In many ways, the conclusion of contract negotiation number two between GM Tom Fitzgerald and budding star winger Jesper Bratt with the signing of a one-year contract isn’t exactly an ideal solution for the team or the fans. Of course, you can’t always compel a player to sign for longer term despite Fitz’s good fortune, foresight or persuasiveness to do just that with star center Jack Hughes earlier this year, or more recently with breakout defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler. Obviously, taking a shorter term and proving his breakout season of 73 points in 76 games this year wasn’t a fluke may well pay off long-term financially for Bratt and his previously anonymous agent Joakim Persson.
Yet, the organization being forced to kick the can down the road felt inevitable somehow. After all, it was Bratt who held out two years ago deep into camp (and even missed some games due to post-COVID visa complications), despite the fact he really had zero leverage and finally wound up signing a short bridge deal to get to this point. With more leverage now after one career season, I figured there was no way he would be any easier to pin down on a long-term extension in round two. While signings of other key players like Hughes, Siegenthaler and captain Nico Hischier a few years back went swimmingly without complaint, it’s been this back-and-forth that’s turned into a CBA-style staredown, albeit without any public back and forth.
To everyone’s credit I suppose, we still know very little about the details of either negotiation – two years ago or now, so don’t count on either side leaking anytime soon – at least until (and if) Bratt is ever in another uniform. All we know from a tangible standpoint is that each side’s arbitration number showed a pretty significant gap, between the Devils’ insanely low submission of $4.15 million and Bratt’s submission of $6.5 million. Not that we can really read anything into what the long and short-term offers were beyond that. What seemed most disturbing is that both sides looked like they would go through with the actual hearing this morning, and not even be able to negotiate a one-year compromise. Finally, an hour after the hearing was supposed to have began word leaked out that yes, the two sides came to their own detente.
The fact that the negotiated settlement wound up slightly closer to Bratt’s number probably shows which submission was based closer to reality. Yet it feels more like a whoopdie darn doo, they did the bare minimum sigh than an actual cause for celebration. With Bratt now signing, he’s not eligible for renegotiation until January 1, 2023. Which in all likelihood means we probably won’t have a full resolution to the ‘will he stay or will he go?’ saga until next offseason, unless the Devils are out of the playoff race again and Fitz finally comes to the realization that this player may not re-up before free agency so he flips him at the deadline. But that’s certainly not an ideal end, both because it would mean another season in the second division and because we’d likely get futures back for a key player now, kicking the can of the rebuild down even further.
I’m not sure how much I buy the theory that the Devils weren’t prepared to offer Bratt a real long-term deal because they’re now suddenly coming close to the cap celing in 2022-23. After all, it was Fitz who said either before or just after UFA day that they made a substantial long-term offer to Bratt, whatever the heck that means. Of course, everyone’s definition of substantial is different. If I had to guess I’d say the Devils’ offer was probably anywhere between 6.25 and 6.75 million a year, which would be a bit low given other comparables signed this offseason but consistent with Fitz getting other guys on as team-friendly deals as possible. On the other hand, if the Bratt camp wanted full market value this offseason that probably wasn’t realistic either given the fact he’d never so much as cracked 40 points before this year and still has two RFA years to go before hitting UFA.
So yes the battle is over for now, but I’m already dreading round three whether it takes place this January or over the summer before the draft.