The Devils have made quite a few moves throughout the 2020 NHL Offseason. Tom Fitzgerald & Co. have traded for forward Andreas Johnsson and defenseman Ryan Murray and signed goaltender Cory Crawford. New Jersey still has around $17.2 million remaining in cap space per CapFriendly, but what should the Devils do with the remaining money?
Re-sign Jesper Bratt and MacKenzie Blackwood
Jesper Bratt and MacKenzie Blackwood are vital parts of the Devils core going forward, but both are RFA’s. Bratt put up 32 points through 60 games in 2019-20, with 16 goals and 16 assists. Blackwood on the other hand went 22-14-8 in his official rookie campaign, posting a .915 save percentage.
Bratt is a top-six winger for the Devils and I believe that he could get even better. The sky is the limit for the 22-year-old winger. Bratt alternates between the first and second lines but was wrongfully benched by former head coach John Hynes in 2019. He developed chemistry with fellow linemate Nikita Gusev and they were fun to watch together. Both have play-making abilities and combining their skill sets can make a really scary force is Bratt is re-signed. If I were Tom Fitzgerald, I would sign Bratt to a three-year contract worth $3.2 million AAV. If Bratt looks good on a three-year contract Tom Fitzgerald should lock him up for more years to come along with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.
MacKenzie Blackwood can be the goalie of the future for the Devils. He reminds many fans of a young Martin Brodeur. During 2019-20 he looked exceptional. He stood on his head during many games against really good opponents and bailed out a somewhat depleted Devils defense many times. The 23-year-old was the best goalie in the NHL in February 2020 going 6-0-1 with a .967 save percentage during that span. He was also in the conversation for the Calder Trophy before the Devils season was cut short due to COVID-19. If the Devils re-sign Blackwood, they should give him a 3-year contract for $8.4 million with $2.4 million AAV. Blackwood has shown that he can be a reliable goaltender and locking him up for 3 more years would benefit the Devils core as he is a big piece.
Sign another free agent
There are still quite a few free agents left unsigned at the moment, and considering the Devils would have some space left after re-signing Bratt and Blackwood they should look at some of these players to upgrade the roster.
This has to be the most notable free-agent available. Mike Hoffman has been a proven playmaker throughout his career. In 2019-20 he played 69 games and finished with 29 goals, 30 assists, and 59 points. He put together an exceptional season and it is a bit surprising that he is still on the board. For the Devils, he is a player worth looking at. The Devils averaged 2.68 goals last season, 7th lowest in the league. The 31-year-old would be a solid addition because he is a proven goal scorer and that would really help the Devils. If Hoffman is signed by New Jersey it would make the top line very scary. Hoffman at left-wing, Hischier at center, and Palmieri at right-wing would be a goal-scoring machine.
The problem would be how the Devils could fit him in with some of the cap space gone. If the Devils sign Hoffman to a one-year deal worth $7 million, they would have about $3 million to fill four roster spots. If New Jersey starts next season with Nick Merkley, Janne Kuokkanen, Jesper Boqvist, and Ty Smith it would add $3.47 million to their cap. In order to bring Hoffman to the Brick City, the Devils would need to sign him to a little under $7 million. It depends on if Hoffman would take less on a one-year deal to play on a Devils team with lots to offer.
If the Devils want to sign a cheaper option at left-wing, Anthony Duclair is an option. Duclair had a good season in 2019-20 before the hiatus. He had 40 points in 66 games with 23 goals and 17 assists on a somewhat weak Ottawa Senators team. Duclair is still a younger player at 25-years-old. If he picks up where he left off his production would improve the Devils lineup which had goal scoring difficulty in 2020. The speedy Duclair would fit well on a team coached by Lindy Ruff. Ruff likes to play fast, and he would fit perfectly. He could also fit on one of the Devils’ top lines, but he could move up depending on how he and other players play. The Devils badly need more offensive production, and this is a player who could improve the powerplay and the 5 on 5 lineup. If New Jersey signs Duclair, they should sign him for one year for $1.6 million.
First off the Devils need to re-sign RFA’s Jesper Bratt and MacKenzie Blackwood. They are vital to the Devils core going forward. It is also necessary to sign players who will most likely have roster spots in 2021. If the Devils sign Mike Hoffman it may cause issues with cap space unless Hoffman signs for cheaper. Duclair would be a serviceable option at left-wing as well but for a cheaper price. Both would fit on a Devils team that needs goal scoring.