The New Jersey Devils stayed somewhat quiet on the free agency front as the annual “free agent frenzy” began on July 1. Some factors in this are, of course, the somewhat weaker class of free agents available, the sense that new General Manager Ray Shero did not want to rush into things with a stop gap and risk giving out a bad deal to a player or hurt the team’s overall development as it looks to rebuild for the coming years and the fact that GMs around the league were more subdued this year and did not go too nuts with the contracts that they did give out to players.
Some of the bigger deals around the NHL were former Caps defenseman Mike Green getting three years from Detroit (for about $6 million/year as is being reported), former Winnipeg Jet Michael Frolik going to Calgary for five years/$4.3 million per year and former Devils and Penguins defenseman Paul Martin to San Jose for four years/$4.85 million according to TSN) which were some of the better deals made this July 1. The Edmonton Oilers also made a splash on the heels of drafting Connor McDavid by signing Mark Letestu and Andrej Sekera.
But one of the most intriguing (at least in the eyes of the media, namely SportsNet who devoted most of their “Signing Season” show that was simulcast on the NHL Network to it once it went down) deals of the day was a trade. Toronto traded Phil Kessel, Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon and a 2nd round draft pick in 2016 to Pittsburgh for Scott Harrington, Kasperi Kapanen, Nick Spaling and “first and third round picks in 2016” according to NHL.com. The Leafs will also retain $1.25 million per year on Kessel’s contract. There are reportedly conditions on the draft picks for Toronto, depending on whether Pittsburgh makes or does not make the playoffs next season, but the deal seems pretty solid for both teams. The Maple Leafs get rid of Kessel, who has not been a good fit for them and the Pens get another top six winger who should thrive with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to take some of the scoring pressure off of him. The Penguins are once again investing a lot in their offense and it seems like they will be boom or bust as far as their “big three” go. One thing is for certain, should they stay healthy, there will be a lot of firepower in Pittsburgh again next year.
The other major trade to go down on July 1 was Vancouver sending Zack Kassian and a 2015 5th round pick to Montreal for Brandon Prust. July 1 was just the tip of the iceberg for trades, however. Things started at the Draft and have been ongoing. The Bruins sending Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for 2015 Draft picks showed that the Flames were serious about moving to the next level, something that they demonstrated again when they signed Frolik.
But the blockbuster trade prior to July 1 was the Blue Jackets acquiring Brandon Saad, Michael Paliotta and Alexander Broadhurst from the Stanley Cup champs for Artem Anisimov, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, Marko Dano and a 4th round pick in 2016. The key here, besides Saad making Columbus a better team right away, is Dano. It was brought up on SportsNet’s “Signing Season” panel show that Dano was the player that Chicago is really high on and that he was what they were looking for. The Blackhawks do not have a lot of cap space and needed to get rid of a contract like Saad’s. What they got in return should make them happy.
Although the Devils did not make an immediate splash, they did make one signing: former Coyotes defenseman John Moore came into the New Jersey fold with a three-year/$1.6 million contract. What the 24 year-old Moore gives the Devils is a left-handed shot on defense and a little more depth on the blueline. Although it seems like a small move, this deal could have far-reaching consequences for the Devils, should they decide to make a trade or even just to have a little extra to work with on the backend. The 6-foot 3-inch, 200 pound native of Winnetka, Illinois had 2 goals and 9 assists for 11 points last year between the Rangers and Coyotes. He also had 30 penalty minutes and won a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships with Team USA. He has played five seasons in the NHL with Columbus, New York and Arizona amassing 230 games. He has nine goals, 31 assists for a career total of 40 points and 70 penalty minutes over those 230 games.
The Devils also made a move to sign 2011 draft pick Blake Coleman to an entry level contract. The 5-foot, 11-inch, 200 pound native of Plano, Texas just completed his fourth season with Miami of Ohio. He had 20 goals, 17 assists for 37 points in 37 games for the Red Hawks, including a hat trick in the NCHC tournament finals against St. Cloud State. He was also named the NCHC Offensive Player of the Week ending November 2. He was the Devils’ second choice, 75th overall in the third round of the 2011 Entry Draft. With this entry level contract, Coleman will attend the Devils’ training camp in September.
Overall for the Devils, the first day of free agency was pretty quiet. Chances are, however, that New Jersey is not done this offseason. Trades can still happen and, as certain players stay free agents longer, things become more desperate for them as the season begins to rapidly approach. Teams can get bargains then. July 1 is just the first day of a long offseason signing period.