With the New Jersey Devils having played some meaningful hockey into April and May this year, the offseason is starting a bit later than we were used to, which is what we hope to see more and more of. The team’s window of contention seemingly fully open now, the Devils will be a team that spends as close to the salary cap maximum as possible. As such, there will be periods where a cap crunch could come up, resulting in either players taking a discount, or having to be moved. The Devils need to ice a competitive roster around their star players to push further and further towards once again bringing the Stanley Cup to New Jersey.
One way to attempt to alleviate foreseen cap crunches, is to have players take less than they could earn on the open market in free agency. Jonas Siegenthaler, for example, openly admitted to the media prior to this season that he signed an extension he felt was more team friendly to better allow the organization to build a contender. If players are willing to leave a bit on the table here and there, it allows more important pieces to be kept around. So how does Jack Hughes factor into this?
As many probably know by now, in his exit interview at the end of last week, Hughes made a comment that if players want to be in New Jersey, they have to sign the deal. With Erik Haula expressing his desire to return and Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier being due for new, possibly long-term deals, it appeared that the Devils’ star forward was encouraging his teammates not only to sign, but seemingly implying for them to follow Siegenthaler’s example. And while some might see Hughes’ comments as something that could upset his teammates...well, whether he did or didn’t, he’s still got a good point.
Hughes never explicitly said Meier and/or Bratt need to take a discount, but the Devils want to sign both of them and still need to fill our other spots as well. If they hope to do that and remain competitive, Bratt and Meier will need to come down a bit from their alleged asks. While neither having a particularly strong postseason could have some impact, I don’t think it completely derails the extensions the players are looking for either. Maybe it does serve as an eye opener to the players and the organization that they need to come up with something that works for all parties involved.
From an outside perspective, I do think there’s more worry about Bratt and his negotiations than Meier. With Timo, he joined a team with a few of his countrymen, and while he didn’t score at the clip he did in San Jose, he still found other ways to positively influence play for the Devils. More of the concern with Meier seems to be related to his qualifying offer of $10 million. It may take some negotiating, but I think we see Meier sign long-term with the Devils at a figure that most will be happy with.
Meanwhile, it feels like we’re going through this year after year with Bratt. While he has said some encouraging things when interviewed, his agent has put the team through the wringer twice now. If Bratt really wants to be here, and isn’t just in it for the biggest contract he can secure himself, he (or more likely, his agent) need to make some concessions. In this regard, it feels like maybe Jack’s comment is aimed more in this direction.
In an era where it seems like fans want to see athlete’s real personalities (as opposed to pre-canned responses), Jack’s comments fit this bill. I like that as a leader of the team he is willing to essentially publicly say, “Hey I signed here long term. I want to be here. Do you want to be here too? Then put your money where you mouth is and put the pen to paper.” Not only does this get the message across to his teammates, but it helps continue to shake the “nobody wants to sign/play in New Jersey” stigma that developed out of the doldrums of the mid 2010s. It fosters an attitude that management AND players are going to do what it takes to make the Devils perennial winners again.
The on ice performance in 2022-23 was a good step in the right direction for Jersey’s Team. Jack’s words are an important step in continuing to foster a winning culture and attitude at every organizational level both in 2023-24 and beyond.
What are your thoughts on Jack’s comments regarding players needing to commit to the Devils; do you think he should or shouldn’t have done this? Do you think his words wind up accelerating the re-signings of Haula, Meier and/or Bratt? Should more of the team’s leadership group follow Jack’s lead? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!