With the season coming to an end, we turn the page to what the New Jersey Devils 2023-2024 roster could look like. Considering Tom Fitzgerald has plenty of work to do this offseason, there are still plenty of unknowns. Today we will dive into which free agents Fitzgerald should bring back.
Who Stays and Who Goes: New Jersey Devils
Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier
Currently, the Devils have eight restricted and five unrestricted free agents on the roster with the two most important players being wingers Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier. Bratt should land somewhere around five years to give him another big contract for the future. Whereas Meier will probably be looking for a max contract. These two players will be GM Tom Fitzgerald’s top priorities as it’s a no-brainer to get them signed long-term. Guys like Bratt and Meier don’t grow on trees.
Kevin Bahl and Nathan Bastian
Once Bratt and Meier are taken care of, we should then see the trickle effect of what’s to come afterward. I’d imagine Kevin Bahl and Nathan Bastian will be back. Each should expect a 2-3 year bridge deal to reevaluate their play at another time.
Bahl’s size and physicality make him an attractive player to want to keep around. He has developed into a very capable defenceman who can play top-4 minutes if needed. It’s not every day you see a guy as big as Bahl be able to skate, hit, and get the puck where it needs to be with competence.
Bastain is a player who fits his 4th-line role perfectly. He’s not afraid to muck it up in front of the goaltender and he helped the Devils to 59% goal-sharing at 5v5 this year. He plays on the power play when needed and produced at a 30-point pace. However, the remaining FAs should be a question mark.
Michael McLeod and Jesper Boqvist
Michael McLeod impressed in the playoffs and is relied upon heavily for the penalty kill and his elite faceoff percentage, but he is still dealing with the Canadian World Junior investigation which has raised some eyebrows. If the investigation works out in McLeod’s favor, I’d expect a healthy extension of 3-4 years.
Then you have Jesper Boqvist with solid defensive metrics who could come back on a cheap one-year deal. Boqvist should not be fetching much money because he doesn’t offer much offensively. The question is, are the Devils content with his lack of offensive production in a top-9 role?
Mackenzie Blackwood and Yegor Sharangovich
I would not expect Mackenzie Blackwood or Yegor Sharangovich to return. Blackwood has had a rough go with the Devils due to injury and issues inside the organization. I’d expect him to move on to a team that will give him opportunities for more ice time. Blackwood would fit nicely on a team like the Senators.
Sharangovich should be expecting a decent raise and I don’t think the Devils have the money to fork over if they sign Bratt and Meier. However, I could see Sharangovich sticking around if the Devils value his finishing and PK (penalty kill) abilities. If the Devils decide to bring him back, expect somewhere between a one or two-year deal.
Then we have the five remaining unrestricted free agents of Miles Wood, Erik Haula, Tomas Tatar, Damon Severson, and Ryan Graves. Wood should have a relatively decent cap hit so I think he will definitely be out of the question as far as his future with the Devils. His lack of finishing ability and knack for stupid penalties makes a new contract look very unrealistic.
Erik Haula and Tomas Tatar
Haula seems like he really wants to be back in New Jersey. He stressed at the end of the season how he really believes in the culture the Devils are building and Jack Hughes seems to love him. He had a rough start to the season due to not being able to catch a break finishing plays, but all of that regressed towards the end of the season and come playoff time. The Devils should absolutely offer him a team-friendly deal. He offers value in the top six and brings much-needed leadership to a young locker room.
Tomas Tatar is a tricky one, he’s currently getting $4.5M a year. That’s a lot of money for a guy who has a history of not showing up in the playoffs when it counts. Fitzgerald should part ways with Tatar and bring a bigger body into the top 9 that can put the puck in the back of the net.
Damon Severson and Ryan Graves
Damon Severson is all but gone. Don’t get me wrong, he has been very good for the Devils, and it’ll be a hard pill to swallow but it only makes sense with the young talent in the prospect pipeline on defense. Fans are going to miss his beautiful cross-ice stretch passes, but he will be inquiring about a hefty price tag of around $6M a year. Money the Devils certainly will not have if they bring back Bratt and Meier.
Ryan Graves can go either way. I’m going to lean toward not bringing him back due to his putrid playoff performance. Graves’ roster spot should be filled with an upcoming superstar which we will discuss in the next article sometime shortly.
Regardless of what is to come, GM Tom Fitzgerald and the New Jersey Devils have many decisions to make this offseason. Getting Bratt and Meier signed should be the first priority and I would still expect the Devils to add more top 9 scoring to their roster.
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