I do not think that it is any kind of exaggeration to say that today, July 28, 2021, will go down as one of the biggest days in the history of the New Jersey Devils franchise.
The Devils addressed some huge organizational needs and pulled in the biggest fish on the market.
Let’s start with goaltending. The Devils filled that need today when they signed a true 1B to go with Mackenzie Blackwood. Jonathan Bernier was brought in from the Hurricanes – signed to a two-year, $8.25-million contract. It has an annual average value of $4,650,000.
The 32-year-old was brought to New Jersey after talking to franchise legend Martin Brodeur. When negotiations with the Carolina Hurricanes broke down for Bernier, Marty was there to convince the Quebec-native to come to the Devils. Bernier’s rights had been traded to Carolina from the Detroit Red Wings last week, but the sides could not come to an agreement.
Bernier has a 161-159-39 NHL record, a ,913 save percentage and a 2.77 goals against average. Playing for the LA Kings in 2012, he has his name on the Stanley Cup as a member of their team that defeated the Devils in the Final according to the Devils’ press release on the subject put out by the team.
Good signing, maybe a little high on value, but not too bad considering it is only for two-years and the Devils have the cap room to make it work.
They had plenty of cap room to begin with, but now have even more wiggle room as today they traded defenseman Will Butcher to the Buffalo Sabres along with the Devils’ fifth-round pick in 2022 in exchange for future considerations.
This was a move made because, with the Devils resigning Jonas Siegenthaler, to go with an already crowded left side, he was pretty much expendable. Butcher had already essentially hit his NHL ceiling. He is not as mobile as most blueliners and that is a hinderance. Butcher would have been a very expensive press box addition in the long run and he was traded to Buffalo largely so he keep playing and not be a healthy scratch night after night.
The Devils also signed Chase DeLeo to a one-year, two-way contract worth $750,000 at he NHL level and $350,000 in the AHL. This information comes from John Fischer of the SBNation All About the Jersey Blog.
The DeLeo signing was largely for the Utica Comets, as he will be filling some roster space in the American League. The smaller, 25-year-old forward has played in 365 career AHL games, as per All About the Jersey, most recently with the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks affiliate). Over those games, Fischer notes that he has scored at a 0.6 point per game pace.
Finally, the big piece, the centerpiece of NHL free agency this off season: Dougie Hamilton.
It has been confirmed by Darren Dreger of TSN via Twitter that the Devils came to on a seven-year, $63 million contract with Hamilton. The Devils have since confirmed things as well via press release.
The former Hurricane will make an AAV of $9 million, a little less than the projected amount it would take to sign him, making this a really good contract for both Dougie and the Devils. For comparison, Seth Jones is making about $500,000 more on his new deal in Chicago.
The next closest team vying for him was his former employer, the Carolina Hurricanes. There offer was significantly lower while offering one more year of term – the Hurricanes, being the team he played for last year, could negotiate an eighth year of term.
What can be said? Firstly, Dougie is easily the biggest free agent the Devils have ever brought to New Jersey. He was the biggest fish in NHL free agency and we reeled him in. On a personal note, after years of watching other teams nab high-priced, high-reward free agents, it was great to see the Devils make this splash.
Secondly, what does Hamilton bring to the Devils? Well, he’s a big defenseman at 6-foot, 6-inches. He’s mobile and can skate. As Lindy Ruff put it in the Devils’ press release on the signing: he can “stabilize the game in all situations” which “will be key for our team.”
Accumulative-stats wise, he has 106 goals and 235 assists (341 points – .56 points per game according to the press release) to go with 390 penalty minutes over 607 regular season NHL games.
Last season, with Carolina, according to Natural Stat Trick, he ate up 938:57 in ice time, six of his 12 assists were primaries and he had a shooting percentage of 4.44, off 135 total shots – all over 55 games.
So there you have it: the Devils’ 2021 free agency haul. It was time for the team to use their cap space to their advantage in order to take the next step in their process. Ownership showed that they have no trouble spending when the time is right, which was a concern for some fans prior to this off season.
Overall, in one fell swoop, the Devils got significantly better, smartly.
October cannot come fast enough!