Devils salary cap outlook: Could they be big players in free agency this summer?

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Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald has made his intentions clear.

“I’m open to anything that can help our team improve,” Fitzgerald said after the team finished the year with a 27-46-9 record that ranked second-to-last in the league. metropolitan division. “And if it uses a [first-round] choosing like this, wherever he is, to bring a player that we know and think will help impact the results that we are looking for, absolutely,

“My job is to improve our hockey club with all the assets we have.”

Aside from a first round, another key aspect the Devils are clearly ready to use is cap space. If the team wants to bring in high caliber players, there will be a cost associated with that – whether that actual number already exists or the team has to draw up a contract.

Some of the cap space the Devils have is likely devoted to the No. 1 problem of 2021-22, a high-end goaltender and forward.

“I have a wish list of player characteristics that I really think we need to add to support the young attacking talent that we have,” Fitzgerald explained.

“I think we have a lot of similar things up front – we have good players, talented players – but I think we have a lot of similar things. I don’t want much of the same. It’s time to start mixing and matching, and building a team – especially up front, being harder to face, more skill.

Before we even speculate on which players the Devils might pursue – whether it’s a pending unrestricted free agent like Filip Forsberg, Johnny Gaudreau, Ville Husso or Darcy Kuemper, an RFA like Brock Boeser or Kevin Fiala ( who Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek linked the Devils to on Saturday), or a contracted player like Conor Garland or John Gibson — the team needs to throw their cap.

As the Devils retreat toward the playoffs, it’s imperative to keep the cap in mind. It’s natural for a team to get closer to the ceiling as they try to struggle, but that only limits flexibility if a team finds themselves at the high end. before this window actually opens. So, it’s helpful to have a baseline of what they’ve currently linked, what should be added and subtracted, and how that fits over future seasons.

First and foremost are expiring contracts. The biggest is PK Subban and his $9 million contract. While this is not the case appear that it will return to New Jersey, in case it extends, it would obviously be at a much lower ceiling and free up a ton of space.

Less notoriously there are Jimmy Vesey, Mason Geertsen, Andrew Hammond and Jon Gillies. The latter two appear to be indisputable subtractions after this year’s fiasco in goal. With Vesey, the question comes down to whether management feels this is a role for him or someone else internally, as the chief executive explained.

“That’s the reality of potential UFAs, you have decisions to make,” Fitzgerald said. “What applies to decision-making with them is do we have internal options to replace guys? These internal options that we believe we have, are they ready? »

If inside options replace those position openings – from Alexander Holtz, Fabian Zetterlund and Nolan Foote up front, among others, to Kevin Bahl or Nikita Okhotiuk in defense, it brings cheaper deals and makes everything more manageable.

The readiness of these players, however, may not be decided until training camp. So in some cases, it doesn’t hurt to have a minimum wage player there as a safety net. Vesey could serve as such. A veteran defender could also easily be moved to a cheaper deal, as long as trends don’t continue from last offseason when many depth defenders were signed to oddly expensive contracts.

So, between all the UFAs, it’s a potential of more than 12 million dollars off the books that could be replaced by minimum wages. It’s an important start, especially with a restricted free agent signing that could be expensive. The table above just helps put it all into perspective, with some of these lesser contracts in the mix and totals for years to come. While they seem low now, these are increasing rapidly with incoming contracts. One of those features Jesper Bratt.

Bratt is a pivotal situation for the Devils this summer – and management knows it. Fitzgerald emphasized as much after the season, noting that he is “a big part of our future” and that they “want Jesper Bratt here long term.”

“The goal is to get Jesper Bratt under contract and be part of the puzzle we’re building here, and realistically pricing is part of the puzzle. That’s where we have to figure out where we are with him” “We need Jesper Bratt in our lineup, we know what kind of player he is,” Fitzgerald added.

The problem is that he has arbitration rights and a team could offer him a sheet. But the focus is obviously on what he’s worth and how that will affect the salary cap. Its market value – or the value it would be worth on the open market, which it will not achieve as a FRG – according to Athleticism Dom Luszczyszyn’s model is around $10 million. We usually know the players don’t reached that number, especially not as a FRG. It represents the higher end of the spectrum. Comparisons of signings from recent years indicate that somewhere in the $5-7 million range, depending on length, could be a team-friendly solution.

But this is where things get particularly interesting. Already, the Devils have about $24.3 million tied up for the next few years in three players (Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton). A long-term deal with Bratt also puts him in that “main” tier. A lengthy contract with Damon Severson if he stays — which currently appears to be New Jersey’s goal — elevates him as well. Just like a splashing winger or goalkeeper. And that’s something the team will also have to stay aware of.

It’s not uncommon for teams to invest heavily in their core. Often it comes later in their window, not before it even starts. Their neighbors in New York have roughly lined up that pricey core with the start of their window, which may limit their flexibility during it. The Devils must therefore decide if this is the path they want to follow. Considering how old most of these cores are and where they are in their timeline, that might not be a problem at all. Both Hischier and Hughes are already signed through their bonuses, and the Devils should make the most of them. So will Bratt. For Hamilton and Severson, they are at this high level now, but the later years of their contracts could get tricky, but it may be a risk worth taking (or a team has no choice). but to take).

Depending on who the team is chasing will determine which category they fit into. An unrestricted free agent likely groups with Hamilton and Severson based on their age, while a contracted or RFA player might fall somewhere between those two categories.

As for other RFAs this summer, there are notably Pavel Zacha (market value of $3.9 million), Miles Wood (market value of $2.1 million) and Jesper Boqvist (market value of 1, $4 million). Zacha is the star of the bunch as there are legitimate questions as to whether he will be on the roster this season. As Fitzgerald explained, he wants to “see where some of the ducks fall and how we want to build this team” as the process progresses. So it could also be a potential trim on the hood.

Is everything manageable for next year?

If the Devils want to subtract all pending UFAs, keep most of their RFAs (say excluding Zacha), add a high-end forward, add a goalie, and extend Bratt, it gets tight.

How can this be limited? Jonathan Bernier’s preparation for the season after hip surgery could determine where he starts, whether on the roster or on the long-term injured list. It remains to be seen how the team proceeds with Mackenzie Blackwood; removing it from the equation entirely opens up a bit more space. If there’s confidence in young forwards taking over for some of the depth they have – nodding to how Fitzgerald wants to shake up the skills they have – it could lead to free up more space a year before contracts expire (like those of Andreas Johnsson and Tomas Tatar). These subtractions can be the key to making everything click.

But the following year possesses also to be considered. It was then that Severson’s contract ended, as well as that of Ryan Graves. Severson looks the most likely to stay if the cost is manageable, and that’s the question given how much interest there would be if he chose to move on. If he stays, Graves could be replaced by an inside option (Luke Hughes being the most notable option – and that goes back to the importance of filling roles with ELC talent to balance it all out). If Severson leaves, maybe Graves will stay.

Then there are the FRGs, including Jonas Siegenthaler and Yegor Sharangovich, as well as Blackwood. The defender should be manageable as he doesn’t have flashy point totals to inflate his value, while Sharangovich’s growth could give him some leverage.

As long as wages can stay in check without too many overpayments, New Jersey can balance add-ons and extensions with subtracts. Balance is the key word through it all; they can’t just hand out a blank check to players who will improve this team, and they’re going to have to maximize the value of ELCs and inexpensive contracts. There are already some major contracts signed, with more expected to arrive over the next year. So while the totals for future seasons seem low right now, it all adds up pretty quickly, especially as a team nears the playoffs.

Cap space is a plus for the Devils right now, which should make for an intriguing offseason because management should use it to their advantage to make improvements that thread the needle. But it needs to be managed at every stage so it doesn’t become a problem that this team has to buy their way before they even achieve the contender status they seek.

(Top photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Data via CapFriendly and Dom Luszczyszyn

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