It has been a very quiet offseason for the Devils. After they were a surprise entrant into the playoffs last season, New Jersey hasn’t made a single acquisition of note while letting late-season pickups in wingers Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon go. While part of that could be attributable to the team opting to simply stay the course if they couldn’t land the specific free agents they wanted (such as Maroon and winger James van Riemsdyk), their caution may also be due to what could be on the horizon next summer.
Looking ahead to next offseason, quite a few notable players will be in need of new contracts. Goalie Keith Kinkaid, who took over as the starter late in the year, is a pending unrestricted free agent as is forward Marcus Johansson, their key acquisition last summer. Veteran center Brian Boyle and blueliner Ben Lovejoy are also pending UFAs. On the RFA side, defenseman Will Butcher had a strong rookie year and if he follows that up with a similar sophomore campaign, he’ll be in line for a considerable raise. If center Pavel Zacha takes a step forward in 2018-19, he’ll land himself a nice bump in pay as well.
On top of that group, three of their top players will be in line for extensions next summer as well, headlined by MVP winger Taylor Hall. It’s going to cost considerably more than the $6MM he’s currently getting to lock him up long-term and forego testing the open market. His linemate in 2017 first-overall pick Nico Hischier will also be within a year of restricted free agency and will undoubtedly make a whole lot more than his $925K base salary, the maximum for players on entry-level deals. Defenseman Sami Vatanen, who took over as New Jersey’s top rearguard upon being acquired from Anaheim, is also going to be in the same boat as Hall and will be looking at a multi-million per year raise.
That’s a lot of players who will need to be addressed in the next dozen or so months so keeping lots of flexibility isn’t necessarily a bad way to go. No team has more cap room than the Devils at the moment so they have the ability to add if someone comes available at the right price or they can stand pat and hope for continued progression for their young players with the intention of being in the mix for a playoff spot once again. Whichever route they take, the Devils are going to go from one of the most inactive teams this summer to one of the more active ones next offseason.