Now that the New Jersey Devils swept preseason, the next course of action for the team is to get their active roster down to 23 players at most. The NHL regular season starts on Tuesday and so all teams must be compliant before then. It may be a game-free weekend but no team is taking it easy as final decisions have to be made. Especially if waivers are required as it takes 24 hours - and waivers are announced at 2 PM ET - for a player to go unclaimed and be cleared for movement. Tomorrow is expected to be a very busy day in the NHL.
For the New Jersey Devils, they made six more cuts while also announcing a signing. Max Willman was the only player in the Devils’ training camp on a professional tryout. He evidently succeeded as the Devils gave him a two-way contract for one year; he will be paid at a rate of $135,000 at the AHL level and at NHL minimum of $775,000. Willman was one of six Devils to have played in at least five out of a possible six preseason games. He worked hard, he has experience in the AHL with Lehigh Valley, and so he is a depth option. The challenge for Utica will be juggling all of the veterans in their lineup due to AHL restrictions, but that is something the Comets have dealt with last season and prior. Congratulations to Willman for getting that deal.
He will become a Comet as the Devils announced he was placed on waivers earlier today with the announcement of his signing. The Devils cut five more players today. Isaac Poulter, who is a goalie on an AHL deal, was sent back to Utica. Defenseman Santeri Hatakka, who impressed in the preseason finale in Long Island, was also sent to Utica. He is in the final season of his entry level contract, so he is exempt from waivers for now. The other three are waivers for demotion: Shane Bowers, Justin Dowling, and Tyce Thompson. Thompson, like Willman, played in five games in preseason. But he did not make too much of an impact in his appearances. As such, he is going back to Utica provided he clears by 2 PM ET tomorrow.
Who is left for the Devils? Here is a run down:
Goaltenders (4): Vitek Vanecek, Akira Schmid, Keith Kinkaid, Nico Daws
Erik Källgren was put on waivers on October 3 and was demoted after he was cleared on October 4. Brodeur, like Poulter, was on an AHL-only deal and could not make the team. He was sent down on October 5. Technically, Kinkaid and Daws are still with New Jersey. However, Daws has yet to be cleared to play, and Vanecek and Schmid were the only goalies to see time in the net. I would anticipate Daws to either be sent down to Utica or put on IR and Kinkaid to be placed on waivers to be demoted to Chicago. There are two cuts right there. The net belongs with Vanecek and Schmid.
Defensemen (8): Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, John Marino, Kevin Bahl, Luke Hughes, Colin Miller, Brendan Smith, Simon Nemec
Michael Vukojevic was sent back to Utica on October 2, Daniil Misyul was sent to Utica on October 3, and Cal Foote was put on waivers on October 4 with re-assignment on October 5 after he cleared them. With Hatakka’s demotion, the Devils have eight defensemen. Teams can and do carry eight defensemen on their roster. Will the Devils do so given their glut of forwards? Maybe. The low end of the depth chart consists of two veterans on seven-figure one-way contracts and Simon Nemec, who is not only on an ELC and waiver-exempt but also on a contract that can slide a year if he plays nine or fewer NHL games this season. Whether it is a paper move or a real one, Nemec may be the next one to cut among the defenders. If there is one.
Forwards (16): Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, Dawson Mercer, Tyler Toffoli, Ondrej Palat, Tomes Nosek, Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, Erik Haula, Curtis Lazar, Alexander Holtz, Nolan Foote, Chris Tierney, Brian Halonen
Kyle Criscuolo was the first one to go among the group that made it to the second week of training camp; he was put on waivers on October 2 and re-assigned on October 3. October 3 was also when Chase Stillman and Graeme Clarke were sent down. Clarke’s demotion was a bit of a disappointment given the pre-preseason talk about wanting to do what he can to make the team. His game was simply not enough at this level. Today’s cuts of Bowers, Dowling, Thompson, and Willman bring the current group down to 16.
At a glance, it seems easy to identify three more cuts. I would think that Chris Tierney and Brian Halonen will be sent back to Utica by some way. Halonen was hurt in the first preseason game and Tierney has shown nothing of consequence. Halonen does not need to go through waivers. Tierney does; I am a little surprised he was not placed along with Dowling. The third cut would be Nolan Foote. He may also be hurt and depending on the severity of his injury, it could mean IR or a demotion. Like Tierney, he would have to pass waivers for a demotion. In other words, I would think we will see Tierney and the other Foote to be put on waivers tomorrow afternoon.
Basically, this would mean Alexander Holtz definitely makes the team - as he should based on his preseason - and the Devils could leave the blueline alone. I do not know if that makes the most sense. I would prefer Nemec to be playing rather than sitting. I am not confident he is going to play over both Colin Miller and Brendan Smith right away. If they do demote Nemec, then the Devils could delay sending down Tierney or Foote. Yet, that may make it easier for other teams to poach them with potentially fewer players on waivers in the future - if they need to be sent down. There should be some clarity on this by tomorrow a bit after 2 PM ET.
Provided I did not make any mistakes in counting, there are 28 players in the Devils’ camp and a minimum of five cuts (and a maximum of eight) have to be made in the next few days. Two are obvious ones in the net; the remaining three are yet to be fully determined. Being cut now does not mean the end, however. Call ups will be made during the season for reasons related to injuries, performance, and other transactions. For players like Hatakka, Misyul, Thompson, Clarke, and so forth, the goal is to perform well in Utica and be ready to perform for when the opportunity comes. Kevin Bahl did not make the Devils last year and, well, look at him now. (He was also quickly recalled and yo-yo’ed until the second half of last season.) For those on the lower end of the roster, the goal is to keep playing well to stay in the lineup to avoid a future demotion. Something that did happen to Holtz last season.
Who do you think the final few cuts will be for this year’s camp? Will there be any surprises by Monday? And by Thursday? Who do you think will be the first ones up from Utica when needed? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils’ transactions as the season becomes imminent in the comments. Thank you for reading.