Free Agent Frenzy Begins

It’s Canada Day (happy 150th to our neighbors north of the border, by the way), which can only mean one thing: free agency for the NHL kicked off today at 12 noon. The Devils made their moves and helped nudge the team a little bit further into the future.

The movement began last night when New Jersey announced that it was placing Michael Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out their contracts.

According to Chris Ryan of (whose source is CapFriendly) “Cammalleri’s buyout will carry a $1,666,667 cap hit for the next four seasons.” He was due an average of $5 million over the next two years. Smith-Pelly’s contract buyout comes with a cap hit of $175,000 in 2017-18 and $225,000 in 2018-19. He was owed $1.3 million for next year.

Cammalleri, 35 years old and coming off of a rough, injury shortened season had just 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points last year for the Devils. He also missed time due to personal reasons when his daughter was ill. He quickly landed on his feet, however, signing a one-year, $1 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings. He started his career in LA, so this will be a bit of a homecoming for him. He gets an extra year to kind of prove he still has enough left in the tank, a reprieve so to say.

That brought us to today, with the Devils having the most cap room to work with in the National Hockey League at $27,680,832.

With those subtractions came an addition: former Ranger and Maple Leaf Brian Boyle came aboard for two years at $2.55 million. Boyle, now 32 years old, had 13 goals and 12 assists for 25 points in 75 games split last season between Tampa Bay and Toronto. He has a career total of 93 goals and 76 assists for 169 points over 624 games.

But what he brings is not necessarily scoring output. He is one of the best fourth line centers in the NHL currently, giving the Devils good depth and is a great character guy. He will bring leadership to the locker room and a compete level that coach John Hynes and general manager Ray Shero desire. He should be a good mentor to many of the younger forwards that the Devils possess. He is also an excellent faceoff guy.

He was specifically brought in to Toronto last season at the trading deadline in order to add veteran leadership and playoff experience as Lou Lamoriello’s young team was making a push towards the postseason. He will be serving a similar mentoring role with the Devils in getting the (also young) team in a position to compete game in and game out.

Elsewhere on this crazy first day of free agency, the Devils lost forward Beau Bennett to the St. Louis Blues and defenseman Seth Helgeson to the New York Islanders.

One other player the Devils were supposedly in the running for, but lost out on, was Washington Capitals defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was the biggest name in this year’s free agent class. He would eventually sign with the Rangers, to the surprise of absolutely no one who has been paying attention to the New Rochelle, New York native’s desire to play for his childhood team. The Devils were rumored to have been offering seven years at $7 million per year, but I was unable to find anything to confirm that. He did take less term with New York (four years at $6.65 million) to play for his favorite team.

The only way I could have seen the Devils pry Shattenkirk from Broadway was if the Rangers really did not have the amount of interest in him that they were claiming (likely as a negotiating ploy) and they (the Devils) could play the “local area” card. But in the end, you had to know this was coming. The Rangers wanted him and he wanted to go there.

Although the Devils were never likely in the running for the talented, puck-moving power play specialist, the fact that Shero made as strong a push for him as he did is good. In the end, the Devils were just not in a position to contend yet/not as sexy an option for Shattenkirk.

But the Devils made an improvement in Boyle while the loss of Bennett for nothing is kind of disheartening. They also got younger and more hungry in parting ways with Cammalleri and Smith-Pelly. There are still trades to be made in the coming days and you have to assume that the Devils will be active there. There is also still the Ilya Kovalchuk question: is he coming back to the NHL (at this point his “wish list” of places to land has been whittled down to the Blue Jackets, Rangers and Maple Leafs) or is he staying in Russia?

Time will tell exactly what the Devils and Ray Shero have up their sleeves.

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