After acquiring his rights from the Washington Capitals earlier this summer, the New Jersey Devils have agreed to a multi-year deal with Vitek Vanecek. The three-year contract will be worth an average annual value of $3.4MM, and pay salary as follows:
- 2022-23: $3.55MM
- 2023-24: $3.75MM
- 2024-25: $2.9MM
Vanecek had recently filed for salary arbitration, though that process will no longer be needed. Instead, the Devils will buy out two years of unrestricted free agency with the new deal.
A contract like this would be a pretty big gamble for many teams, given how Vanecek has performed so far in his short career, but with plenty of cap room to spare it shouldn’t pose much of a problem for the Devils. The 26-year-old netminder has just 79 regular season appearances to this point and holds a career .908 save percentage, not exactly a sure thing to provide starter-level performance for the Devils moving forward.
In fact, the Capitals chose to go with Ilya Samsonov in this year’s playoffs, before eventually non-tendering him in the offseason. Samsonov signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs for one year and $1.8MM, almost half of what Vanecek will make.
That’s not to say there isn’t some potential upside here, as the Czech netminder could still take a step forward and become a true answer in net for New Jersey. The team also has Mackenzie Blackwood under contract at the moment, though it is unclear where his future lies after injuries have derailed his career, and Jonathan Bernier’s playing status up in the air after hip surgery earlier this year.
For a team looking to contend, better goaltending is paramount. Only the Seattle Kraken had a worse team save percentage than the Devils’ .881 last season, as they used seven different netminders to try and stop the puck. Top prospect Nico Daws actually led the way with 25 appearances, and while he does not appear ready for a full-time role just yet, it does seem like his spot will soon be the tandem role with Vanecek.
Where does that leave Blackwood, many will wonder. The young goaltender has been listed in trade speculation for months, but moving him right now would be at an all-time low, after registering an .892 save percentage in this forgettable season. The team couldn’t rely on him as the only option but getting him back on track through the first part of the year and building up some value might be the best course of action in New Jersey.