With the New Jersey Devils signing Jesper Bratt to a one year, $5.45 million contract yesterday, the team sits with just over $3.2 million in salary cap space and has Miles Wood’s arbitration still to come. Even before Wood signs or goes to arbitration, this is the closest that the Devils have been to the cap ceiling in years, and gives the feeling that the team is ready to turn a corner. There may be some concern, however, about the team spending so much and eliminating their cap flexibility with a roster that has proven nothing and hasn’t come close to the playoffs in a few years.
Indeed, if you take a look at the Devils’ page on CapFriendly, things look a bit tight this season, especially if an arbitrator somehow awards Wood more than $3.2 million. The good news for the offseason is that teams can exceed the cap by up to 10%, which the Devils shouldn’t come close to doing. There’s more good news for the upcoming season as well; if the Devils spend to the cap, once they move Jonathan Bernier to long-term injured reserve, they will gain some relief, which will allow them to still have a full roster. So while it’s going to be closer than it has been in quite some time for the Devils, they will be cap compliant for opening night and beyond.
Now if there was anyone who had cap concerns for the Devils, it would be brought on somewhat by that Bratt deal mentioned at the start of the article. The Devils want to keep Bratt long-term, and with him going right back to restricted free agency with arbitration rights next summer, he may ask for an additional raise, especially if he repeats (or exceeds) his numbers from last season. We also have Jonas Siegenthaler’s extension kicking in next season, with his raise increasing his cap hit by approximately $2.3 million. Then there’s the matter of other young RFAs such as Yegor Sharangovich (likely), Jesper Boqvist, MacKenzie Blackwood (both possibly), Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian (both less likely) that might be looking for sizeable raises. Can the Devil still afford to keep this group together, particularly if they do well and exceed expectations this season?
The short answer is yes; the long answer is also yes, but with some factors that are obvious, and others that may be less so. The first point to address here is that the contracts of Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier are going to help the team in the long run, especially if both continue to grow on last season’s play. Jack and Nico currently account for 18.5% of the team’s cap and that percentage is going to gradually decrease over the next five season due to at least small cap increases expected as well as the fact that both will be on those same contracts.
The second point of what’s also going to save the Devils some money is cutting loose underperforming UFAs, and replacing them with internal candidates. Tomas Tatar and Andreas Johnsson departing will save the Devils $7.9 million; it also frees up spots on the wing for a player in the organization like Alex Holtz (on an ELC) to come in and try to earn a full time NHL spot. The defense will see Ryan Graves, or Damon Severson or both possibly move on, giving the Devils either $3.167 million, $4.167 million or their total of roughly $7.334 million to use towards new contracts for the above mentioned RFAs. Additionally, perhaps this allows Nikita Okhotiuk, Kevin Bahl or maybe even Simon Nemec to earn a full time spot on the blue line. If the Devils decide to pull the plug on the Blackwood experiment, that’s even more cap free to use elsewhere or on a replacement.
The third and final point here is that there could be players who surprise and necessitate corresponding moves. Maybe Fabian Zetterlund proves he deserves a full time NHL spot this upcoming training camp. While he has yet to sign a new deal, he’s an RFA without arbitration so I don’t see a huge deal coming his way. Perhaps he makes the team, or maybe a guy like Nolan Foote gets called up due to injury, and shows he can be a good, cost-effective contributor. Maybe Erik Haula doesn’t work out for the Devils and he is let go in free agency next summer; perhaps the team even trades him or another player set to be a UFA at the deadline. The Devils don’t really have any “bad” contracts, meaning that even if they have to move players or give other raises, they’re not backed into a corner where fans need to be concerned about losing assets for nothing, or worse, trading assets for nothing to get out of a bad deal.
The Devils may have given out a few more long-term contracts lately, but they’ve still set themselves up to surround their core with the necessary talent to make the team relevant again. They will still have some holes to fill and some decisions to make next summer, but I think we already know who some of the names are that will be playing their last games in Devils red and black n 2022-23. The expenses have increased, but it doesn’t mean the Devils have put themselves in a place where they will be packaging their first round pick to dump a player’s contract for cap space anytime soon.
Are you as optimistic about the Devils’ cap situation going forward or not? Will the long-term deals in place right now help or hurt them when a number of players are due for raises next summer? Do you agree or disagree with the list of players that I think the team may/will cut loose? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!