The New Jersey Devils announced Wednesday that they’ve signed free agent defenseman Cal Foote to a one-year, two-way contract. Per the team, the deal is worth $800K at the NHL level and $350K at the AHL level, with $450K in minimum guaranteed salary.
Foote is now with his third NHL organization after being drafted 14th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017. Tampa dealt him to the Nashville Predators a few months back as part of the return for winger Tanner Jeannot. In the Garden State, he links up with younger brother Nolan Foote, who New Jersey selected 27th overall two years later. Unfortunately for Cal, while he’s gotten more than just a cup of coffee in the big leagues so far, his impact has come in a depth role only.
The 24-year-old right-shot has gotten NHL action in every season since making his debut in 2020-21, recording five goals, 14 assists and 19 points while posting a combined +21 rating, but he’s averaged just 13:47 of ice time per game in 141 career appearances. Splitting last season between Tampa and Nashville, Foote notched two goals, five assists and seven points in 50 games and saw a slight increase in ice time post-trade, logging 16:07 per game, but was still largely limited to a bottom-pairing role. Without doing much to impress Nashville’s brass, and a regime change occurring this offseason with Barry Trotz taking over as general manager, the Predators opted to non-tender Foote in June, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Foote grades out poorly in most advanced metrics, especially last season when he recorded a subpar 46% Corsi For at even strength and an expected plus/minus of -6.8 based on shot quality generated and conceded while Foote was on the ice. He’s also posted quite a poor penalty differential, with his physicality generating 63 penalty minutes last season despite the limited usage (meaning he wasn’t drawing many penalties himself). There’s definitely some concern about his long-term ceiling, especially given he couldn’t post strong results with a championship-caliber team in Tampa.
Defensemen may take longer to develop, but there are few indications of long-term NHL viability in Foote’s game at this point. There is first-round pedigree, however, and it’s hard to complain about a two-way buriable contract. At worst, Foote will play a heavy role in the minors with the AHL’s Utica Comets, adding to a strong group of up-and-coming defenders in New Jersey’s system.
Of note, Foote was a member of the 2018 Canadian World Junior roster that’s under investigation for an alleged group sexual assault. The NHL is expected to announce the results of its own independent investigation into the matter before the 2023-24 campaign starts. As James Nichols of New Jersey Hockey Now notes, Foote’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, has stated Foote “was not involved in any way.”