The New Jersey Devils entered this offseason with two major restricted free agents: Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier. Bratt was re-signed for 8 seasons for a total of $63 million. Timo Meier has been re-signed today for a bit more than that. Eight seasons for a total of $70.4 million; yielding a cap hit of $8.8 million per season. Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic & TSN reported the eight-season contract first. The New Jersey Devils confirmed it at 1:30 PM ET. Timo Time is going to be in Newark through 2031. To put it bluntly, you love to see it.
General Manager Tom Fitzgerald, who is on a hot streak in this offseason, managed to lock up one of the game’s top scoring wingers for a cap hit of less than $9 million per season. Fitzgerald wanted to get a top scorer with term in a trade last season. He got it in Meier from a San Jose team that had no need for him in a rebuilding situation. Fitzgerald traded Fabian Zetterlund, Andreas Johnsson, Nikita Okhotiuk, Shakir Mukhamadulin, a conditional first round pick in 2023 (which is San Jose’s), a conditional second round pick in 2024, and a seventh rounder pick in 2024 for Meier (and minor league prospects to make the contracts work) back in February. Fitzgerald was able to get Meier without giving up Dawson Mercer, Alexander Holtz, Luke Hughes, Simon Nemec, or Seamus Casey. That was impressive. But with Meier requiring a qualifying offer of $10 million, how would the Devils be able to retain him long term?
Step one was to file for arbitration, which Fitzgerald did on June 15. Through team-elected arbitration, an arbiter can rule that a one-season deal at 85% of his qualifying offer. The worst case scenario would be that Meier would be a Devil for one more season and it would not cost $10 million to do so. Step two was continue the negotiations with Meier and his agent, Claude Lemieux. Yes, that Claude Lemieux. Clearly, both sides wanted the maximum eight-season term. The money was the issue. Clearly, that was solved today. How much and how would it be structured?
When Jared wrote up a profile about the pending RFA winger, his concluding thought about his next deal was that while Meier was excellent, he was not a $10 million player. His suggestion was to use Matthew Tkachuk as a comparable - which he is, which also speaks to how good Meier is as a player - and offer $9.25 million through $9.5 million on average accrued value (cap hit) for eight seasons. Jared is pretty sharp but Fitzgerald was more clever as he was able to get Meier and Lemieux to agree to an average value of $8.8 million per season. Which is excellent business by Fitzgerald. Also a testament to his negotiation skills.
This is not to say that Meier did not get a bag. Oh no. Per the Devils’ own announcement, Meier will paid a total of $12 million (!!!) next season, $11.1 million in 2024-25, and $10.75 million in 2025-26. After then, the salary will drop to $7.75 million and tail off to $7.2 million by the end of the deal. CapFriendly reports the breakdown between bonuses and salary here, which also reveals that Meier will have a No Movement Clause until the sixth season, when he will have a 15-team no-trade list. This kind of structure is important to be efficiently spending to the cap while giving the player and his representation a reason to be happy. Being an eight-figure hockey player for the next three seasons will surely do it, even if Meier was not likely going to get that qualifying offer.
This leads to the usual question for this kind of signing: Is it worth it? I would say so. Meier had one season left before unrestricted free agency. As we see in Winnipeg and Calgary, a player with one season left on their deal can almost force a team’s hand to move them just by indicating they are not interested in an extension. This is (sort of) what happened with Tyler Toffoli, whom the Devils just acquired. Even if the Devils took Meier to arbitration and won, a potentially unhappy Meier for one season would not be so good for the team and it would likely mean he would walk on July 1, 2024. Not an ideal situation after the big trade made in February. This re-signing effectively confirms that trade was made with the intent for a long-term stay.
More importantly, Timo Meier is really, really good at hockey. Let me quickly break it down:
Production? Meier finished this past season with 40 goals between San Jose and New Jersey along with 66 points. While it is the first time he reached the 40 mark, it is not his first time putting pucks in the back of the net. He notably put up 35 in 2021-22 with San Jose and 30 in 2018-19. He has a career total of 330 points in 472 games, a very nice rate of 0.699 points per game. Since entering the league in 2016-17, he is 84th in the NHL in points and 47th in goals. Nestled right in between James van Reimsdyk & Vladimir Tarasenko and Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Ehlers for goals, too. Meier has been a significant scorer and projects to continue to be one in the future.
On-ice impacts? In 5-on-5 play, Meier was one of the top skaters in his 21 games played with the Devils last season per Natural Stat Trick. The Devils had an xGF% of just under 60% when Meier took a shift, which is remarkable. They also owned 56% of the attempts and 55% of the shots on net when he was out there. Clearly, Meier was a great fit in New Jersey. A look at his past seasons in San Jose shows that he has always been a positive 5-on-5 player. His xGF% never fell below 50.9% in his whole career and it was often above 52%. This is a guy who helps drive the play. The production shows he can finish those plays too.
For a more visual take on those impacts, here’s Dr. Micah Blake McCurdy’s visualization for Meier. He says he’s “Extremely Good,” which he is:
Timo Meier signed a big deal with New Jersey. He is Extremely Good. pic.twitter.com/N93O7YyF1f— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) June 28, 2023
Role? Meier could be described as a power forward. A strong winger who can and does crash the net, get to the dirty areas, and get all kinds of goals. Granted, the Devils organization does a lot of getting into high danger scoring chances. But Meier has been adept in that. He also is not a drain off the puck and has an idea what to do. Sometimes his physical play gets him into the penalty box, but he provides enough offense to push forward either with speed or power to make it worth it. The Devils did not have a winger like Meier. It was quickly apparent that he added an element to the roster that the Devils did not have. It is also apparent that these kinds of players are not that common. Development leagues do not really produce them like they used to a decade or two ago. Even those players then usually had some kind of issue that kept them from translating their game to the NHL. Locking Meier up means the Devils do not need to find a replacement. As much as grit is overrated - and it absolutely is to some of the People Who Matter, the media, and hockey executives - Meier provides it while providing a lot of the things that actually mean something in hockey.
In short: This is the kind of player a team should give a massive contract to. Meier absolutely could have commanded above $9 million per season on average. If he ever did get to Free Agency Frenzy 2024 at age 27, then he could possibly receive one of the biggest contracts in NHL history from the open market. Again, the fact Fitzgerald has him locked up for below $9 million AAV is excellent business by the GM.
This also makes Fitzgerald’s next few days a little easier. There will be no arbitration hearing with Meier now. The Devils’ two biggest RFAs are sorted out before qualifying offers are due. The Devils have 4 pending RFAs and 4 pending UFAs. It is possible that none of those 4 UFAs are coming back. The Toffoli acquisition makes it less likely Tomas Tatar comes back. Jonathan Bernier has been on LTIR so long that I cannot see anyone signing him. Miles Wood has been granted permission to talk to other teams. Ryan Graves is the other one, and I am unsure he will be brought back given that Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec will be given All of the Chances to make the Devils roster in early October 2023. The Devils now have $10.2 million in cap space to give new deals for Kevin Bahl, Nathan Bastian, Jesper Boqvist, and Michael McLeod. Which is very possible. It may be a quiet July 1 for Fitzgerald, but he can feel good that he took care of the biggest offseason concerns for the Devils while also improving his roster for 2023-24.
This new contract is fantastic. The core is set for the next several years. Timo Time also means Contending Time and the Devils are in a position to do just that for several seasons now. Tom Fitzgerald’s great Summer continues on. I think this deal is fantastic. What do you think of it? Do you agree that this is great work by Fitzgerald and his staff? Are you looking forward to Timo Time through 2031? What do you expect from Meier next season and beyond? Please leave your answers, your reaction to this re-signing, and your thoughts on Timo Meier in the comments. Thank you for reading.