As with every team in the NHL the Devils will be expecting some roster turnover heading into the new year as there are currently seven Devils’ set to hit the free agent market. The list is not exactly flattering and it’s tough to see where most of the guys will fit into the lineup, or if the Devils would even have interest in bringing these guys back. Let’s take a look at each player, what they did for the Devils’ last season and if/how they would fit into the team moving forward.
At the beginning of the season, aside from Jesper Bratt, there may have been no bigger surprise than Brian Gibbons excelling in his role with the Devils. A spark-plug, workman like playstyle of Gibbons was fun to watch and he was putting up crazy numbers given the expectations of him going into the season. On November 25th the Devils beat the Red Wings off of an overtime goal by Brian Gibbons, at that point it was his 11th of the season – leading the entire Devils’ team in that department. An injury did sideline Gibbons for a small portion of the season and after returning to the lineup he wasn’t nearly as effective as he once was.
Gibbons did have the third best primary points/60 of all Devils forwards, only behind Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall, with 1.56 P1/60. But as mentioned early, he did have an absolutely remarkable start to the year which lifted those numbers and then tailed off towards the end. In the end it’s hard to imagine where Gibbons might fit into the Devils next season, aside from in a 13th forward position, as the wings are rather full at the moment.
Things can change but at the moment on the left side Gibbons would have to beat out either Wood or Coleman, which wouldn’t happen in my opinion, and on the right side he’d have to beat out Bratt or Noesen, again probably wouldn’t happen in my opinion. In what is going to a similar theme with all of the Devils’ pending unrestricted free agents, if the Devils were to bring Gibbons back it would be an okay depth signing but if they parted ways with Gibbons it’s not the end of the world.
No. Do not bring Jimmy Hayes back.
I could leave it that, quite easily. But to expand just a little bit more (not a lot)… Hayes doesn’t fit the fast style of play the Devils have, but unlike Maroon he doesn’t bring much to the table. He’s slow, he doesn’t have good hands, he’s okay along the boards, he’s not good defensively, and he’s just not good. He seems like a great guy, a good locker-room presence. But this is a business and Hayes isn’t good enough to warrant the Devils giving up a contract spot for him. He got demolished at even strength this season with a 43.67 corsi% and his expected goals for % is nearly identical at 43.21.
With such a weak crop of unrestricted free agent defensemen, John Moore has somehow catapulted himself to near the top of the list. After three seasons with the Devils I think it’s safe to say it’s time for the Devils to move on from the smooth skating defenseman. While his skating can be fun to watch and his overtime heroics will be missed, Moore’s defensive-acumen is abysmal. He’s just not good defensively and the Devils’ get hemmed into their own zone all too often when he’s on the ice.
Graphs via hockeyviz.com
The heat maps tell the entire story. While John Moore is on the ice, keep in mind he plays on the left side, the Devils give up an enormous amount of opportunities around the left-side of the crease and in the slot area. On the flip side, while Moore is not on the ice the Devils’ defense around their goaltender is great. This shouldn’t be news to Devils’ fans but to see it visualized like this is really telling as to just how bad Moore is defensively. And for a defenseman that’s had a career high of 22 points that level of defense is just not good enough. I’d be much more comfortable having a left-side of Greene, Butcher and Mueller than having Moore featured in that group.
On the surface, Stafford’s 15 points in 59 games is well… not good. Considering he spent some of that time on the top line alongside Nico Hischier and Hart Trophy winner, Taylor Hall, it makes those numbers even worse. Looking more into his numbers, Stafford had the lowest points/60 of any Devils’ forward with 0.70 (stats via corsica.hockey). Defenseman, Steven Santini had and a points/60 of 0.82. Santini. Yes, Stafford was that bad. For a supposed scoring winger the stats certainly don’t flatter Stafford. How was he defensively though?
Graphs via hockeyviz.com
Not good either. The Devils gave up a large amount of shots from Stafford’s apparent man at the right point as well as a glut of opportunities in tight around the left side of the net. Without Stafford the Devils were good at defending down-low and rather let teams shoot from the slot and point area, much less dangerous areas. So Stafford did not help out much offensively and the Devils were better off without him defensively. He seems like a great guy but strong leadership abilities can only go so far. Shero should pass on the chance at re-signing Stafford.
In the first ever trade between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers, Michael Grabner was the main piece coming back to the Devils. At the time of trade it seemed like a perfect fit. Grabner had been playing on the right wing, an area that could be bolstered on the Devils. He’s also one of the fastest players in the league, right up the Devils’ alley, and had scored 20+ even strength goals which the Devils could have certainly used.
But Grabner never found his rhythm with the team. Hynes played him almost exclusively on the left wing, which is odd considering the success he had on the right side. He just looked uncomfortable with the team. Grabner got worked at even strength with a CF% of 45.43 and only tallied five points in 21 games with the Devils. On the flip-side, due to his poor showing with the Devils Grabner may have played himself out of a more lucrative contract and now he may be looking at a short-term deal. If the Devils can sign him a one year contract then it may be worth the risk just to see if, given more time with the team, he can start to shine and provide some much needed secondary scoring.
Of all the pending unrestricted free agents from the Devils’ Patrick Maroon is the most interesting and the one player I hope the Devils actually bring back, depending on the contract. He may be the complete opposite of the fast style of play the Devils employ under Hynes but as his short stint with the team showed, he can still be very effective. For a big guy Maroon has fantastic hands, which when combined with his strength and along the boards/around the net it can make for a dangerous player. The game that clinched the Devils first playoff appearance since 2012, a win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Maroon played a massive role in each of the Devils’ goals. Then he did more of the same in their last, and final regular season, game against the Capitals. He’s effective.
Graphs via hockeyviz.com
With Maroon coming over to the Devils late in the season, the sample size isn’t too large but we can work with what we have. The heat maps above show pretty much exactly what might assume with regards to Maroon’s effect on the team. His strength down-low helps to create a ton of chances around the goal crease and with his silky hands he can make the most of those opportunities for himself and his teammates.
The one caveat in all of this is his contract. He’s 30 years old at the moment and while his game doesn’t rely on speed in the slightest signing him to a contract longer than 3 years is a bit worrisome. The money isn’t much of a concern as the Devils do have cap space to burn and could easily offer him an AAV of $4-5M and be okay. I’d love for the Devils to bring Maroon back but if he’s looking for a contract longer than four seasons then I’d be a be hesitant. He’s good but there should still be a limit as to how far Shero should go to pursue Maroon’s services.