Analyzing the Devils’ Restricted Free Agents

Introduction

What an exciting time it is to be a New Jersey Devils fan. Entering the offseason, the Devils own the first overall pick in the upcoming entry draft, a plethora of cap space, and a nice young core. However, like every offseason, comes the question: who will be back? This article will break down every one of the New Jersey Devils’ restricted free agents (RFA) and analyze if the player is worth being brought back and at what price. Keep in mind, restricted free agency works a little differently than typical unrestricted free agency. An RFA is under complete control of the team. The only way that a player walks is if the team wishes not to tender the player a qualifying offer. 

Defenseman Connor Carrick was acquired from the Dallas Stars. (Ed Mullholland – USA TODAY)

Devils’ NHLers

Stefan Noesen

Forward Stefan Noesen was only able to appear in 41 games for the red and black as he was hampered by an injury. In those 41 games, he tallied eight points (3G, 5A) and a staggering -19 rating. His Corsi For % (CF%) of 46.54 percent put him in the bottom-tier of Devils forwards this year. However, Noesen’s 2017-18 campaign was impressive as he racked up 27 points in 72 games along with an above average 50.2 CF% rating. With the way the Devils are trying to play – with speed – Noesen does not really fit that mold. I would not expect the Devils to tender Noesen as this would pay him close to two-million dollars a year. Those funds can be allocated somewhere more pressing.

Pavel Zacha

What an interesting case this former sixth-overall pick has turned out to be. In what was a tumultuous start to the season ended up being predominantly positive as he totaled 21 points in his last 33 games. This pace would be good for 52 points over an 82-game season. Given Zacha’s stellar defensive talent, a 52-point output like that would be welcomed. Definitely expect general manager Ray Shero to tender Zacha. Given his draft position and his solid offensive stretch at the end of the season, it is a no-brainer. Another option for Shero would be a bridge deal. This will enable the Devils to lock up Zacha beyond just one year, however, they may be reluctant to do this as he has yet to put up the output needed to warrant that commitment. 

Connor Carrick

Thanks to a trade with the Dallas Stars, the Devils landed defenseman Connor Carrick. He ended up appearing in 20 games with the Devils and held his own. His Relative Corsi For (Rel CF %) of -1.0 is slightly below average, but not terrible for what would be a strictly third pairing depth defenseman. A qualifying offer to Carrick would see him get paid around the million-dollar mark. Ultimately, Carrick’s ceiling is a bottom pairing/depth defenseman and serves his role well. Expect the Devils to qualify him and bring him back to serve that role.

Will Butcher

What may be the easiest decision of all the restricted free agents is Will Butcher. It is a no-brainer to bring him back, however, it may get a little complicated. He is no doubt one of the Devils’ best defensemen, and this is evident by the fact Butcher led all Devils defensemen in Rel CF%, Expected Goals For % (xGF%), and only trailed Damon Severson in points. The Devils will most certainly tender Butcher to ensure he does not become an unrestricted free agent. However, beyond that it gets complicated. He is due well more than his $874,125 qualifying offer, and Shero will need to lock him up long term. If not, Butcher can very much bring the negotiations to arbitration as he does have this right. All-in-all, it’ll be interesting to see how the Devils and Butcher ultimately get settled on a deal. 

Mirco Mueller

Since a trade with the San Jose Sharks that involved a second-round pick going the other way, defenseman Mirco Mueller has been – to say the least – disappointing. In his two-year tenure with the Devils, Mueller has compiled a 47.4 CF% which is below average and also has failed to stay healthy. If they choose to bring back the struggling defenseman, it would only be at a $971,250 price tag. However, do not be a bit surprised if Mueller isn’t in the red and black come next season. A log jam of depth defenseman – Connor Carrick and Steven Santini – can prove to be Mueller’s demise. With the inevitable upgrades coming to the Devils defense-core, there simply may be no room to keep Mueller. This, coupled with his underwhelming performance most likely results in Mueller not being tendered by the Devils.

Sophomore defenseman Will Butcher will have a huge test ahead of him tonight. -NJ.com

Devils’ AHLers

John Quenneville

While Pavel Zacha was most likely the interesting thing to monitor last season, John Quenneville may have come a close second for many. After absolutely tearing up at the AHL-level, it just didn’t gel for Quenneville at in the NHL. He racked up 39 points in only 37 games in Binghamton. He, along with Michael McLeod, were easily the best forwards Binghamton had. However, he only had one goal in 19 games, so Shero will have a very tough decision to make.

It seems as if Quenneville has always been in head coach John Hynes’ doghouse so that’ll be interesting if that plays a factor in deciding on whether or not to qualify Quenneville. Ultimately, I would expect the Devils tender and offer him a qualifying offer. There really is not any reason not to as the contract would only pay $787,500. If Quenneville doesn’t pan out, there’s always the option to trade him or utilize his AHL talents.

Brandon Baddock

Many Devils fans probably have not heard of forward Brandon Baddock. The 2014 sixth-round selection has appeared in 120 AHL games, scoring 17 points and racking up 263 penalty minutes. Baddock’s edgy, enforcer-like style will most likely never land him a job in the NHL as the scoring talent is not there. However, he is a good locker room guy and does his part in making sure the other young kids in the farm system are protected on the ice via his toughness. Expect the Devils to extend Baddock a qualifying offer, which would only cost $715,000, to allow him to continue serving as that AHL enforcer on Binghamton’s fourth line.

Josh Jacobs

The Binghamton Devils did not have any really promising defensive prospects play for them last year. However, one exemption to this would be defenseman Josh Jacobs. He possesses the traits to serve as a solid NHL defensive defenseman. Extending a qualifying offer to Jacobs is a no-brainer so expect to see him within the Devils system again next season.

Ryan Murphy

The former Minnesota Wild defenseman was acquired via trade earlier in the season. The 26-year-old appeared in 23 games, tallying 10 points and a -16 rating. His play was a bit disappointing as someone who has had NHL experience and is a former early selection that should have performed better. He is better than some of the other options Binghamton currently has on defense, so I expect the Devils to give Murphy a qualifying offer. However, if they make some moves defensively and add defensive depth in the minors, Murphy can be the odd man out given his disappointing performance down the stretch. 

Cam Johnson

In 29 appearances for the Binghamton Devils goaltender, Cam Johnson compiled a .872 save percentage and 3.79 goals against average. The save percentage ranked him last in the AHL (47 qualified), and the goal against average ranked 46th. Johnson didn’t have much in front of him in terms of talent, however, he still performed way below average. With the emergence of Evan Cormier, who owned a .902 save percentage, I do not expect Cam Johnson to be back in the Devils system.

Forward John Quenneville had a terrific season for Binghamton in the AHL. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Conclusion

In most cases, a team retains most of its restricted free agents. However, there are always a couple that do not warrant a qualifying offer. Of their RFAs the Devils have this year, it’ll be certainly interesting to watch negotiations with Will Butcher, Pavel Zacha, and John Quenneville. Do not be surprised if names like Stefan Noesen, Mirco Mueller, Ryan Murphy, or Cam Johnson are not qualified. Stay tuned for a second article addressing the unrestricted free agents.

** All contract information courtesy of Capfriendly.com **

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