Twas the night before free agency, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. At least not in New Jersey where all’s suspiciously quiet on the homefront, amid rumors for the last few days the Devils would be all in on improving the team during the FA period starting tomorrow. There’s not even a FA preview video up on YouTube from the Devils’ social media team, which cranked out a ton of draft videos. Chief among those rumors have been the Dougie Hamilton speculation with him seemingly only being linked to either the Devils or re-signing with the Canes. We’ll find out by midnight I suppose whether Hamiton will stay in Carolina, since they won’t be able to offer an eighth year on their contract after that point.
Further adding to this speculation was a rather…cryptic Tweet from the Devils social media team where they posted an blog preview of FA, perhaps not-so-coincidentally with a picture of Hamilton on it.
I’m not expecting anything yet, but this is a rather cruel subtroll move if it turns out Hamilton stays in Carolina or goes elsewhere. At the very least it seems like GM Tom Fitzgerald is serious about finally starting to improve the talent level on the roster by doing more than just hoping all the young players get better by osmosis. Hopefully the Ryan Graves trade was only the start of that process. Obviously you don’t win a Cup on July 1, or August 28 as it were this year but you need to start getting the kids help to expedite their development, not to mention sell tickets now that fans will be allowed back in the Prudential Center in the first week of October when the Devils have three preseason tilts, before their scheduled home opener on October 15.
Of course as meaningful as adding a true #1 defenseman like Hamilton (42 points in 55 games last year) would be, that can’t be the Devils’ only major move this offseason. Obviously they need a 1B goaltender for Mackenzie Blackwood, which for various reasons they’ve never had in his three seasons here. I think Sam Kasan’s blog targets are a bit unrealistic, Phillip Grubauer should certainly get a true starting job, and I’d imagine Linus Ullmark will too though health is usually an issue for him. We probably won’t be offering that, a more realistic target might be Jonathan Bernier, recently of the Wings. Though Carolina traded for his rights, they haven’t come to an agreement with the veteran goalie at this point either. Amazing how our offseason might be coming down to what Carolina does or doesn’t do.
Adding Hamilton would certainly go a long way toward shoring up our D, along with the earlier acquisition of Graves. The Devils’ special teams were historically awful in the shortened season this year, so adding a top line PP QB and PK defenseman would be just what the doctor ordered. If the Devils don’t get Hamilton god only knows what Fitz’s plan B is. I hope it’s not some desperation overpay an older Tyson Barrie one. I still have a little PTSD over Lou Lamoriello’s offseason of Vlad Malakhov and Dan McGillis being our plan B for Scott Niedermayer’s departure. Of course we do have the cap space to overpay multiple players, so term should be more important than AAV to be honest. Especially when we’ve seen this offseason bad contracts get offloaded for 2nd rounders to Arizona left and right.
Aside from a top-pairing defenseman and a 1B goalie our most pressing needs are up front. A proven third-line center and a goal-scoring winger (short-term or not) would be ideal. Losing Nathan Bastian in the expansion draft wasn’t ideal but expected. Maybe someone like Fabian Zetterlund can take over his role from within on the fourth line. I’m not really expecting a return of any prominent ex-Devils though. People have fantasized about a Blake Coleman reunion but it ain’t happening folks. Not in a market where Zach Hyman is getting seven years at relatively big money and even fourth liners like Barclay Goodrow are getting six-year deals. I kinda doubt Travis Zajac is coming back too, not after his comments about feeling out of place on a team with mostly kids. He’ll want one last kick at the can of winning assuming he doesn’t retire. Kyle Palmieri? After the year he had I’d expect us to steer clear, unless it’s a short-term deal maybe. If Adam Henrique wasn’t still tied up with his hideous contract I’d say maybe he could be a viable third-line center but as of now it’s unlikely a trade could be worked out there.
Honestly I’d rather not even speculate on who the Devils can or should get, I’d rather just wait and see what happens and not be disappointed. Whatever happens (or not) will happen soon enough at this point anyway. The Hamilton stuff is kind of overshadowing everything else at this point anyway but make no mistake, it’s time for the Devils to take a big step back toward relevance.