This morning, the New Jersey Devils and Jesper Bratt were scheduled to have an arbitration hearing at 9 AM ET. I even wrote a post about it and published it at 9:02 AM ET. It turns out that I was wrong. The hearing did not actually happen. At 9:54 AM ET, the New Jersey Devils official account on Twitter tweeted out the following with a link to an announcement of a new deal at the team’s website:
Jesp some #NEWS to drop: We have signed Jesper Bratt to a one-year deal worth $5.45 million, avoiding arbitration. He is an RFA at the end of 2022-23.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) August 3, 2022
Either the hearing was pushed back from 9 AM or my understanding of the rules was mistaken regarding negotiations during the hearing process. Regardless, I am happy to be wrong. The Devils and Bratt avoided an arbitration hearing as the two agreed to a one season contract worth $5.45 million.
Avoiding the hearing altogether is a big win. As I explained in my now no-longer-relevant post about it, the arbitration hearing represented a worst-case scenario for both sides. Bratt would not get as much as he could command in negotiations in terms of money, length, and any clauses. The Devils would not secure the player for something they would find reasonable for their current and long-term plans. Both sides would have to argue in favor of their respective filings for a short-term contract. This process often kills relationships between the player and organization and it often leads to the player jumping to free agency at their first opportunity or the player getting traded. The news that Bratt and the Devils are not going through this process is absolutely good news.
As far as the contract itself goes, the Devils at least have Bratt signed to a remarkably low contract for this season. Bratt put up 26 goals and 73 points on a really bad team that did not have anything resembling a good power play. He was arguably the best player on the team last season. That is typically seen as a “breakout” season for a player. Retaining his services for less than $6 million is an absolute bargain. Do not just take my/our word for it:
Jesper Bratt (1x5.45m with Jersey) is an /extremely/ strong creator of offence who also has great goal threat skills. pic.twitter.com/HLhPn7xdnd— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) August 3, 2022
It's difficult to overemphasize just how different the team results are for the devils in his minutes vs not in his minutes. pic.twitter.com/4oVrA0MYag— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) August 3, 2022
Of course, this is just a short-term fix. Bratt will be a restricted free agent after 2022-23. He will also be eligible for arbitration. It is entirely possible that Bratt sparkles again on the ice, he files again for arbitration and this situation repeats itself. It is also possible that a strong start from Bratt proves to management that he is legitimately great and so that leads to a contract extension in early 2023 to lock up Bratt for a while. Likewise, it is possible that Bratt does not have an amazing season and that could lead to a less lucrative long term deal. And the Devils could just as easily trade him during 2022-23 in case Bratt is not getting on well or the team has a third straight dismal season or Bratt makes it clear he wants out (or all three happen). Anyone hoping for a long term resolution does not get it with this news. Doubt about Bratt’s future with the Devils remains. How Alexander Holtz develops, how Dawson Mercer performs at wing, and whether Fitzgerald can find a way to bring in a scoring winger will be of at least tangential interest for Bratt’s future too. And knowing who blinked first today with this deal may play a role in future negotiations. With respect to Bratt’s future, the proverbial can has been kicked down the road.
I am fine with that, though. I would rather kick a can down the road than risk faceplanting onto its sharp edges. The most important thing is that no arbitration hearing happened with this signing. No bridges were presumably burned from either side arguing their case to an independent arbitrator. Bratt should be a Devil for the next season. The Devils’ cap is not hamstrung by this decision either.
What is next for Tom Fitzgerald and his staff? The Devils are projected to have $3.27 million in cap space per CapFriendly. This could be just enough money to deal with Miles Wood and Fabian Zetterlund, the team’s last two restricted free agents. It may mean someone (Tyce Thompson) starts in Utica, but that is fine. New Jersey elected for arbitration for Wood and that is scheduled for August 6; we shall see if they get to that point. Therefore, dealing with Wood is the priority now that Bratt is sorted out. Zetterlund can be taken care of anytime before (or even during) training camp.
Jesper Bratt was the best player on last season’s team. While only for one season, he is signed and there is no arbitration hearing for him as a result. I will take that over the worst case scenario. Now I want to know what you think. What is your reaction to this news? Will Bratt prove to be worth more than $5.45 million? What do you think Bratt’s future is in this organization? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Bratt being signed to avoid arbitration right at the seemingly last minute in the comments. Thank you for reading.