Will the Devils dabble in the UFA market?

nhlRay Shero will have the green light to spend money this summer and with it, plenty of cash to do so…but will he? His first order of business will most likely be to lock up his own assets. As previously discussed here, Kyle Palmieri is an RFA due for a big raise and Shero will have to make decisions on Devante Smith-Pelly, Reid Boucher and Sergei Kalinin. Additionally, bigger decisions on role players like Patrik Elias, Jacob Josefson, Bobby Farhnam, Steven Gionta, Jordin Tootoo and David Schlemko will need to be addressed. Some will be re-signed but many will be let go leaving the Devils with quite a few holes to fill.

In my last article, I wrote that the Devils were likely to be busier around the draft, looking to make smart trades for player(s) that fit into the long-term vision of Shero & Co. There will also be opportunity from within, as many younger guys will be given every chance to earn a spot on the big club. But adding a player or two come July 1, is also something Shero will consider and likely do. Thing is, there aren’t many guys that I believe fit into his “younger, faster, manageable” long-term plan.

Fact is, save for Stamkos (no chance), Okposo and Lucic, there’s very few quality top 6 forwards under 30 years old in this year’s crop, let alone many who’ve scored more than 20 goals a year…and you can bet most of them will be seeking deals north of $5M per. Will the Devils dabble?

 

Let’s take a look at some of 2016’s top UFA targets:

Milan Lucic: Solid player if not streaky scorer. He could cost upwards of $7 million annually on a seven-year deal to sign him and there will be plenty of teams willing to open their checkbooks.

Frans Nielson, NYI: His 20-goal, 52-point performance this year marked the second time in the last three seasons he’s reached those plateaus. He has good hockey instincts and strong playmaking abilities while being effective on the power play and penalty kill. He’s not overly physical and injuries have hampered him in the past. At 32, he’s not someone the Devils should look to invest long term in.

Mikkel Boedker, COL: A big name at this year’s trade deadline, he has tremendous speed and good playmaking skills from either wing. His offensive production tends to be streaky and he’s not a physical presence in the least. That’ll likely cost some team $5M+ annually.

Andrew Laad, CHI: Apparently he’s looking for $6M over 5 years. Nice player, good leader but no one wants to pay that for a guy on the wrong side of 30. He’s not exactly first line material anymore either.

David Backes, STL (32): Blues captain and solid two-way player will also be seeking to break the bank this summer. His career high was 62 points back in 2010-11 and at 32 is also not in the Devils’ best interest.

Loui Ericksson, LAK (31): Puts up solid numbers and will be sought after come July 1. Again, he’ll soon be 31 and playing well past his prime. No doubt he’ll be seeking a 4 or 5-year deal around $6M.

Troy Brouwer, STL (30): No doubt looking to capitalize on a really nice playoff performance. For a modest price, he could be someone St. Louis looks to retain.

Eric Staal: The face of the Hurricanes franchise, he struggled to fit in with the Rangers post-deadline and throughout their short-lived playoff run. Staal’s performance has steadily declined since 2013-14 and worse, the 31-year-old is coming off a crippling seven-year, $57.75 million contract and is no longer an elite NHL player. Should be interesting to see who ponies up and for how much.

Kyle Okposo: The 28-year-old is a good skater with sound offensive instincts. He exceeded the 20-goal mark (22) for the third time in his career and exceeded 60 points (64) for the second time in the past three seasons. Despite those stats, there’s a sense he’s yet to reach his prime. While injuries have been an issue in the past, he’ll be rewarded handsomely this summer. Expect a six or seven-year deal worth over $6 million per season.

Lee Stempniak, BOS: With 51 points in 82 games split between the Bruins and New Jersey Devils, the 33-year-old Stempniak was a bargain this season. He’ll be seeking a raise for next season. Could the Devils lure him back on a short-term deal?

Alex Goligoski, DAL (30): The only D-Man on this list, but the Devils would be well served to add a puck-moving defenseman. The 30-year-old is an effective, big-minute guy with solid offensive skills. He may be a good fit on the back end of the price is right.

 

Of this crop, Kyle Okposo makes the most sense and would be a great addition for the Devils, but he’ll surely have no shortage of suitors for his services, which could make him unattainable. Stempniak is a familiar face and put up some of his best numbers in his brief stint in NJ—perhaps he’ll take a discount and come cheaper than many on this list.

Fact is, the Devils don’t need a guy who’s on the downside of his career an aging scorer. I don’t believe the UFA market isn’t the forum in which Shero will look to build out this team moving forward. And while he has the room, I personally I don’t think Shero should use up all his cap space to fill out a roster that’s still a work in progress. While they have a solid core, they’re at least one more season away from adding that impact type UFA to put them over the top.

Unfortunately, as Larry Brooks from the NY POST pointed out, “Even at this early date, there are just six ‘difference-makers’ currently in line to hit free agency over the next three summers, as follows: 2016: Steven Stamkos; 2017: Victor Hedman, Brent Burns, Jamie Benn; 2018: John Tavares, Carey Price.”

Seems like the Devils will have to rely heavily on good drafting, developing their own talent and getting players through smart hockey trades. We’ll see what the Devils do. Should be an interesting summer to say the least. I, for one, can’t wait.

 

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