Today is the second day of our summer free agency series that Jared started yesterday when profiling Pavel Zacha. As he made mention of early in the piece, the Devils have some decisions to make when it comes to free agents (and other roster players as well) this summer. He, like the aforementioned Zacha, is a restricted free agent with just one year left of team control, meaning if the Devils would like to keep him during his years of UFA eligibility, they will need to sign him to a multi-year deal.
Wood, however, comes with some concern due to last season. He was injured in a preseason contest against the Washington Capitals, had surgery roughly a month later, and only appeared in three contests between late March and early April before the team shut him down again. Can he still be the effective gritty Wood of old, or is the injury something that could see the Devils bridge him to unrestricted free agency? We attempt to answer that, while also discussing his Devils future, and what brought him to this point, today.
Who is Miles Wood?
2013 seems like forever ago, but that draft would be when Miles Wood was selected 100th overall in round four by the New Jersey Devils. It would take a few seasons for the Devils to sign him to his entry level deal, which would come in April of 2016, allowing him to appear in one contest with the team that season, and also burning the first year of that ELC. After his initial contract was up, then General Manager Ray Shero would re-sign Miles for an additional four years at a cap hit of $2.75 million per year.
Wood has a very good contract year leading up to that second deal, but hasn’t posted the stats to match since; more on that in a bit. The final year of this most recent contract was this past season, where as I previously mentioned, Miles was only able to appear in three contests. His qualifying offer to retain his rights comes in at $3.5 million, which isn’t too steep, but with other positions more pressing than wing and the injury from last season, the Devils certainly have some thinking to do here.
What Has Wood Done as a Devil
While his one game cup of coffee in 2015-16 amounted to very little (he only spent about 13 minutes on the ice), Wood would join the team full-time as soon as the next season. His rookie season of 2016-17 saw him chip in 17 points in 60 contests, which was not bad production given his usage. 2017-18 saw him come just one goal shy of being able to be labeled a “20 goal scorer” as even with a slightly lower average time on ice, Miles kept finding ways to put the puck in the net that season. Unfortunately, Wood just never seemed to take the next step from that season after signing his second deal.
In terms of points, that season has been his highest point total to date (32), as well as his highest goal total to date. His 2020-21 points per game average was actually the best of his career so far, however the number of games he missed that season affected any possibility of him exceeding his goals, points or both totals. While 37 points isn’t setting the NHL on fire, he was on pace for that over 82 games and it would’ve at least been a return to form for Wood after some disappointing totals in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Due to technicalities and rules (yes, the three games from last season count), Wood has been an NHLer for 7 seasons now. He always was viewed as a complementary piece, and his point totals speak to that. He does, however, bring a lot of intangibles that are missing from elsewhere in the Devils’ lineup
His advanced stats (courtesy of Natural Stat Trick) don’t paint him as much of a play driver, which the Devils sorely need in their Bottom-6. Of note though is that Wood has not always been paired with players who push play in the correct direction, which does have some bearing on his numbers. Additionally, in his last full season, he was mostly deployed in the defensive or neutral zone, and his on-ice save percentage is strong. If the team plans to continue using Wood defensively, it makes his falling expected goals for percentage understandable. I think where the team plans to deploy Wood going forward affects whether we should be concerned with these stats or not.
What Will Wood do Going Forward?
Unlike yesterday’s topic, I think Miles Wood is a Devil next season, unless he is packaged as part of a deal to bring in an upgrade. I want to state now that I don’t believe that to be likely, however teams around the NHL have been known to covet the skill set that Wood brings to the game. If he was the make or break piece for the Devils to dramatically upgrade an area of weakness, I think they would move him without hesitating, especially given how much time he missed last season. That same injury concern, however, could see other clubs looking at different pieces, hence why I have more belief in Wood still being in red and black come opening night.
Unlike his 19 goal season in 2017-18, the Devils are not starving for wing depth anymore; sure they could still stand to upgrade and bring in a proven scorer, however they’re not so thin as to still want/need to try Wood in a Top-6 Forward role. Wood will be positioned into the bottom half of the team’s forward group, and I could see the Devils relying on him for his speed, his leadership, his toughness, his tenacity and his ability to do the dirty work to help the team out. With 326 NHL contests under his belt, and him about to turn 27 prior to the start of 2022-23, Wood essentially is what he is as a player at this point. While he might find himself rising back into the 30, almost 40 point range, the probability of him suddenly breaking out and becoming a point per game player at this point in his career is highly unlikely.
I think every NHL team needs some grit and someone who isn’t afraid to go into the corners and in front of the net. While some will try to argue the Devils have Nate Bastian to do that, I tend to think of Bastian as Diet Wood because I think Miles does what Nate does, but better. With that in mind I think Miles Wood still has a place on this New Jersey Devils roster; he’s not going to be a superstar or someone you should hand out a hefty, long-term contract to, but he is an important piece on a still growing Devils team.
Who Are His Comparables and What is His Value?
Jared did a good explaining how we will be looking at comparables yesterday, as well as how qualifying offers are calculated, so today, I’m going to just dive in for what we can look at in terms of who Wood stacks up against. For my comparisons, I consulted a couple of sources: first was Quant Hockey’s list of active players to come up with some players roughly similar to Wood in terms of age, games played and points accrued. Secondly was another awesome CapFriendly tool with their player comparables.
Ondrej Kase’s name was one that popped out at me, as he was in a pretty similar spot to Wood the season prior to this past one. Ironically, he appeared in just three games in the truncated 2021 season and that was due to an injury suffered when he made contact with...Miles Wood. With a slightly disappointing season in 2019-20 prior to the shutdown (24 points in 55 games, 4 assists in 11 playoff contests) and no points in those three games in 2021, Kase chose to sign a one year, $1.25 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. This contract was quite a dip from the three year, $2.6 million per year deal he was on prior to it. He was able to re-establish some value this season with slightly better numbers, and his deal with the Leafs could’ve even been a bit of a discount to fit within the cap structure of a “win-now” team.
Barclay Goodrow was another name that came up, and I thought this could lead to a good bit of discussion on Wood’s next contract. Goodrow has played roughly a full season more of game than Wood, while only recording five more points than Miles over their careers. Our Hated Rivals signed Goodrow last summer, and were chastised as the time for seeming to overpay him, with an AAV just under $3.65 million. One key difference here is that there was no team control remaining; Goodrow was a UFA signing. As we know, teams tend to overpay a bit when signing UFAs, however Goodrow wasn’t exactly in high demand, and OHR usually are not a team that has to overpay because of the “allure” of playing for them. Long story short, UFA or not, still going to call this an overpay and an overreaction to the Tom Wilson Factor.
Speaking of the Tom Wilson Factor, let’s look at Pavel Buchnevich as our next comparable. Now this one is a bit of a stretch in terms of play style and PPG, however Buchnevich is from the same draft (selected 25 picks earlier in round three), waited until 2016-17 to sign his ELC, and signed a contract extension just last season. Buchnevich over his career is now at a 0.72 PPG scoring pace, which was greatly bolstered by this past season with the St. Louis Blues (he was 0.65 prior) which in either case is still greater than Wood’s career PPG pace of 0.37. Buchnevich received a four year deal with an AAV of $5.8 million; as Wood is scoring at just over half the pace, I could see him getting a new deal for just over half the money.
Devin Shore may not be a name most think of in terms of comparing to Miles Wood, but as for numbers and contracts? Hear me out on this part. Shore has been a player who has trended downward during his career in terms of putting points on the scoresheet, resulting in him having a career of 375 games and 126 points. Even playing on the Edmonton Oilers, who have a number of high talent forwards, has not been enough to push his totals. His contract for 2018-19 and 2019-20 was similar to Wood’s most recent, with an AAV of $2.3 million per season; the deal he is on now has represented a big drop, with Shore making less than a million per season. I don’t see this dramatic of a drop for Miles, but he could see a small salary dip.
Said dip is exactly what Alexander MacLean of Dobber’s Hockey sees happening; he has Wood’s projected cap hit for next season as just over $1.5 million. I personally feel that even with the injury issue from last season, this is too low of a number for Wood, even with arbitration being a possibility. At the same time, I would understand if the team has concerns about him returning to form, especially after hip surgery. I think we could see a one-two year deal here, with the AAV being similar to what Wood had or a slight raise. If you’re holding me to a solid projection, I say he gets two years at $3 million per season.
What Would I Do and What Do I Think the Devils Will Do
I will say I do not envy the position the Devils are in; Wood has been a useful complementary player for the Devils since joining the team, but a hip injury could seriously impair his speed, his durability, his physicality and his overall play on the ice. They could have reservations about anything longer than a year, or maybe two as a result, hence my above contract prediction.
Wood’s game pre-injury is built for playoff hockey, and if the Devils aren’t positive they’re contenders, or they’re looking to make an upgrade and the other team is asking for Miles, they might look to move him. Again, I don’t see that being likely, but I want to continue to establish that as a possibility. More likely, the team qualifies Wood, both sides work to come to an agreement based on the past few seasons, and Wood opens in the Devils’ Bottom-6 next season. I could see the team giving him one year at his qualifying offer, to both test the healthiness of his hip and to see where he fits long-term.
Again, my personal call is he stays and gets two years for $6 million total with an AAV of $3 million. Hopefully with that contract, he can show he is healthy and still be the physical pest in the bottom half of the lineup that the Devils need.
Again, barring the need to include him for a trade to go through, I think Wood returning to the Devils next season (be it through QO/arbitration or just signing a new contract) is all but guaranteed. After the tumultuous 2021-22 season that he had, I think both he and the organization will be looking to see if he still can play at the level he is known for, regardless of the length of deal they hand out to him. Even if he can’t be as effective as he used to be, the Devils could use Miles around for at least another season to help mentor the younger players coming up on the team.
What do you think the Devils should do with Miles Wood? Do you foresee him getting a deal longer than one year? Is he still an important piece for the team in your eyes, or is he replaceable? Do you see Wood rebounding and going back to being a 30-35 point contributor? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!