The New Jersey Devils have issued qualifying offers to Mackenzie Blackwood, Jesper Bratt, Joey Anderson, Nick Merkley and Colton White, keeping them in the organization. The team did not qualify John Hayden or Mirco Mueller, meaning both players will become unrestricted free agents on Friday.
The five that were qualified don’t come as much of a surprise, but figuring out contract extensions with Blackwood and Bratt should be a priority for GM Tom Fitzgerald this offseason. The 23-year-old Blackwood has established himself as the team’s starting goaltender after posting a .916 save percentage across his first 70 appearances. Bratt meanwhile scored 16 goals this season, trailing only Kyle Palmieri and the departed Blake Coleman for the team lead.
It’s Hayden and Mueller that may raise some eyebrows, as both were regulars for the Devils this year. Hayden, a third-round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, suited up 43 times for the Devils this year but scored just three goals. He was arbitration-eligible and could have secured a bigger deal than his qualifying offer, but with only 11 goals and 26 points in 156 games it is not like he was going to break the bank.
Mueller meanwhile was a first-round pick back in 2013 by the San Jose Sharks and has spent the last three seasons with the Devils. In 2019-20 he played 50 games for the team on a one-year $1.4MM contract, meaning his qualifying offer would have cost them the same amount.
Perhaps the team is just ready to move on, or perhaps this is another example of finances playing a part in the team’s decisions this offseason. Most have expected a few extra names to go unqualified, adding to a big free agent pool.