The New Jersey Devils have been the talk of the NHL world this season. A surprise team that has come out of nowhere to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2018. A big reason why for their success has been what general manager Tom Fitzgerald has done over the past couple of seasons through this past NHL Trade Deadline.
When Tom Fitzgerald took over there was no direction and work needed to be done to get this roster to where it is today. Fitzgerald came in with a plan to get this team successful for many years to come not just one season. There was a lot of pain, but there was also progress.
During his time with the Devils, Fitzgerald has reshaped this roster bringing in guys like Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, John Marino, Vitek Vanecek, Timo Meier, Tomas Tatar, Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula, and Ryan Graves. Not to mention the players he moved out to acquire assets and restock the cupboard during his initial years as the Devils general manager.
And while some think it may not be a busy off-season for Tom Fitzgerald think again.
This off-season the Devils will look to lock up restricted free agents Timo Meier, who was acquired at the 2023 Trade Deadline, and Jesper Bratt to long-term contracts. Both of whom have tough agents to deal with. These negotiations could take a while.
As reported by Pierre LeBrun on the Tuesday night edition of Insider Trading on TSN, contract talks between Meier and the Devils have not started. As a matter of fact, they have been shelved until after the playoffs.
Recall, “The initial plan with the Devils was that they didn’t even want to make that trade without having Meier signed to an extension as part of it. They dropped that to get the deal done.
Then you had the idea that they should sign it as soon as possible but they also pivoted on that. Fitzgerald and the Devils decided to give Meier time to adjust to life on and off the ice as a Devil. They have shelved talks on an extension until after the playoffs because they don’t want to rush it or press him, but they’re still confident they can get that done.”
With Meier’s situation on hold for now, Tom Fitzgerald has been focused on getting Jesper Bratt signed to a long-term deal as well. Recall, Bratt signed a one-year deal in the offseason. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported and Fitzgerald confirmed on NHL Network after the Meier trade that he has been engaged in trade talks with Bratt and his camp.
The key for Fitzgerald and the Devils is getting Bratt in at a price inside of a structure. Fitzgerald wants to follow the model of the Boston Bruins to maintain the team as long as possible inside a salary cap that will only go up by $1 million this offseason.
“And that’s how I want to build our team. So, there’s gotta be a will and a want to stay here and play, and understand, and Fitzgerald said to his agent, ‘Jesper isn’t the only person without a contract. He’s not the only important person without one. We’ve got a lot of important people that don’t have contracts next year.’ It’s figuring out who we want to move forward with. What are they going to re-price at? There’s only so much money to go around for everybody. But Jesper is a huge part of where we are at, where we want to go.”
In addition to the two major RFAs, the Devils will have to decide how they want to handle goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood is an RFA this off-season, his future is unclear, though right now he is the backup to Vitek Vanecek. But with the emergence of Akira Schmid, Blackwood has become expendable.
Then there are the unrestricted free agents. The Devils have five players on expiring deals. They include Tomas Tatar, Miles Wood, Erik Haula, Damon Severson and Ryan Graves. If none are re-signed, the Devils have an additional $17.4 million in cap space.
According to James Nichols of the Fourth Period, contract talks for both Graves and Severson have yet to begin. With Severson having been in rumored trade talks, and in the final year of his six-year, $25 million deal, along with the fact the Devils have Nemec and Hughes in the system, Severson’s days as a member of the Devils are dwindling.
With Graves and Marino developing chemistry, the team will want to get Graves signed as the Devils defense has turned a corner. As for Miles Wood, not sure the Devils go higher than the $3.2 million that he currently makes. Wood could be leaving via free agency too. As for Tatar and Haula, if Fitzgerald can get them both in under-team-friendly deals, then both players are most likely coming back.
So just because the Devils may not be as active as they were in years past in the free agent market, it does not mean Tom Fitzgerald does not have work to do. As a matter of fact, he has a busier off-season than many people expect he would have.