While yesterday’s profiled players, Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen, are probably the two most important restricted free agents currently on the New Jersey Devils’ roster, it does not mean they are the only ones. There are 12 (well, technically 11) other players in the organization that are currently RFAs in need of new contracts prior to 2021-22. Some of these players were NHL regulars last season; some didn’t see play outside of the ECHL.
Today we we look at all of these players; the more time they’ve spent in the NHL, the more time we will spend examining their play so far, and what their next deal could look like. There is, however, one issue to attend to first. Remember how I said there were TECHNICALLY 11 other restricted free agents? Well that’s because...
Already Taken Care Of
...the Devils announced on Tuesday that they has re-signed Bastian to a new two year contract with a cap hit of $825,000 per season. this is a slight raise over what Bastian was making on his prior deal, and strikes me as just about right. While Bastian brought some intangibles to the team, and formed a great fourth line with Michael McLeod (more on him in a second) and Miles Wood, he didn’t go much above what a fourth line player does. His contract and pay falls in line with what he’s done so far and gives him the opportunity to either continue being a strong role player or to possibly rise further up in the lineup.
The Remaining NHLer Trio of RFAs
Probably the most interesting name left among RFAs not named Sharangovich or Kuokkanen is McLeod. In his first full NHL campaign, he appeared in 52 of the team’s 56 contests, while posting 9 goals and 6 assists and winning 51.5% of his draws. For a fourth line forward on a team that struggled in the faceoff circle, those numbers aren’t half bad. His possession numbers, however, were pretty much the exact opposite. McLeod finished dead last out of all Devils regulars still on the roster at season’s end with a Corsi of 46%.
With both of his usual linemates (the aforementioned Wood and Bastian) finishing right below 50% at 49.4%, it does make you wonder if Mikey is the possession problem on their otherwise smothering control line. As a player who projected to be a “Travis Zajac replacement” McLeod hasn’t come close to that yet. The Devils will retain McLeod (unless he’s left unprotected and taken by Seattle) and while he will see a slight raise over his previous deal, I don’t see it being much more than now, nor much more than Bastian’s raise. I would estimate a two year, $1.8 million deal ($900,000 per) for McLeod prior to the 2021-22 season beginning.
I hesitated to include Merkley as an NHL, but he did appear in almost half of the team’s games last season and was also with them for more than half of the season, so in this section he goes. Merkley actually wound up posting a better points per game rate than McLeod (0.37 to 0.29) while also having the same amount of points as Bastian in 14 fewer games.
The issue with Merkley is that if he isn’t bringing offense, he’s not bringing much else to the table. His CF of 47.5% isn’t much higher than McLeod and is equally unencouraging; Nick also had some moments last season where he just looked absolutely lost on the ice. Yet there were other moments when he showed glimpses of promise for being a useful NHL player, so perhaps with more consistent time and linemates, Merkley could be a decent contributor.
I could see him getting a similar deal to McLeod, but I’ll say he signs for a slight bit more; two years, at a million per year for Nick.
Finally, we come to the wild card of the group in Siegenthaler. The reason I call him a wild card is because it was very difficult to get a read on how he would fit with the Devils after appearing in only 8 contests for us last season and 7 spread out contests for the Capitals prior to his arrival via trade. He was a consistent for the caps prior to Zdeno Chara joining the team for 2021, appearing in 64 games in 2019-20 prior to that season being truncated.
Due to his limited play in 2021, it’s hard to say which Seigenthaler is the real one; was his strong play in 2019-20 a product of being a Capital, or did he struggle to acclimate to playing for a new team with limited spot duty prior?
No matter which way you slice it, I see Jonas getting the biggest contract of any RFA that we look at today simply because of the position he plays and the fact that he does have a complete, strong NHL season on his resume. Siegenthaler gets two years at $1.25 per; it’s not a large contract by any means, and it also gives the Devils another pair of seasons to see if Jonas is part of the team’s future or not.
Beyond The Three: Depth Signings and AHL Contracts
Outside of the two players CJ profiled yesterday, the three above who need new deals and Bastian, who has already been signed, the Devils still have a number of players who are entering restricted free agency status. The thing all the others share, however, is that their deals will probably wind up costing them even less than Bastian’s did.
Marian Studenic saw some NHL time, but didn’t seem ready to take on a full time role; AJ Greer (one game) and Colton White (two) appeared in fill-in roles. Brandon Gignac, David Quenneville, Colby Sissons, Gilles Senn and Evan Cormier were all AHL players at best; if the team sees value in bringing them back, they will do so. Outside of Studenic, none of them have an irreplaceable skillset.
Additionally, Greer, White, Senn and Cormier all are eligible for arbitration; while I doubt it would get to that point due to their placement on the depth chart, the Devils could also choose to cut ties with these four if they go to arbitration and it comes back with a monetary figure that the Devils don’t like.
Again, with this entire group of players, i don’t see it getting to that point. I think both the team and these players will weigh what the best options are for them. Some of these players may choose to continue their careers overseas; some may come back in hopes of carving out a role in either the NHL or AHL. Studenic is the one I definitely expect back, as he showed some potential to be a chippy, Bottom 6 forward; if the Devils feel some of the others are blocking players with more potential from developing then I could see them released to unrestricted free agency.
Again though, I think most of this group comes back with new deals, even if it does see many of them continue to be a bigger part of the AHL club than the NHL one. If anyone were to not be brought back, I could see it being Sissons and/or Quenneville. Both of those players spent the majority (if not entirety) of 2021 in the ECHL. The club could choose to move on from one or both (or sign them to AHL deals) in hopes of improving the organization from top to bottom.
Summary of Contracts
McLeod: two years, $1.8 million total
Merkley: two years, $2 million total
Siegenthaler: two years, $2.5 million total
Studenic: two years, $1.6 million ($800,000 per)
Gignac, Greer, White, Senn & Cormier: roughly two years, $1.5 million ($750,000 per) for each player
Sissons and Quenneville: AHL Deals or released to UFA
What are your thoughts on today’s crop of RFAs? Are the contracts fair or do you see something radically different for one or more of these players? Are there any from this group that you see not being brought back? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!