No one could have expected that the New Jersey Devils would improve by 16 wins from last season to this season, transforming from a bottom feeder to a playoff team. The team added impact rookies Nico Hischier and Will Butcher and traded for defenseman Sami Vatanen, but also lost Adam Henrique in that deal and watched 2016-17 top-six forwards Mike Cammalleri and P.A. Parenteau depart. Yet, the team took a major leap forward with only a marginal improvement to their roster. Hoping for a repeat in that trend, NJ.com’s Chris Ryan reports that GM Ray Shero has been given the “green light” by the Devils to spend in free agency this summer.
New Jersey enters the 2018 off-season with substantial cap space. A bottom-five spender this season, the team is likely to lose Patrick Maroon, Michael Grabner, Drew Stafford, and Jimmy Hayes to free agency, which will open up even more room. They will also finally be rid of Ryane Clowe’s cap hit. Even if the team was to hang on to defenseman John Moore, goaltender Eddie Lack, or forward Brian Gibbons, they would still have more than enough space to make a significant splash this summer.
Ryan addresses several players who Devils fans are intrigued by in his mailbag. He begins by throwing water on the idea that New Jersey will be in hot pursuit of John Tavares if he hits the open market. Seeing as Tavares will command a seven-year deal that could approach nine figures, Ryan rules the Devils out as a destination. New Jersey has its star center of the future in Hischier and must pay he and Hart finalist Taylor Hall in the next few years. However, Ryan does not shy away from any other recommended targets.
Among those other players the Devils could pursue are defenseman John Carlson, who would be the biggest name on the market if Tavares re-signs with the Islanders, fellow blue liners Mike Green and Calvin de Haan, and big winger James van Riemsdyk. Ryan rules out a reunion with Ilya Kovalchuk, but New Jersey could also be a destination for other stars of yesteryear like Joe Thornton or Rick Nash. Evander Kane, Paul Stastny, David Perron and James Neal are other top names who could wind up in Newark.
Ryan does add that the Devils may be content to sign just one of the big-name players on this summer’s free agent market. Given the luck he had making a blockbuster trade this year, Shero could surely explore the trade market instead of exclusively signing free agents. He may also want to give time to forward prospects like Michael McLeod and Joey Anderson, after Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Blake Coleman found success this year. It will be a busy off-season one way or another for New Jersey and will continue to be a fun process of building a contender for team members and fans alike.