Editor’s Note: The following piece solely represents opinions of the writer, and does not reflect the entire Devils Army Blog staff.
It’s been three days since the New Jersey Devils concluded their 2017-18 campaign. While the wounds may still be fresh, there’s plenty to be excited about with this team going into the offseason. Most of us are confident Ray Shero will find ways to further improve this team, which will inevitably bring some degree of change on next year’s squad. This won’t happen without players from the current roster not returning, so between their seven unrestricted free agents and glut of young forwards they can use as trade bait, New Jersey’s roster will look different six months from now.
While there are some obvious candidates like Michael Grabner, Jimmy Hayes, and Drew Stafford we can all agree have played their last games in a Devils uniform, there are other more established lineup players that I believe will follow suit — many the fanbase is largely divided on seeing return.
John Moore…It seems just as many fans praise Moore for his offensive prowess as there are that ridicule his defensive mishaps. After bouncing around between teams, Moore has settled comfortably in New Jersey over the last three years. Not only did he establish career-highs in goals, points, and became a renowned overtime hero, he proved capable of being a lineup regular, having played in 217 games the last three seasons.
While he certainly deserves a raise from his current $1.66 million salary, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Moore tries to at least double his next contract’s salary. At this stage in his career, Moore is also probably seeking a long-term deal. I can’t see Shero offering anything longer than three years, whereas Moore is probably seeking four to six in his next contract. A better case could have been made for Moore if he could have built on his career numbers from last year, but I ultimately can’t see Shero willing to meet his contractual demands.
Patrick Maroon…Maroon’s performance distracted most Devils fans from how bad the Michael Grabner trade worked out. He had three goals and 13 points in 17 games for the Devils, along with scoring a goal in the playoffs. Although Maroon is on the slow side and his style of play contrasts with Coach Hynes’ fast-skating system, he provided the Devils with a much-needed physical presence in the corners and created a lot of scoring chances in front of the net. Maroon is coming off a season where he tallied 17 goals and 43 points, his second consecutive 40-point campaign.
It’s unlikely Shero is willing to pay Maroon anything higher than $3.5 million, especially considering his expiring contract has a $2 million price tag that he’ll definitely try and bolster. Like Moore, I can’t see Shero willing to meet Maroon’s projected demands for his next contract, even if the 29-year old winger has interest in returning. That said, does it really make sense for the Devils to commit to a 4th-9th forward when they have so many promising youngsters coming up the pipeline? While Maroon’s size and physicality was a welcomed addition down the stretch, he becomes expendable when you enter a time like the offseason, where teams have more of a cleaner slate to work with.
Ben Lovejoy…Whether it’s a buyout or Shero somehow finds a trade partner, I think it’s safe to say Ben Lovejoy’s days as a Devil are over. After appearing in all 82 games last season, he played just 57 in 2017-18, mainly due to being a healthy scratch so often in the first half of the year. Lovejoy played significantly less ice time this year (16:35) compared to 2016-17 (20:46), while his defensive blunders seem to stand out and result in costlier consequences than the team’s other defensemen. Fans were also frustrated at how Lovejoy seemed to meander his way back into being regularly featured in the lineup and continued slipping through the cracks going into the postseason.
Granted Lovejoy is a respectable hitter and shot-blocker, he brings virtually no offense. In addition, his veteran presence among the Devil’s young blueliners — which was one of the positive aspects I tried extenuating when he was first signed — doesn’t seem as necessary between the acquisition of Sami Vatanen and valuable playing experience players like Damon Severson and Will Butcher gained this postseason. While it’s possible the Devils could lose two lineup regulars on their blue line in Moore and Lovejoy, younger players like Steve Santini or a future acquisition with a more established track record can fill those voids, and hopefully bring more of a two-way presence on New jersey’s backend.