Free agency is now just under a month away and many teams are already looking ahead to when it opens up. There will be several prominent players set to hit the open market in late July while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign as well.
Key Restricted Free Agents
F Yegor Sharangovich – A fifth-round pick of New Jersey in 2018, the Belarusian-born Sharangovich burst onto the scene in his first NHL season in 2020-21. His 16-goal, 30-point season was rather unexpected and was good enough to put Sharangovich 10th in this year’s Calder Trophy race. While Sharangovich had shown some promise in his past few AHL seasons, he scored at a better pace in the NHL this year than he ever has in the minors. His play this season was a continuation of a strong start to 2020-21 on loan with the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk. Serving as an alternate captain for his hometown team, Sharangovich scored and 25 points (17 of which were goals) in 34 games. Sharangovich seems to have secured a spot in the Devils’ top-six forward group for next season, but the Devils will be hesitant to plop too much money down too soon on the breakout forward. Expect general manager Tom Fitzgerald to sign Sharangovich to a bridge deal in the neighborhood of two years, making him an RFA again at the end of his next contract.
F Janne Kuokkanen – Kuokkanen was another surprise this season. The former Carolina Hurricanes prospect, acquired at the 2020 Trade Deadline in a package for defenseman Sami Vatanen, scored at a 41-point pace with New Jersey this year. Playing nearly 15 minutes a night, the 23-year-old Finn posted impressive possession numbers too considering the weakness of the team. Kuokkanen figures to be an important depth piece moving forward if his early performance is any indication. A lengthier extension, maybe three years, is in line for Kuokkanen in order to take him up to the very end of his restricted free agent eligibility.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents
D Ryan Murray – Acquired by the Devils in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick prior to the season, the injury-prone defenseman didn’t quite live up to expectations this season. While Murray was fine by his standards offensively with 14 points in 48 games, Murray’s defensive play slacked considerably from his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s not to say the Devils won’t re-sign him, though. Their blueline is relatively barren and weak as is, and with Murray likely taking a pay cut on his next deal, his play could improve along with his surroundings. There’s always been the feeling of untapped potential surrounding the former second-overall pick, and the Devils may hope that they’re the ones to unlock it on his next deal.
G Aaron Dell – Once one of the more highly-regarded backup netminders in the league with the San Jose Sharks, Dell’s rough go of it this year may have cost him another NHL deal. Originally signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the season to serve as their taxi squad goalie, Dell was picked up on waivers by the Devils after Toronto attempted to return him post-callup. Getting into five starts and seven games with the Devils while they also dealt with goalie injuries, Dell won just one game and put up a .857 save percentage and 4.14 goals against average, both the worst marks of his career by far. Now 31 years old, Dell may have to head overseas or to the minor leagues to find his next team.
Projected Cap Space
Despite the flat $81.5MM salary cap continuing into next season, New Jersey is one of the few teams with very little to worry about. The team has $35.7MM in cap space and, when combined with the low quantity of free agents to re-sign, the Devils have serious amounts of free space to use to their advantage in free agency. Combine that with the intrigue of playing with a young core that includes Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Ty Smith, and GM Fitzgerald is in a position to acquire real talent to assist the Devils on their journey back to contention.
Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.