On Saturday, July 1, the National Hockey League’s free agent frenzy began at noon. The New Jersey Devils made a subtle splash with the first signing of the day- center Brian Boyle, who signed a two-year deal. The Devils also made three AHL signings by signing forwards Bracken Kearns and Brian Gibbons, and defenseman Brian Strait.
Jersey’s team still has a number of holes to fill, specifically on right wing, and defense. GM Ray Shero said the team isn’t looking for long-term deals if they are going to sign any free agents. The team does have approximately $30 million in cap space, so they can afford to sign some players for a little extra cash with less term. That being said, there are still plenty of free agents that we believe could improve the Devils on the back end and on the right side.
Cody Franson…A solid 6’4”, 224 pound defenseman that is a decent skater and can move the puck. He won’t wow you with any big goals (he scored only seven over the past two seasons), but can post a respectable number of assists, add some grit, and toughness that the Devils need without sacrificing speed. Additionally, Franson could help quarterback the Devils’ power play. At 29-years old, Franson still has a number of good years ahead of him.
His analytical numbers are impressive, as he boasts a 50.5% possession with a relative Corsi for of +3.8%. Offering Franson a two-year deal around $3.5 million per year would be a low-risk move that could bring some stability and an additional veteran presence to the Devils blue line. At worst, it’s an extra trade chip the Devils could have come the trade deadline. For more on Franson, you can check out our Free Agent Profile here.
Nikita Nesterov…It’s no secret the Devils are looking to add more youth, and on their backend in particular. 24-year-old Nikita Nesterov posted 17 points in 48 games split between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens. During that time, posted a 54.3% Corsi For percentage along with good shot generator and suppressor figures, averaging 58.5 shot attempts per 60 and and 49.2 shots against per 60. Each of these statistics ranked him top-15 in the NHL. I fully expect New Jersey to give Nesterov a long look. A one-year deal around $800,000 could be a good stepping stone for New Jersey and Nesterov. Read our full Free Agent Profile on Nesterov here.
Nail Yakupov…An unqualified restricted free agent, the 23-year-old right wing is testing the open market for the first time. The former first-overall draft pick broke into the League with the Edmonton Oilers and despite being mishandled by coaching and management, still posted respectable numbers in goals during his first three seasons. Still young, Yakupov could find a home on the rebuilding New Jersey Devils with an immediate chance to take over a top-six role on the right wing. His analytical numbers leave a lot to be desired, which is expected when playing with a bad team for so long, but they showed continuous improvement each year. Ray Shero could give Yakupov a chance to re-find his game and develop with a young franchise. If I were Ray Shero, this was one signing I’d strongly consider. Signing Yakupov to a one-year, $750K “prove yourself” kind of deal incentivized with performance bonuses could be a cost-effective move for New Jersey and a chance for the Yak to prove that he still belongs in the NHL.
Alex Chiasson…With a big hole on the right side, even if the Devils do sign another right winger or acquire one in a trade, they could still use an additional depth scoring winger in case one of their prospects aren’t quite ready to make the jump. Enter Alex Chiasson- a 26-year-old forward who can provide some offensive help to an offensively-challenged team. Last season, Chiasson posted 12 goals and 24 points in 81 games, while finishing with a 52% Corsi rating on a talented Flames team. His last contract with the Flames was for $800,000 and I suspect that a contract with New Jersey would be similar. Best case scenario, a young winger in the early stages of his prime finds scoring consistency with boosted minutes. Worst case, it’s a flop that costs the Devils little and the contract expires after one season.