NHL teams spent over $600 million in contracts on July 1st. The Devils were among those to partake on Friday’s festivities when they made six new acquisitions, and brought back two more players. The Devils currently have over $22 million in cap space with 16 players signed going into the 2016-2017 season (per NHL Numbers.com). Like every NHL organization, the Devils suffered some notable losses that will impact their NHL and AHL rosters. Ray Shero did make some Albany-oriented signings of players that will also have opportunities to make the big team this fall. Although the Devils have yet to re-sign contracts of some notable restricted free agents, Shero made new deals with Devils players that didn’t receive initial qualifying offers to keep them RFA’s. As the free agent period enters its fourth day, the Devils are in a considerably stronger position than they were at season’s end, with have plenty of time and room to improve more.
Vernon Fiddler…Ray Shero signed the 36-year old center who we ranked No. 6 among the top UFA centers available, to a one-year $1.25 million contract. Having spent the last five seasons with the Dallas Stars, he was one of three forwards to play all 82 contests in 2015-2016, where he registered totals of 12 goals and 22 points. He’s missed only ten games over the past five years with Dallas, making him a reliable asset for Coach Hynes on a nightly basis. Fiddler likely comes in as Stephen Gionta’s replacement on the fourth line, where he becomes an instant improvement.
He’s a career 52.1% in the face-off dot, where he went 50.72% this past season. Only Travis Zajac (51.6%) fared better in that category among New Jersey’s centers. Only five Devils forwards scored more goals than Fiddler’s 12, which are sufficient totals for a projected 9-12th forward. Fiddler also led Stars forwards in penalty kill time, where Dallas finished 10th among NHL teams. Gionta was a key component on the Devil’s penalty kill, which finished two spots above Dallas. This will be another role Gionta previously held that Fiddler will seamlessly ease into.
Ben Lovejoy…He becomes the only current member of the Devils defense with a Stanley Cup ring, which he recently won with the Pittsburgh Penguins a few weeks earlier. The 32-year old right-shooting defenseman signed a three-year $8 million contract, and was No. 8 on our top-ten available free agent defensemen. In 66 games, Lovejoy had four goals and ten points, which doesn’t come remotely close to replacing the output of departed blue liners David Schlemko and Adam Larsson. Lovejoy’s value lies in his defensive play, which address the void largely left by trading Larsson. Lovejoy led Pittsburgh’s defense in hits (154), had 104 blocked shots, and registered 90 SOG (1.4 per game). In comparison, Larsson led Jersey’s defense in hits (163), had 148 blocked shots, 65 SOG (.8 per game).
Lovejoy played the most shorthanded ice time per game on among Pittsburgh defensemen (2:29), and only had 27 seconds of penalty time per game. Contrarily, Larson’s 3:20 of gamely shorthanded ice time was second-most on the Devils defense behind Andy Greene. His 56 seconds of penalty minutes per game however, was the most among Devils defensemen, although this is more so reflected the Devil’s inability to control their game situations last season. Also keep in mind Lovejoy’s numbers were achieved in 16 less games (66), than Larsson who appeared in all 82 this season.
David Schlemko…Out of the departures the Devils endured at the hands of unrestricted free agency this offseason, this one was the most impactful. Ranked No. 10 among defensemen on our 2016 Offseason page, Schlemko had the second-most points among Devils defensemen with six goals and 13 assists. His six goals led the Devil’s defense (which isn’t saying much), and he was the most-used blue liner on the Devil’s power play. The San Jose Sharks signed the right-shooting defenseman to a four-year contract with a $2.1 million AAV.
David Warsofsky…He’s one of Shero’s first pickings from his former stomping grounds in Pittsburgh upon being claimed on waivers during the 2016 NHL trade deadline. The speedy undersized defenseman became a temporary plug after Eric Gelinas was dealt to the Avalanche. He only recorded one assist in ten NHL games with the Devils, where he was used on the power play without showing any significant results. Warsofsky returned to the Penguins on a one-year deal.
Matt Lorito, Mike Sislo, Jim O’Brien…This was a devastating hit to the Albany Devils, who literally lost their top-three scorers. The trio combined for 64 goals and 145 points. Sislo led the Devils with 27 goals while Lorito led in assists (36) and points (54). Lorito signed in Detroit, while Sislo and O’Brien went to the Colorado Avalanche. All three players will get opportunities to earn a spot on their NHL teams in training camp, but are likely to start the 2016-2017 season in the AHL. While Lorito never made an appearance on the Devils roster this past season, O’Brien and Sislo repectively played four and 18 contests. O’Brien registered zero points, while Sislo tallied three goals and one assist.