Business season in the NHL is nearly upon us, and with 13 players from last year’s New Jersey Devils team up for a new contract, none arguably are as important as Timo Meier. Meier is due to hit RFA for the final time this summer as the Devils control his rights for one full NHL season from this point on.
The Devils have a few options in front of them on what to do with Meier but I’m not sure any of them make as much sense as trying to sign the big winger to a long-term deal. Meier is a player the Devils should be building around for the next few seasons as their window of title contention is now open. So what might his price tag look like? Let’s find out.
Who is Timo Meier?
If you’re unfamiliar with Timo Meier’s background, I have some good news for you. I already wrote all about that back in January when he was suggested as a potential trade target for the Devils. You can read up on that at the link above if you so choose. A quick summary though....
Meier is a 26 year old, 7-year NHL veteran who up until earlier this season, played his entire NHL career with the San Jose Sharks. He came to New Jersey at the trade deadline in what I deemed at the time a blockbuster deal. Meier, listed at 6’1” and 220 lb., is a scoring power forward who drives offense and can play either winger position and use his size and frame to create space to get his shot off from anywhere in the offensive zone. He’s not afraid to get physical with the opposition either. I said it at the time of the trade and I’ll say it again here. Meier checks a lot of boxes of what the Devils need in a scoring winger that they simply did not and still do not have currently in the organization. He’s a very important piece moving forward, and arguably their most important player who isn’t signed long-term.
Meier has finished the final season of a 4-year deal worth $6M AAV that he signed back in 2019 and will be an RFA with arbitration rights. His qualifying offer for the 2023-24 season is $10M, and if the Devils tender him an offer, they will control his rights for one more season. If they do not, Meier will become an unrestricted free agent a year ahead of schedule. The Devils will not risk losing Meier for nothing right now, so expect him to be tendered a contract.
What has Meier done as a Devil?
After his Devils debut was delayed due to a minor upper-body injury, Meier made a good first impression with his new team when he finally got into the lineup. He scored in his first game for New Jersey in Arizona on March 5.
He struggled for a little bit after that as it took some time for him to get acclimated to his new team, his new surroundings, and a new system, but Meier wound up finishing the season with 9 goals and 5 assists in 21 regular season games as a Devil. Adding that to what he did in San Jose, he finished the 2022-23 regular season with 40 goals and 26 assists in 78 games.
Meier didn’t find the scoresheet in the Devils first round playoff series against the Rangers, but it certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort. Meier recorded 27 shots on goal over the seven game series. He was also a physical presence who got under the skin of the Rangers throughout the series, with the most notable incident involving Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Meier landed on Shesterkin in the crease in Game 3 and didn’t make much of an effort to get out of the way or get up in a timely manner. Shesterkin took exception to this and did his best Carey Price impression by punching Meier several times with his blocker, drawing a penalty. You can re-watch this sequence below. The Devils wound up tying the game on the ensuing power play with a Jack Hughes goal, so one could say this incident was indeed a turning point in the series for the Devils.
Timo Meier onto Igor Shesterkin in the net#NJDevils 0 #NYR 1 2ɴᴅ pic.twitter.com/PMK7s8y4Q9— Sᴘᴏʀᴛs 24/7 (@Sports_24x7_) April 23, 2023
Jacob Trouba knocked Meier out of Game 7 of that series with a big hit that left him with a gash on the bridge of his nose, but by then, the tide in the series had already turned as the Devils were set to advance to the second round. The damage from Trouba’s hit was done though as Meier missed Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes with what was later confirmed to be a broken nose. Meier returned in Game 2 with a “fishbowl” face shield that by his own admission impacted his vision. He didn’t score in that game, but he jammed home the first goal in Game 3 off of a brilliant feed from Jack Hughes behind Frederik Andersen’s net. Meier also briefly gave the Devils a 2-1 lead in Game 5 with a power play goal. That lead was ultimately short-lived as Carolina would go on to win the game and clinch the series. Meier finished his first postseason in New Jersey with 2 goals and 2 assists in 11 games. Not quite the level of production the Devils were hoping for when they acquired him, but anyone who says that Meier didn’t contribute probably didn’t watch the games.
Meier checks the boxes with the counting stats. He checks the boxes with the fancy stats. He checks the boxes for the eye test with things like his physicality and willingness to mix it up. Meier’s game isn’t perfect as he wound up taking more than his fair share of penalties during his brief time with the Devils and he didn’t find the scoresheet in the postseason as much as he’d like, but its tough to argue that he didn’t make an impact. With a full training camp to learn the system, I’m excited to see what Meier could do as a Devil over the course of an 82 game season.
What will Meier do going forward?
There’s little reason to think that Meier won’t continue to be highly productive if he is here next season.
Meier is a scoring winger who has topped the 30-goal plateau three times in his career and reached 40 for the first time this past season. He’s about to enter his age 27 season and is very much in the prime of his career. Meier did have a career best shooting percentage at 12.2%, but he’s a volume shooter who ATTEMPTS 7.67 shots per game. Off volume alone, he should be a regular 30+ goal scorer if he stays healthy and doesn’t get unlucky. I’m not sure that high 40s or even 50 is entirely out of reach for him if the stars align. The only other player on the Devils roster with 40-goal scoring upside is Hughes.
Meier is right up there with the league leaders like Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak, Nathan MacKinnon, and Alex Ovechkin in terms of sheer volume. There’s no reason to think that he can’t maintain similar volume and similar production as he gets more comfortable in the Devils system and builds chemistry with his linemates. There’s a reason why Fitzgerald was willing to give up what he gave up to get him in the first place. Those type of high-level players and that kind of production doesn’t grow on trees.
The question for Meier moving forward, assuming he signs with the Devils, is where the best fit is for him in the lineup. I said at the time of the trade that I believe with Meier being a heavy-volume shooter, the better fit for him is on a line with Nico Hischier as opposed to Jack Hughes, another heavy-volume shooter. I still believe that to this day. The advanced stats seem to bear that out as well as Meier has a higher xGF% with Hischier (68.03%) than Hughes (61.12%) in a similar sample size (Hughes played roughly 15 more minutes at 5v5 w/ Meier than Hischier). Lindy Ruff seemed to struggle finding the ideal fit for Meier as he changed his lines more than some people change their socks, but to me, the choice is clear. Attach Meier and Hischier at the hip, set it, and forget it.
That said, Meier is talented enough where he should be able to have success with Hughes if that’s the direction the Devils choose to go in. Ruff has shown he’ll change lines on a whim so I’d expect Meier to see plenty of time with both Hischier and Hughes.
Who are Meier’s comparables and what is his value?
Meier is a year out from unrestricted free agency, so let’s take a look at other wingers with similar production and a similar age one year out from UFA who signed long-term deals and see where his next contract might land. There’s not a ton of great positional comps for Meier as most of the recent top contracts for scoring wingers are either at the very top of the market (Pastrnak), are coming off of an ELC (Boldy, Robertson), were UFA contracts (Gaudreau), or were signed several years ago at this point and arent really applicable moving forward (Stone, Kucherov).
Matthew Tkachuk, who is 14 months younger than Meier, requested a trade out of Calgary with one year of control remaining. He did this as it was apparent the Flames were going to lose Johnny Gaudreau in free agency and the Flames were going to be going through a transition. Tkachuk narrowed down his list of preferred destinations to a handful of teams and wound up becoming what is believed to be the first sign-and-trade in NHL history with his move to the Florida Panthers, signing an 8-year deal worth $9.5M AAV. Tkachuk is more of a natural pest than Meier and is a better playmaker, facilitator, and overally player (hence, Tkachuk’s assist numbers) than Meier, but I do think they share some similarities as players. Both players hit the 40-goal plateau in their final season as an RFA, and for different reasons, both are considered to be among the best wingers in the NHL. This is likely the high-end of what Meier might realistically be looking for in his next deal.
(In a somewhat related story, Tkachuk is having an incredible postseason and appears to be worth every penny of what the Panthers are paying him)
Jonathan Huberdeau went the other way in the Tkachuk trade and while he’s a few years older than Meier, he too was entering his final season of team control. Calgary GM Brad Treliving was desperate last summer to get a star, any star, signed long-term after Gaudreau and Tkachuk said “thanks, but no thanks”. Huberdeau was the beneficiary of that as the Flames essentially paid a “Calgary tax” of 8 years, $10.5M AAV to get his signature on a contract. The Huberdeau deal will likely age poorly for the Flames, but Meier and his agent won’t care and might be hoping to land something similar from an equally desperate team.
The lower end of the comps might be JT Miller, who signed a 7-year extension worth $8M AAV with the Vancouver prior to last season. It’s not a perfect comp as Miller can play center in addition to either wing position and he was 29 years old when he signed that deal, three years older than Meier. It should also be noted that Miller’s contract is widely viewed as a mistake by Vancouver to the point where they’ve tried to trade him before his NMC kicks in this summer, but as of this writing, he remains a member of the Canucks. Miller and Meier are both similarly sized players though and both have shown they’re capable of scoring 30+ goals in a season. Fitzgerald would probably be thrilled if he could get Meier signed for around $8M but I doubt that Meier’s camp will go for that.
What do people around the league have to say about Meier’s value? On his last updated player card, Dom Luszcsyszyn from The Athletic had Meier’s market value at $10.7M, although it goes without saying that that’s not necessarily a contractual projection as it is how much value the player is giving the team with his on-ice performance. By comparison, Jack Hughes’s market value is $13.9M even though his AAV is $8M, according to Dom’s model. Former Devils beat writer and current Sharks beat writer Corey Masisak wrote back in December that Meier’s new deal could indeed be around $9.5M over 8 years. Pierre LeBrun wrote months ago that he’d expect a new deal for Meier to start in the $9M+ AAV range and I think that’s fair given his body of work and the leverage Meier has. Dobber Hockey projected Meier to come in just under $9.6M AAV in their last projections back in February. Evolving-Hockey has Meier at a 54% chance of securing an 8 year, $8.8M AAV in their projections, if you’re looking for an estimate on the lower end.
Are you reading all of that and seeing sticker shock over that price? You shouldn’t. The list of 40 goal scorers in the NHL is a who’s who of the best players in the league. When it comes to player salaries and contracts, there’s a premium placed on goal scoring, fair or not. Goal scorers get handsomely rewarded when the time comes to pay them. It’s Meier’s turn to get paid as he’s earned that right. Meier is not only a goal scorer, but he brings some of those other intangibles to the table as well such as his size and willingness to mix it up. Suggesting Meier should sign for 8M, “maybe 8.5M tops”, because of a so-so postseason where he was probably more snakebit than anything or whatever other preconceived notion about what player values actually are is a gross misunderstanding of the market.
What does Meier want, what would I do with Meier and what do I think the Devils will do?
I don’t believe Tom Fitzgerald traded for Timo Meier to simply let him play out his team control and move on. I don’t think Fitzgerald gave up what he gave up in the trade only to turn around and trade Meier months later. Fitzgerald knows what he has in Meier and coveted him for a reason. I believe Fitzgerald’s intention is to get Meier signed long-term and the Devils have the luxury of having exclusive negotiating rights with him until July 1, 2024. I don’t think Fitzgerald is going to lowball Meier, but you also can’t lowball Meier after giving up what you give up to bring him in in the first place. It’s tough to argue Meier isn’t worth X when Fitzgerald already tipped his hand on how much he wanted the player by bringing him in in the first place.
Meier has all the leverage in this case though. It might not be a matter of what the Devils want so much as it is what Meier wants. We simply do not know at this time what Meier wants.
Meier didn’t ask to be traded to New Jersey. The Devils decided to make that move. Meier doesn’t have any attachment to the area outside of friendships with fellow Swiss national team players Nico Hischier, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Akira Schmid. The Devils were the ones who gave up potentially two first round picks and a bevy of good, but not great prospects to bring Meier in. That’s not necessarily Meier’s problem, as Meier is within his right to do whatever he thinks is best for himself with his playing career. The Sharks didn’t grant teams permission to talk contract with Meier prior to his trade, so teams knew what the situation was with Meier going in. It was on the teams to decide how to proceed with that information.
Meier was tight-lipped about his contractual situation when asked about it at breakup day, although I probably wouldn’t read too much into what a player says in those situations one way or the other. Fitzgerald noted in his end of season media availability that he’s just now starting the process of having those conversations with Meier and his agent Claude Lemieux. Perhaps those conversations go well and they agree to a long-term deal in the coming weeks. Perhaps they don’t. But this ultimately comes down to what Meier wants. He’s a year away from UFA with the biggest decision of his professional career forthcoming. He has the leverage and is within his right to wield that hammer. If he wants to steer his way to a preferred destination that’s not New Jersey, there’s not much Fitzgerald can really do about it. The Devils could carry him on the roster at the start of next season, and likely through the trade deadline, but they’d run the risk of losing him for nothing on July 1, 2024 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The Devils will offer Meier his $10M qualifying offer, but they’re not necessarily obligated into paying him $10M next season. As Elliotte Friedman noted in a recent 32 Thoughts podcast (29:07 mark at the link here), the Devils could elect for arbitration to try to reduce that $10M number by upwards of 15%. If that strategy sounds familiar, the Devils employed a similar strategy last year with Miles Wood. The fact Friedman is throwing that out there, Fitzgerald has done this in the past, and people around the league are talking about this being a possibility would suggest that this very well might be what transpires. To be clear though, I don’t think this will accomplish much of anything other than poisoning the relationship between the player and team. Think about it. If you are coming off the best year of your professional career and your employer wants you to take a 15% pay cut, you’d tell him to pound sand, and rightfully so. It’s one thing to ask a 4th liner like Miles Wood to do that when he basically missed a whole season due to injury. It’s another thing to do that with one of your best players.
I know what I would do if I were in Fitzgerald’s spot. I want to get Meier signed long-term so he’s part of the group for the foreseeable future. Using the aforementioned Tkachuk deal as a measuring stick, I would offer Meier something in the vicinity of $9.25M-$9.5M for 8 years and try to secure Meier’s services through 2031. Meier is an excellent player but he’s not quite Tkachuk, so I think he should slot in just under Tkachuk. But its not up to me and it might not be up to Fitzgerald either. Meier might want to hit the open market a year from now with the salary cap expected to take a jump. That’s not to say that he’s not open to signing with the Devils, but if he thinks he can get $10M from someone a year from now, does he sign now if the Devils are the team willing to do that? Perhaps, but I don’t see them paying Meier $10M for anything more than this upcoming season, if that. And then there’s the question of whether or not he actually wants to be in New Jersey long-term. Jack Hughes presumably said if you want to be in New Jersey, “sign the deal” in reference to Bratt, but it does apply to Meier as well.
What do I think the Devils will do? I think the Devils will try to hammer out a long-term deal with Meier. If it gets done, great! If they can’t get it done, they’ll have some tough decisions to make. I think team-elected arbitration is an option to try to reduce Meier’s cap charge for next season, even though its a bad option. If they can’t get a deal done though, I think they should probably explore all options including a trade. They could get a good chunk of what they initially gave up for Meier back and perhaps more if he’s willing to sign-and-trade to go somewhere else (although I wouldn’t bank on getting a “Huberdeau, Weegar, and a 1st” type of package just because it happened last year). Fitzgerald made a cryptic remark last week about how they don’t currently have a first-round pick, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get one. He probably didn’t throw that out there to the media for no reason, and he presumably knows he’ll be able to get one if he has to turn around and move Meier or Jesper Bratt this summer.
Hopefully, it doesn’t come to this. Meier appears to be an ideal fit on this roster going forward, and while the Devils window would not slam shut if they have to move Meier, it would be a short-term setback. Remember, the Devils were one of the best teams in the NHL last season BEFORE they traded for Meier. They should still be a good team without Meier. That’s not to say that Meier doesn’t matter or that his presence on the roster doesn’t move the needle. He does matter and he brings a lot to the table that most other players currently on the roster don’t. It’s just that it wouldn’t necessarily be a deathblow if they have to trade him. If they lose Meier though, they’d be back to square one searching for the next Top Six winger long-term.
If the Devils offer a fair long-term deal, I hope that Meier sees that New Jersey is a very good situation for him professionally, he’ll be well compensated, he’ll be in a market with a loyal fanbase that adores him, and he signs the deal. But Meier has the leverage here and is entitled to do whatever he wants.
Timo Meier is an ideal fit for the Devils roster now and going forward, presuming they can get him signed to a long-term deal. Tom Fitzgerald has said that he’s going to have conversations with Meier about doing a long-term deal. Time will tell how those conversations go, but it ultimately takes two to tango. The player has to want to be here and the team has to offer a fair deal to convince the player its worth signing. There’s too much uncertainty to say what Meier actually wants out of this, but what the Devils should want is crystal clear. They should want Meier signed long-term.
What would you do with Timo Meier? What do you think the Devils will do? Would you be willing to let him sign his qualifying offer and play out the year? Do the Devils need to trade him now if he won’t sign long-term? How much of a setback would it be if the Devils ultimately lost Meier? What type of contract do you think Meier will ultimately get? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!