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New Jersey Devils Free Agent Gameplan: Forwards

Today we look at the UFAs forwards available and who will or should be targeted by the Devils

NHL: JUN 08 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round - Golden Knights at Avalanche Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Before we get into players that make sense to add, let’s review the potential needs for the team. In the beginning of this series, Gerard listed the needs for the team entering this offseason. The only category of from that piece that can be addressed through forwards is the “need” for a veteran presence, although, at several times this season, it’s been pointed out that the Devils need “finishers” as well. In my expectations piece, the three different versions of the Devils offseason contained, at different points, the following pieces: A shooter, a top-line winger, a middle-six play-driver, and a bottom-six veteran.

Normally, we break these types of articles down by price, similar to how Gerard did last Thursday with goalies. But I think that, because each person’s version of the rebuild would necessitate different holes be plugged, breaking it down by need first and then by price would be more helpful. So with that, I’m going to segment the options into similar categories that I had last time and see if we can hammer down on different-priced options for each of them. Those categories are going to be 1) Shooting Wingers, 2) Middle-Six Play-Drivers, 3) Veteran Leadership and I’ll look at at least 3 options in each: Luxury ($5M+), Moderate ($2-5M), and Bargain (<$2M). For this article, I’ll be basing those prices off Evolving-Hockey’s contract projections.

Shooting Wingers

For all the following players, “Shooting talent” is taken from MoneyPuck’s “shooting talent above average” metric. A shooting talent of +10% means they score 10% more goals than you’d expect given their shot attempts. So, if the league-average shooter would score 10 goals on their shots, the +10% shooter would score 11.

Luxury Shooter: Mike Hoffman (Shooting talent: +26%, Expected Contract 5 x $5.65M)

Let me get this out of the way early, here: Mike Hoffman is bad at a lot of things, and is probably not worth the contract he’s likely going to get (especially at 31 years old). But, when it comes to “luxury” shooting wingers, he’s pretty much all you’ve got. Ovechkin isn’t likely actually available, Landeskog is a center, and Hoffman is the leading scorer of everyone left.

And, while he does generally have poor 200-ft 5v5 impact numbers, he genuinely is an elite shooter — a skill so essential that it buoys him to around the 80th percentile in terms of overall value. On MoneyPuck’s ratings, he is the 7th best forward shooter in the league behind only Stamkos, Marchand, Panarin, Laine, Rantanen, and Pastrnak.

Furthermore, where he really helps you is on the powerplay. Over the past 3 seasons Mike Hoffman is the single most valuable player in the NHL on the man-advantage — worth 16.9 goals above replacement, just edging out Connor McDavid (16.8) for the #1 spot.

The Devils need shooters and they need to improve their special teams. Mike Hoffman is an expensive player, he’s not young, but he does address those needs better than any other available player.

Moderate Shooter: Kyle Palmieri (Shooting talent: +17.7%, Expected Contract 3 x $4.2M)

Similar to the last category, there aren’t many truly good shooters available this offseason in this price range — the only two I genuinely considered in this tier were Palmieri and Dzingel and Palmieri made a lot more sense.

Yes, he had a down year. Yes that’s particularly concerning given his age. But, those two factors are why he can be had for the discounted price he’s quoted at. And it is extremely rare for a good shooter to have good 200-ft impacts, and it’s even rarer for that player to underachieve right in their contract year, making them suddenly affordable.

If he’s amenable to it (he’s probably happy on the island with Trav and Andy), he’s the guy you’d want in this price range.

Budget Shooter: Mathieu Perreault (Shooting talent: +7%, Expected Contract 2 x $1.8M)

Like Kyle Palmieri, Mathieu Perreault has a history of positive 200-ft impacts and efficient shooting. Unlike Palmieri, Perreault is 33 and has never been a top-line forward. Both of these things make him available for approximately one bag of Spicy Sweet Chile Doritos.

He might seem like a poor solution to shooting problem, but with a 13.2 career shooting percentage, he actually converts at the highest rate on this list.

Veteran Leaders

Parentheticals included their age, captaincy duration, and Cups.

Luxury Leader: Gabriel Landeskog (28-years-old, 9-year “C”, Expected: 7 x $8.8M)

It’s very possible that this is a pipe dream and Colorado would never let their captain walk. But if he is available, he is not only a respected clubhouse leader, but still an excellent player. He also has seen how a team goes from young, up-and-comers to the behemoth that was this season’s Avalanche team. Pair that guidance with his still-90th-percentile on-ice value and you get a transformative asset.

Despite all of that, there is one snafu, here — Landeskog is a center and the Devils need pretty much everything other than a top-6 center. If you really like Landeskog, this shouldn’t dissuade you. Just ask current reigning (possibly-repeating) Cup champs, Tampa Bay, if you can have too many centers. In 2019, they already had Steven Stamkos, and they signed both Point and Gourde to bridge deals worth $12M AAV total. Then, despite having THREE top centers already, they gave Cirelli $4.8M AAV. Oh, by the way, they still have Barclay Goodrow and Tyler Johnson too.

If you are a fan of what Landeskog brings to the table, add him now while you can, and let your revered veteran head coach put the puzzle together after. (EDIT: Landeskog a hybrid center/wing and Hughes has played some wing in the past as well, so this isn’t a particularly big ask of a coach)

Moderate Leader: David Krejci (35-years-old, 8-year “A”, 1 Cup, Expected: 2 x $4.7M)

If the Bruins are still going for it, then they are going to need to spend on 2 Cup-ready goalies, plus Taylor Hall, and they need to leave enough room to play with after that to re-sign McAvoy and Bergeron (assuming he’s still playing) next year. If all of that is in their sights, the one piece that may not make the cut is long-time center David Krejci.

He may want to stick around Boston too, but if he’s ready to turn his services over to the highest bidder, he’d bring 15 years experience, 2 postseason scoring titles, and a Stanley Cup victory to the table.

Krejci knows what it takes to win in the regular season and the playoffs. He has played in all 3 strength situations at different points in his career. He could bring invaluable NHL experience to a roster of youngsters.

Budget Leader: Corey Perry (36-years-old, 7-year “A”, 1 Cup, Expected: 1 x $1.1M)

This contract may be a little more expensive after Montreal’s postseason run and Perry’s performance therein, but at his age, it likely won’t break the bank even then. With a +3.5% shooting over expected, he could have fallen into the budget scoring winger also.

Perry’s trophy case includes a Hart, a Rocket Richard, and a Stanley Cup. He has plenty of experience at the top of the game both individually and as a member of a team. Considering his limited price tag, this is the easiest way for an infusion of veteran leadership that doesn’t fundamentally alter the structure of the team.


xG impacts are from Hockeyviz Talent Isolates — they tell how many expected goals per hour they improved their team by when adjusting for circumstances of their shifts.

Luxury Driver: Phillip Danault (+0.3 xG±/60, Expected: 7 x $6.2M)

The Canadiens ability to stick with some of the best teams in the NHL at 5v5 is thanks, in large part, to Danault’s excellence as a play-driver. According to Evolving-Hockey’s RAPM, over the past two seasons Danault is 4th in the NHL in xG impact and 15th in goal impact. No NHL player has topped him in both categories.

According to MoneyPuck, he was a member of not only the top regular season line (100+ minutes) in terms of xG ratio (Tatar + Gallagher, 70.8%), but the top playoff line as well (Lekhonen + Gallagher, 66.9%).

Hughes can drive play. Hischier had shown the ability in his first two seasons as well. Adding Danault would make the Devils a true 5v5 juggernaut in terms of strength down the middle. It also gives the Devils another faceoff specialist and penalty-killer to ease the burden on Nico.

Moderate Driver: Brandon Saad (+0.4 xG±/60, Expected: 4 x $4.9M)

Brandon Saad has been an analytical darling since he entered the league. In his rookie season, his RAPM impact was +0.232 xG per hour and he has never dipped into the negatives over 9 seasons and 4 different stints with 3 different teams. He has driven play in the positive direction everywhere he has gone. And it’s not like there is some cryptic code you need to crack for evidence of that impact — he’s scored at a 15-goal pace or greater every year since 2014. And with 2 Stanley Cups to his name, and postseason appearances with all 3 franchises he’s played for, these have not been empty stats — his team is always better for his efforts.

The “con” is that Saad is a 5v5-specialist and a winger. That may make him have somewhat limited utility for teams looking for top-6 injections— particularly for those building long-term pieces — but for the Devils, a winger that can slide in anywhere in the top 9 and make an impact is just what the doctor ordered.

Budget Driver: Sam Gagner (+0.31 xG±/60, Expected: 1 x $1.0M)

Sam Gagner has had a fascinating career. Once a 6th overall pick, Gagner was a fixture of the pre-McDavid Oilers — producing point at an alarmingly consistent (if unspectacular) rate. He’s since hopped around 6 teams, being traded 5 times in the process.

In some of those situations he’s thrived. In others, not so much. And, as you may expect from the budget category, this move is far from a sure thing. Before this season, Gagner had been sub-replacement for 3 straight seasons on Evolving-Hockey’s GAR model, and it’s certainly possible he regresses back to that level in his age-32 season. But he’s been on some bad teams during that time.

He’s demonstrated an ability in his career to make the most of some really bad situations. And while his market value takes a hit from age, usage, and lack of postseason experience, the Devils could use someone like him to bolster the bottom six and take pressure off the kids at the top

Concluding Thoughts and Your Thoughts

These are just some players that I think fit the guidelines of the structure of my piece, but there are plenty that I’ve not listed who are also good fits.

Our old friend Blake Coleman has a Stanley Cup now, he drives play, and he can bury some trash at least even if he’s not a sniper. He debatably checks all 3 categories. Valtteri Filppula is a cup-winner with a 13.7 career shooting percentage so he’s debatably 2-for-3. Tomas Tatar’s +0.52 xG±/60 impact would put him above everyone in this article and his 11% would allow him to outrank the budget shooter so he may be 2-for-3 as well. For me, though, these are players that most directly address the issues at hand.

So, to start things off in the comments here, if you were allowed 1 budget, 1 moderate, and 1 luxury player from the list above, who would you select?

My trio would be Hoffman, Saad, and Perry. Saad is my favorite free agent and he debatably checks all 3 boxes with his excellent play-driving, above-average shot, and Stanley Cup experience. Perry checks two boxes himself and I don’t think we should overspend on “leadership”. Hoffman is not a great “deal,” but he has scored everywhere he’s been and we are more prepared than most teams to withstand his negative 5v5 impact given our strength down the middle.

That’s my choice. Who would you guys choose? Or who am I missing form the list entirely? Who would you replace on this list and with whom would you replace them.

Thanks as always for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments below. And tune in tomorrow when Gerard looks at defenders.