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New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero has his work cut out for him in the coming months. Beyond preparing for the draft and exploring ways to add to his roster – such as the international free agent market
– he has to make decisions on 10 pending NHL free agents (four unrestricted, six restricted).
Some are easier than others, of course, but decisions nonetheless.
I'll probably go more in-depth on the key ones in the coming weeks but, with the off-season yet to really begin, I wanted to do a rundown and set the table for each player.
Stefan Noesen (RFA – with arbitration rights)
Among 16 Devils forwards to play 300+ minutes at 5v5, Noesen ranked 12th in Corsi For%, 16th in Goals For%, and he chipped in just six points over 41 games. While he did have his moments over the last few years – particularly alongside Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman – I think the team has some replacements for his role in-house (Nathan Bastian, Joey Anderson, etc.) and they'd be much cheaper. Noesen still has a place in this league as a role player. I just don't think it is in New Jersey.
Pavel Zacha (RFA)
Zacha put together a classic Zacha season. Provided quality defense, especially on the PK, but was borderline invisible offensively for long stretches. Aided by percentages
, he put it together down the stretch but I'm still skeptical of how much he'll contribute moving forward. In any case, he is a useful bottom-6 player, he's young enough where there is still room to grow, and he won't cost much. He'll be back.
Drew Stafford (UFA)
He put together a few solid games when the Devils were really undermanned down the stretch, however, his season as a whole was not good. He was a possession anchor and he averaged 1.04 points/60 at 5v5, which is quite bad. Stafford was a loyal soldier over the last couple years and I'm sure he positively influenced Nico Hischier, Zacha, and some of the young guys. His on-ice performance left a lot to be desired, though, and it's only going to get worse with age. Time to move on.
Kenny Agostino (UFA)
The Devils gave him a real opportunity to play after claiming him off waivers and he certainly made the most of it. His underlying numbers were among the best on the team – low bar, but still – and he averaged a respectable 1.69 points per 60 while also throwing his weight around and providing some jam. I think he has earned a new deal and another chance to prove himself in the fall.
Kurtis Gabriel (UFA)
Gabriel seems like a great guy and is the ultimate team player. He's an easy person to root for. Unfortunately, he is not NHL caliber. He appeared in 22 games for the Devils. When he was on the ice at 5v5, they controlled 37.18% of the shot attempts and 34.47% of the expected goals. Those are remarkably bad numbers. His inability to stay out of the box only made things worse. If the Devils are serious about thirst for more talent, they simply can't justify bringing Gabriel back and giving him an NHL roster spot.
John Quenneville (RFA)
I was really disappointed with Quenneville this season. He mustered up just one point in 19 NHL games and put together a lot of 'meh' performances – whether you were judging him with your eyes, analytically, or both. He doesn't strike me as someone who can be more than a 12th or 13th forward in the NHL. He's young enough (23) and good enough at the AHL level (he had 39 points in 37 games) to warrant a new deal but I just don't see a future with him in New Jersey. He was, and is, being passed over by too many players, and it's only going to get worse when Jack Hughes and Jesper Boqvist enter the mix. I almost hope the team cuts the cord and gives him a chance with a different organization, and I would not be at all surprised if they do just that.
Connor Carrick (RFA – with arbitration rights)
Carrick plays with some edge, gets around the ice fairly well, and has pretty good tools for a depth guy. He's nothing special, but he is serviceable. Though the Devils do have some new blood coming on the back end, I think Carrick did enough to earn a new deal and the opportunity to fight for a depth spot in camp.
Will Butcher (RFA – with arbitration rights)
Injuries to Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and almost every other player on the roster with some offensive talent, negatively impacted Butcher's point totals and, from what I can tell, that caused some people to sour on him a bit. I think that's unwarranted. He still led the defense in Corsi For% and Expected Goals For% while chipping in 30 points and almost never taking penalties, which is difficult to do as a defenseman. He's certainly getting a new deal and I think the team may be smart to try and get some term on it while his perceived value took a bit of a hit.
Egor Yakovlev (UFA)
Yakovlev's days with the Devils are likely numbered. He's not someone who will drive play, he doesn't contribute much offensively, there's not a lot of bite to his game, and John Hynes routinely played him out of position in a season where the Devils struggled with the position he plays. Maybe he can be a depth defender in the NHL, but I don't see it happening in New Jersey.
Mirco Mueller (RFA – with arbitration rights)
Mueller quietly had a strong defensive season. He was really good at suppressing shots and chances at even-strength *and* on the penalty kill. He's not going to produce much offense and, with the puck, he moves around like a newborn deer but his defensive prowess probably makes him worth keeping around on a cheap, short-term deal.
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