Although Adam Larsson’s salary arbitration date was looming on the horizon, there was a consensual feeling of assurance amongst both parties that a deal would get done in time. Topping off what was an eventful week for the New Jersey Devils, general manager Ray Shero re-signed the 22-year old Swede to a six-year, $25 million extension. Two of the deal’s major highlights appear to be its generous $4.1 million cap hit and how the deal runs through the 2020-2021 season. Larsson will be 28 and three years into his eligibility to become an unrestricted free agent when the deal expires.
Although he didn’t make any groundbreaking acquisitions, Shero has been very proactive since being introduced as general manager on May 4th. In addition to being what’s arguably Shero’s first significant signing as general manager, Adam Larsson’s new contract is also the first long term he’s signed a Devils player to.
With all of the contract’s aspects taken into consideration, Ray Shero’s first long term signing was a home run.
Larsson’s story is well-known amongst the Devils community. Until last season, he’s faced a steep uphill battle to earn the same degree of trust the DeBoer coaching regime had for its underachieving veteran defensemen. His stats last season have been thoroughly dissected to exploit the spike Larsson’s play took in the wake of Coach DeBoer’s firing. With Shero molding the Devils into a team that Larsson’s style of play strongly adheres to, the two-way skillset he’s developed over his first four seasons, and the playing system head coach John Hynes is going to instill, what we saw during the second half of last season in Larsson’s game should only be the beginning of better things to come.
To gain a better perspective, Larsson had two goals and 20 points in the final 46 games following the coaching change. This equates to three goals and 35 points over a full season. Those numbers would put him top-40 in points amongst defensemen and top-25 in assists.
These numbers don’t seem like much at first glance. Just those extra 15 points could have gone towards Larsson, or another Devil, scoring another goal. 23 of the Devils’ 50 total losses last year were by one goal. Assuming those 15 extra points Larsson could have had came during those games, a potential fifteen-point swing (78-93) in the standings would initially appear to keep the Devils five points shy of the final wildcard spot occupied by the Penguins (98).
The alternate outcomes of these one-goal losses could have resulted in the Devils’ opponents registering only one, or no points whatsoever, if you incorporated these extra points Larsson would have been on pace for. This scenario makes it easy to back the statement that those extra fifteen points Larsson could have had if he played at the level he did since DeBoer’s dismissal, may or may not have been the difference in the Devils reaching the playoffs.
This has always been a team with a reputation for finding ways to win without scoring many goals.
Reflecting on the change in Larsson’s play last season signifies how underappreciated his value to the Devils’ defensive core was, and how his mishandled development may have been nipped at the right time. This should all continue to change under the coaching authority of John Hynes. With no veteran contracts on the team that undeservingly require a roster spot on the Devils blue line to justify its salary cap hit, Larsson is entering an opportune scenario to take the next necessary steps in elevating his game. With no circumstantial obstacles before him and assuming he retains a top-notch defense partner in Andy Greene, the only factor Larsson has working against him will be his own self-doubt.
Larsson has established himself as part of the Devils’ current core that Ray Shero hopes to build on top of. Between Corey Schneider’s goaltending, the long term security behind Adam Larsson, the veteran presence of Andy Greene, and the promising outlook on Damon Severson, the Devils have two-thirds accounted for on the concept of building a team from the goalie out, a model that was pivotal in the success the Devils had in the past and that teams are still succeeding with today.
The Devils are in a rebuilding state of mind this offseason, but the longevity of the pieces they’re putting in place has become much more stable and helps depict a very hopeful future in New Jersey.