Jesper Bratt is about to receive his third NHL contract and for New Jersey Devils fans, there has to be some anxiety based on the way things went the last time that he was a restricted free agent. While there are some differences from last time, such as arbitration rights now being involved, some fans are worried about things between Bratt and the team playing out the same way, which in turn makes us wonder how team management feels. To discuss today’s concerns, we must first however look back at what happened a pair of offseasons ago.
Prior to the start of the 2021-21 season (which wound up just becoming a 2021 season) Bratt’s contract was up and he entered restricted free agency. The entire process wound up being delayed that year due to the pandemic pushing the conclusion of the 2019-20 season into the fall and the time of year when the NHL season would usually begin. This resulted in the offseason beginning in October, and training camp starting up in January. Throughout that offseason, Bratt and the Devils were unable to reach a deal, and it took all the way until three days prior to the regular season’s start for the parties to agree to a two year, $5.5 million deal. It was a deal that essentially asked Bratt to prove he was worth a longer, more lucrative investment.
Bratt’s 2021 was good, as he contributed 30 points in 46 games even with all of the hurdles and hiccups that came about during that campaign. Then this past season happened where Bratt finally opened the floodgates and posted 73 points in 76 appearances, leading the Devils in points for the majority of the season. As fans watched, I feel many of us were both electrified by Bratt’s play and terrified as to just how far he would drive his price tag up. Now we’ve come to the summer, and while there are instances where it does take time to re-sign players, the concerns here has to come from how things are progressing.
The Current Situation
While there have been numerous reports by now about the team and Bratt’s camp being in touch, Bratt did elect to file for salary arbitration; him having this right per his contract this time is probably the major difference from the last time he was an RFA, as this gives him more leverage. For those unfamiliar with the process (and why it can lead to concern) the abridged version is that once a player files, a hearing date is set. Anytime between the filing and the hearing date, both sides can still agree to a deal, but if they don’t, a hearing occurs with the two sides arguing in front of a third-party arbitrator as to what the contract value should be. The arbitrator decides if the deal will be for one or two years as well as the AAV of what is being offered; if the team chooses not to accept what is presented, they can decline, but the player immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent. For more intricacies and specifics, you can view everything related to arbitration on this page from CapFriendly.
Now I don’t have any concerns about the Devils choosing to walk away from whatever is offered if the club and Bratt go to arbitration; Bratt was an important part of the team, and management should rightfully, and seemingly do, see said importance after last season. No, the concern here lies in contract talks getting to the point of going to arbitration; if the two sides fail to come to an agreement, the Devils will be unable to offer Bratt a long-term deal. If this happens, and the arbitrator awards Bratt a two-year deal, this walks him straight into unrestricted free agency, as he would have accrued the necessary seven seasons to become a UFA.
With how difficult negotiations appeared to be two offseasons ago due to the length of time it took to get him signed, the worry of that repeating is real. The question circles back to whether or not the Devils feel Bratt is an essential piece going forward and whether they think this past season was a fluke or not. If the gap between the team and player in terms of perceived value is too large, we could see a situation where Bratt signs a contract that lets him walk in two years. Now two years is a long time and a lot could happen, including a new contract for Bratt prior to unrestricted free agency, but I think most fans would prefer to see Bratt locked up long-term.
What to Do With the Contract
Of course it is only fair to mention that this possibility exists with any NHL player, but with the way the last contract got dragged out, fans are rightfully nervous. Additionally, after the last Stanley Cup Finals run (which was now a decade ago sadly), the Devils lost two high-scoring wingers within roughly a calendar year and no one wants to see even one winger just walk for nothing in free agency (or ”retire”) again.
To once again quickly bring up the salary projections that Jared and I used during the free agency series, Alexander MacLean of Dobber Hockey saw Bratt’s AAV coming in at just over $5 million per season. I think if that were the expectations of Bratt’s camp, I wouldn’t be here writing this article and all of you would be reading something else today. I also disagree a bit with offering him the same deal as Nico Hischier, as Jared suggested when he profiled Bratt at the start of June. The only reason I think we could see a bit of a lesser offer is due to Nico’s all-situations usage. However, I don’t think the offer would be much less; somewhere in the $6.75 - $7 million per season range should suffice while also not crippling the Devils’ salary cap situation/structure.
Hopefully we hear news about a long-term Bratt extension sooner rather than later so that all of this can be put to rest, but what would you do with regards to Bratt? Are you comfortable with a long-term deal at a figure of $7 million? Do you think he will get more or less? Do you expect this to actually go to arbitration? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!