Yesterday was a big opening day of free agency, both for the entire NHL and more specifically for the New Jersey Devils. While murmurs of a signing started off the day, the team would announce Jonathan Bernier as their first signing of the free agency period. The big news would finally be confirmed roughly six hours after words first started to spread: the Devils had landed The Big Fish of 2021’s free agency class in Dougie Hamilton. John published an in-depth piece that covered in great detail what his signing means for the team moving forward.
The organization set out to better itself from the 2021 season, and there was certainly a lot of progress made. The team has it’s goaltender to be a 1B behind Mackenzie Blackwood, and if either goalie goes down to injury this season, we can maintain confidence in the other to hold down the fort. The defense has taken a major step up from what it was last season thanks to the addition of Hamilton on top of recently acquired Ryan Graves as well as the departure of seldom used under Lindy Ruff defender Will Butcher. Heck, the team even made a couple of depth signings to improve Utica. The Devils spent well on day one in hopes of returning to prominence.
At the same time, the Devils weren’t the only team spending and signing. According to CapFriendly, New Jersey signed a mere four of the 161 contracts that were finalized yesterday. A lot of the more well known and promising names that were available wound up being scooped up on the first day. The Devils still have some holes left to fill, particularly up front; so what’s left that could interest them.
Well, not to be the bearer of bad news, but if I had to answer the question used for the article’s title, it would be a hesitant, somewhat unsure yes. I do think that there are some options available that the team could pick up to continue to strengthen the farm team and ensure their young players in the AHL are well-insulated to aid/push them in their development. Beyond those signings those there isn’t much left that seems both desirable and to be an upgrade over the young talent that the Devils already possess. There are, however a few guys left that I would be interested in, but only at the right contract length.
Looking at CapFriendly again, and their list of unrestricted free agents remaining, there’s a short list of guys that I think would add something to the Devils’ roster: David Krejci, Tomas Tatar, Brandon Saad and our old friend Travis Zajac. I think each one of these options brings a different element to the team, and would be an upgrade over at least some of the players that are penciled in right now.
Krejci still appears to have the ability to serve up the puck to teammates and could provide a veteran presence on a still pretty young Devils team. Concerns here would have to be his point total being a product of the team he played for, as well as desired contract length/price for the role (3C) he would fill. If the Devils just want to fill that gap and they believe no one in the system is ready for it, bringing Zajac back might be the play. While he doesn’t put up points like Krejci, Zajac is a better defender, and arguably more suited for a Bottom 6 center role. While both could fill in higher in the lineup if there’s injuries, Travis would not have to adjust as much to playing under Ruff. If the Devils decide they need help down the middle, these are probably two of the best options remaining after all of day one’s signings.
If wing is the bigger priority (and to be frank, it should be) Saad and Tatar are the interesting options to me. Tatar can play either side and while he only scored 10 goals last season, his 12% shooting percentage is encouraging. He would need to adjust the being the featured puck shooter on his line, which he did not appear to be last season in Montreal before he fell out of favor, but he’s proven to be a 20+ goal scorer in past years. Perhaps he could recapture that with the Devils.
Saad’s shooting percentage from last season (22%) could scare some fans away, but much like Tatar, he has proven in the past that he can put the puck into the net. Saad could also be an attractive fit to replace some of the aggression and physicality of Nathan Bastian. While not known exclusively for these attributes, Saad’s game is that of a power forward and he would need to bring at least some snarl into the dirty areas while in the lineup, to go with the dirty goals. Again, if the Devils want to try something different on the wings, this could be it.
Now let me say, that I’m not wild about either Tatar or Saad and would leave them as quickly as I would take them. I don’t think either should be looked at as a long-term scoring solution, and both could easily see their goal/point totals plummet outside of the systems they were in. That’s the reason that I steered clear of mentioning Nick Ritchie as a target; he doesn’t appear to be an upgrade over what the team has, and his 2021 season could be a product of playing for the Bruins. Kyle Palmieri would probably be another name some fans were hoping to see mentioned above in this article; there’s a lot of buzz swirling about him staying on Long Island, and if they’re willing to bring him back, I just don’t see a return to the Devils.
My personal feeling is the Devils could make a depth signing here (such as bringing back Zajac), but if they’re looking to improve the team’s goal totals, they should be looking elsewhere. There’s definitely trade targets around the league that could still be acquired, though the Devils have limited expendable assets left. Looking at more internal options (Alexander Holtz, Dawson Mercer, Graeme Clarke, Nolan Foote, increased production from Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen) could wind up being more effective than spending additional free agency money for underwhelming production. If there’s nothing available that is a clear cut improvement over what the team has, they shouldn’t try to force a fit.
What do you think the Devils should do in the remaining weeks of free agency; should they go after one of the players I mentioned as options? Do you think they should pursue one of the players that I said they shouldn’t go for? Are you of the mindset that a depth signing only would be best due to the lack of impact players left unsigned? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!