple ways this could play out. It is just one aspect of this signing that cannot be ignored given what will happen in July.
I think this is a good deal. Now I want to know what you think. Do you like this re-signing? Do you like the term and the amount? What do you expect from Bastian going forward? Pending other signings, how does this change what you want the Devils to do for the expansion draft? Please leave your thoughts about Nathan Bastian, this signing, and what Fitzgerald should do next in the comments. Thank you for reading.