I’ve never been as meh about July 1 as I was this year, in part because I wasn’t expecting Ray Shero to dive into the deep end of the pool and in part also because we weren’t about to lose anyone significant either. At most I figured maybe we’d get a trade for a still-needed top six winger but that market has slowed for the moment. Perhaps once the dust settles off the yearly day of madness some teams will realize they need a little more breathing room cap-wise or roster-wise and come calling.
As far as actually signing players though I figured on one or two depth signings, if that. So I alternately was and wasn’t surprised that the Devils decided to take a calculated risk on long-time Flyer Wayne Simmonds, signing the physical winger to a one-year, $5 million contract. On paper Simmonds is something the Devils need to balance out their mostly smallish, finesse top six – capable of playing the PP and scoring dirty goals in front and also more than willing to police things physically and set a tone, one that’ll likely need to be set from time to time given that we have some small but important youngsters in the top six that teams will likely take runs at.
While there’s almost no such thing as a bad one-year deal, the fact is Simmonds dropped off dramatically last year, – after seven seasons as a 25-30 goal, 55-point type player his offensive production dipped to 17 goals and 30 points in 79 games last year between the Flyers and Predators. If Simmonds can bounce back, this deal will be well worth it. If not, it’s not like the Devils were going to use all their cap space this year anyway, even after trading for P.K. Subban.
Speaking of which, it is interesting that the two newest Devils have played together before, both in juniors when Canada won the 2008 U-20 title and the end of last season in Nashville.
Even Taylor Hall played with Simmonds briefly – at an All-Star game a couple years ago. You don’t have to have played with Simmonds to know of his rep, but he should add leadership in the room that was lost when guys like Brian Boyle and Ben Lovejoy were dealt at the deadline in the Spring. Tangibly and intangibly, Simmonds’ signing makes perfect sense.
Not that I expect Simmonds to be our top six solution on the wing short or long-term but he does buy a little time for some of our kids to develop. While a real upgrade in the top six would be nice I’m not sure one is forthcoming since Shero needs to maintain cap flexibility beyond this year with Hall up for free agency and third-year players Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt due handsome raises on their next contract. Though the Devils only have $36 million committed to seven players next year, those three would add another $24-25 million, leaving about that amount to fill the rest of the roster, not counting the RFA deal defenseman Will Butcher is due this offseason.
Crunching those numbers convinces me more than ever our next big upgrade – if one’s to be found this offseason – will have to come via trade. I don’t think Shero will willingly stand pat, just adding Subban and 18-year old Jack Hughes isn’t enough to break through a tough East playoff picture that got tougher with the Panthers and Rangers adding today. Of course the July 1 winners usually go splat when the games start counting but the Panthers also added Joel Quenneville as coach while you have to figure one of these years the Rangers will sign a big name that doesn’t blow up on them. It’s not implausible Shero could bide his time to see if any of the kids step up before making that upgrade though.