Usually, teams like to wait at least a good portion of the season before initiating contract extensions for most of their players who are in a contract year. They want to see how they play first, how they respond to the added pressure of playing for a new contract and want to see if they have improved or regressed at all.
However, in my opinion, it is never too soon for contract extension discussions to take place, especially when the player in question has already proved that he is on another level. Of course, the player I am referring to is Jesper Bratt. Through 4 games, he has been the best forward and player not only on the New Jersey Devils, but arguably one of the best in the entire NHL. He might be without a goal so far, but his 7 assists and 7 points lead the team, and if you have been watching any Devils hockey, you will know that some of those passes have been absolute dynamite. His ability to set up his linemates for grade-A chances is really fun to watch. Here is one example from the game Thursday night:
Another day, another great Jesper Bratt pass to set up a goal pic.twitter.com/PZX253bphA— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) October 21, 2022
Here are some stats to show how good he has been, all at 5 on 5 from Natural Stat Trick. Ranks are for all forwards with at least 25 minutes at 5v5 at this point in the season, and data was taken before last night’s games. 363 forwards made the list.
Those are just some ridiculous early season numbers. His possession is video game-level good. 98 Corsi events For per 60 minutes versus only 32 Corsi events Against. That is obviously unsustainable over 82 games, but it just goes to show how good he is and can be over short stretches, and what he brings to this team. And it translates to goals too, with the 4th best xGF% in the NHL.
It isn’t just offense or defense with him either. Look at the game on Thursday night, he was used in pressure situations defensively, he is not out there only for his offense. And the offensive zone faceoff percentage confirms that as well, as despite all of those amazing numbers, he only ranks 147th in OZFO% out of the 363 forwards on that list. Yes, 55% is still a nice number and is going to give him some advantage offensively, but that should be happening for a top line winger anyway, as the coaching staff should be putting him in a position to succeed and generate offense. But they still aren’t completely sheltering him either. For comparative purposes, Jack Hughes has an OZFO% of 66.67%. Exactly 2 out of every 3 faceoffs Hughes takes part in are in the offensive zone. Now that is being sheltered in terms of zone starts.
In the offseason, Bratt was given a bridge deal, one year at $5.45 million. This was a very team-friendly deal for a couple of reasons, although Bratt has a chance to capitalize on it too. It’s team friendly because that is a low number for someone who dominated last year with over 70 points and clearly showcased himself as a top line winger. It also means that he will still be a restricted free agent at the end of the year, so the team will still have the ability to retain him without him hitting the open market. However, for Bratt, this becomes a prove-it year, and if he continues to dominate, he will get a much bigger deal than he would have this past offseason if he signed a long-term contract.
Well, for me, I’ve seen enough. Pay the man. Obviously, he will not keep up this amazing pace over 82 games, but even some small regression won’t change the fact that he is arguably the best player on this team, unquestionably top 3, and this team is demonstrably worse without him. If they want to have any sort of sustained success over the next half-decade or more, he has to be in the equation. Tom Fitzgerald should be sitting down with his agent this weekend and figuring out some solution that would be amenable to both parties. No reason not to get him locked up for 6-8 more seasons at this point. It would provide Bratt the security of a long term deal, and it would give the team a true dynamite winger for a long time. Win-win, let’s get it done.