Welcome to the offseason! I say that sort of sarcastically, but only sort of. It is always a sad thing when there is no more New Jersey Devils hockey to look forward to, at least for a while. Conversely, we are finally done with the debacle that was the 2021-22 season, and that is absolutely a good thing. With the offseason, we can begin to get some optimism back, and when you really dig into it, there actually is good reason to have optimism around this team. There is a young core, some really, really good players who are still growing and getting better, plus the team has loads of cap room and a high draft pick to make this roster even better for next year. Who knows what can happen come October with a competent goaltender and a better supporting cast.
That being said, the offseason is long, a full five months at least, until the first puck drop of the 2022-23 regular season. What should we be looking forward to, and when do those things happen? You might know some of this already, but feel free to use this post as sort of both a primer and a checklist for the upcoming offseason, referring back to it when you forget what dates things are happening, or how the Devils fit into a certain event. If you feel you want to add anything about any of these events, how else those events affect our favorite team, definitely add to it in the comments.
1. The Calder Cup Playoffs - May
The AHL playoffs are about to begin. The Utica Comets have one regular season game remaining, today against Providence, and then the playoffs will commence and go on throughout May. Utica has already clinched the North Division title, and with it, a top seed. They get a bye in the first round, and will face the winner of the North Division Quarters, playing either the four or five seed. As of this writing, those seeds were up in the air, so the Comets could play either Laval, Belleville, Toronto or Rochester in the North Division Semis, which will be a best of 5 series. Winner of that will play in the division finals. Anyone interested in the young prospects who have a chance to make an impact in NJ in the near future, including Alexander Holtz, Nolan Foote, Nikita Okhotyuk, and others, should absolutely check those games out. The playoff primer can be found here on the AHL’s website.
2. The NHL Draft Lottery - May 10
The next event which directly affects the big club as opposed to Utica would be the draft lottery. This is scheduled to take place on May 10th. It will air at 6:30 PM eastern on ESPN and ESPN+. The Devils currently have the 5th best odds to win the lottery. According to Tankathon, this means that NJ has an 8.5% chance of getting the #1 overall selection, an 8.8% chance of getting the #2 selection, a 24.5% chance of picking #5 overall, a 44.2% chance of picking #6 overall, and a 13.9% chance of selecting #7. You can look at that how you will. They technically have a better chance of picking either 1st or 2nd than they do of picking 7th, so that is a positive. Most likely, however, the team is going to either have the 5th or 6th pick. This is especially true since Taylor Hall is no longer on the team, as that guy has all the draft lottery magic.
3. The IIHF World Championship - May 13-29
After the lottery, and going on concurrently with the Calder Cup Playoffs will be the IIHF Worlds. There are 16 countries competing, and Devils players that are invited to play can be on several of those teams. If you are rooting specifically for the USA, they are in group B, which on the positive does not have Canada in it, but on the negative does have both Sweden and Finland. The tournament is also taking place in Finland, so it will be interesting to see if the home team has an advantage or not. As of this writing, no official team rosters were announced, so I cannot say what specific Devils will be in attendance. However, you have to think some will. Last year, Nico Hischier was in attendance for Team Switzerland, who is also going to ice a team this year. Jonas Siegenthaler was also on the same team, so he could make a reappearance after his strong season in the NHL. Elsewhere, Marian Studenic was on Team Slovakia last year, but of course he is on Dallas now. Yegor Sharangovitch was on Team Belarus last year, but Belarus does not have a team this year, so he will not be in attendance. For Team USA last year, Matt Tennyson was in attendance, but he is with Nashville now. So was Matt Hellickson, but he is now with the Toronto Marlies. And that was the total attendance for NJ last year, at least as far as I was able to look back on. So this year, you have to think that if you are specifically looking to follow Devils in the tournament, Team Switzerland will most likely be it.
4. The NHL Draft - July 7-8
Probably the biggest event for the big club, the draft will take place on the 7th and 8th of July. The first round will be on the 7th, to be televised on ESPN, and the rest of the draft will take place the following day. Right now, according to Cap Friendly, the Devils own 9 picks. They have their own picks in the first three rounds, then have three selections in round 4, their own, plus those of the Islanders and Oilers. Then, they do not have their own pick in round 5 but do have Columbus’. Then, rounds 6 and 7 are back to normal. Of course, it will all come down to the lottery as to where the team picks in round 1, and that pick will be the most important. As I linked to recently in a previous article, only around 40 of the players selected will play in over 300 NHL games, so that first pick needs to be a smash hit, because the odds of anyone else becoming a regular are very low. Right now, the Devils have the best odds of getting either picks 5 or 6. According to the rankings currently put out by Future Considerations, that would land NJ either Matthew Savoie, center from the Winnipeg Ice of the WHL, or Danila Yurov, winger from Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. However, throughout the offseason leading up to this, expect All About the Jersey to put out lots of draft prospect profiles, and much could change in the rankings, so if you want to be informed come draft time, definitely keep up with those.
5. Free Agent Frenzy - July 13
The start of free agency, also known as Free Agent Frenzy, is July 13th at noon. While we might know some of the bigger signings ahead of time, as that information is leaked, nothing will be official until the 13th at noon. And throughout that day, expect a plethora of signings by all teams, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars spent on player contracts. Many of those contracts will be way too big, becoming albatrosses for the teams that gave them out in a few years time. The goal for any team will be to navigate the frenzy by making smart signings that help their team without overpaying. Currently, according to Cap Friendly, the Devils will have just over $21 million in cap space heading into the offseason. Some of that will need to be spent on re-signing some players, the biggest being Jesper Bratt, but the team should still have a good amount of cap room to work with if they want to go get someone. This will be the real test of how management sees this team. Do they go get someone, or a couple of someones, to bolster this roster and try to win now? Do they think this roster is close to competing for a playoff run? Or, do they only make minor signings, depth pieces that help to fill out the roster but really do not provide a big boost in production? That will be telling. Last season, of course, Tom Fitzgerald made a huge splash by acquiring Dougie Hamilton, but before that, the Devils really did not do much for a while, instead opting to hold onto cap space for future potential. If they do go all-in, the Devils obviously need a goaltender, another defensive piece to replace P.K. Subban, and more depth scoring. It is too early to say who will make it to free agency to test the waters, but there are some big names who have expiring contracts this year, including Johnny Gaudreau, John Klingberg, Filip Forsberg, and others.
6. The (rescheduled) 2022 World Junior Championships - August 9-20
The 2021 World Juniors are taking place over the summer this year in a rescheduled event. According to TSN, they will be in Edmonton in mid-August. This is an interesting year for this, because it means the tournament will be taking place not long after the draft. It will be a rare chance for us to see players that the Devils just drafted, especially that first round pick, playing in a major international tournament very soon afterwards. The only exception would be if the Devils take a Russian-born or Belarusian-born player, as at this time, the IIHF has banned those countries from participating. It would also be a chance to see players that the Devils drafted last year as well, as the tournament is for all U20 players. Team USA’s website still has their roster up from the initial canceled event from the winter, and Luke Hughes is on it, so expect to see him as well this summer. It could also be a chance for someone drafted a little lower to make themselves known. It would have been wonderful to see Shakir Mukhamadullin play in this event, but perhaps we can get another Devils prospect to break out in a big way and make themselves known. International experience is always prized among prospects, as it is in an event where everyone is on an equal playing field. It is hard to compare players from different leagues, as nothing is the same. This is especially true when you compare, say, an 18 year old playing in a pro league in Europe like the SHL versus an 18 year old playing in the QMJHL. The former might have only 15 points in 50 games while the latter has 90 points in 50 games. But one is playing against men while the other is against boys. A tournament like the World Juniors, however, levels all of that out.
7. The 2022-23 NHL Schedule Release - TBD
We don’t know when this will happen, but it is guaranteed that at some point this offseason, we will get the release of the schedule for next season. This is always a great time to complain, because it always seems like the Devils get a million back-to-backs, way more than many other teams. We can also see when a bye week is built into the schedule, when the Devils play rivals and other teams, and when the Devils are going to be nationally televised. We can also complain about all of the games we will lose to ESPN+, something I personally still refuse to pay for. I actually think the Devils could get a decent amount of games nationally televised next season, despite the poor record this year, because when Nico and Jack are out on the ice, Dawson too among others, they are fun to watch. And that is what drives ratings, even if the team is not a major market team like Toronto, Boston, Chicago, or New York.
8. Devils Team Development Camp - TBD
At some point later in the summer, we will get the Devils 2022 Development Camp as well. This is where all of the prospects will come together, put on the iconic NJ logo, and work out and play in front of the team’s coaches and staff. It is the place where the coaching staff can see who might be good enough, developed enough, to attend training camp and possibly make the big club. On the other side, it also lets coaches know who needs more seasoning at the junior level, or who could perhaps play at the AHL level for Utica. I will put the link here to the Devils’ Dev Camp page on their website, but that was last updated for the 2019 Camp, so who knows if it will be updated for this year. Hopefully the team will update that website with videos and articles about what is taking place and who is shining through. Otherwise, you can always follow team accounts on Twitter and elsewhere, like Amanda Stein, for updates and information.
9. Devils Training Camp - September
At some point in September, the preparation for next season will get underway in earnest with training camp. This is when you will really get a feel for what the roster, lines and pairings will look like for the start of the season. What new prospects from the development camp will be seen at training camp? Will we see someone like Luke Hughes or Mukhamadullin? Will there be any PTO contracts given out to veterans to make the team, like what happened with Jimmy Vesey? How will the new signings from this offseason adjust to the new team and new roster? Will we have a new coaching staff to analyze? What will we see from the team during preseason games? This is when it all comes together to get ready for early October when real games count once again.
That is the exhaustive list of upcoming events and dates for the 2022 offseason. From the AHL playoffs to training camp, it is full of interesting events that could really improve the Devils’ chances of actually reaching their potential and breaking the cycle of “rebuilding” that has plagued this team for what feels like a decade now. Of course, the opposite could also happen, and Fitzgerald could also saddle this franchise with albatross contracts on players that don’t fit, robbing this team of the bright potential future that is there. While teams never win a Stanley Cup during the offseason, they could certainly lose it, so let’s hope that management has a sound plan for this summer, complementing the strong foundation in place with solid pieces, as well as replenishing the prospect pool with quality talent. If that takes place, you have to think that the Devils will be an exciting, intriguing team to watch come October. I know I will be excited, that’s for sure.
What are you feeling about the upcoming offseason? Are you optimistic that management will do right by this team and make it better? What do you expect them to do with respect to the draft and free agent frenzy? What about the coaching staff? Please leave your comments below, discussing any of the events listed, or add in your own dates that you have marked on the calendar for the Devils offseason. Let’s go Devils!