New Jersey Devils have limited remaining salary cap flexibility this summer, but will always have it going forward

While the New Jersey Devils signed Jesper Bratt to a one-year, $5.45 million contract yesterday, the team has just over $3.2 million in salary cap space and the arbitration of Miles Wood remains to come. Even before Wood signed or went to arbitration, it’s the closest the Devils have been to the cap in years, and feels like the team is ready to turn a corner. However, there may be some trepidation that the team is spending so much and eliminating its cap flexibility with a roster that’s unproven and hasn’t come close to the playoffs in a few years.

Indeed, if you take a look at the Devils page on CapFriendly, things seem a bit tight this season, especially with a referee somehow awarding Wood more than 3.2 million. of dollars. The good news for the offseason is that teams can go over the cap by up to 10%, which the Devils shouldn’t come close to doing. There is also more good news for the upcoming season; if the Devils spend to the cap, once they move Jonathan Bernier to long-term injured reserve, they’ll gain some relief, allowing them to still have a full roster. So while it’s going to be closer than it has been in some time for the Devils, they’ll be in line with the ceiling for Opening Night and beyond.

Now, if there was anyone who had cap concerns for the Devils, it would be somewhat caused by that Bratt deal mentioned at the start of the article. The Devils want to keep Bratt long-term, and with his return to restricted free agency with arbitration rights next summer, he could ask for an additional raise, especially if he repeats (or exceeds) his numbers from last season. We also have Jonas Siegenthaler’s extension next season, with his raise increasing his cap by around $2.3 million. Then there’s the matter of other RFA youngsters such as Yegor Sharangovich (probably), Jesper Boqvist, MacKenzie Blackwood (both possibly), Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian (both less likely) who could be looking for big raises . Can the Devil still afford to keep this group together, especially if they perform well and exceed expectations this season?

The short answer is yes; the long answer is also yes, but with some factors that are obvious and some that may not be so. The first point to address here is that the contracts of Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier will help the team in the long run, especially if the two continue to grow from last season’s play. Jack and Nico currently represent 18.5% of the team cap and this percentage will gradually decrease over the next five seasons due to at least small expected cap increases as well as the fact that both will be on the same contracts.

The second point of what will also save the Devils money is to remove underperforming UFAs and replace them with internal candidates. Departures of Tomas Tatar and Andreas Johnsson will save Devils $7.9 million; it also frees up spots on the wing for an organization player like Alex Holtz (on an ELC) to come try and earn a full-time NHL spot. The defense will see Ryan Graves, or Damon Severson or both possibly move on, giving the Devils either $3.167 million, $4.167 million or their total of around $7.334 million to use for new contracts for RFA mentioned above. Plus, maybe it earns Nikita Okhotiuk, Kevin Bahl, or maybe even Simon Nemec a full-time spot on the blue line. If the Devils decide to unplug the Blackwood experience, it’s even more free to use elsewhere or on a replacement.

The third and final point here is that there could be players who surprise and require matching moves. Fabian Zetterlund may prove he deserves a full-time spot in the NHL during this upcoming training camp. Although he hasn’t signed a new contract yet, it’s an RFA without arbitration, so I don’t see much to come. Maybe he makes the team, or maybe a guy like Nolan Foote gets called up through injury, and shows he can be a good, profitable contributor. Maybe Erik Haula isn’t training for the Devils and is being released in free agency next summer; maybe the team even trades him or another player who should be a UFA by the deadline. The Devils don’t really have “bad” contracts, which means that even if they have to move players or give other raises, they aren’t stuck in a corner where fans have to worry about losing assets to nothing, or worse, trading assets for nothing to get out of a bad deal.

The Devils may have handed out a few long-term contracts lately, but they’ve still set themselves up to surround their core with the talent needed to make the team relevant again. They will still have holes to fill and decisions to make next summer, but I think we already know who some of the names are who will play their last games at the Red and Black Devils n 2022-23. Spending has increased, but that doesn’t mean the Devils have put themselves in a place where they’ll be packing their first-round pick to dump a player’s contract for cap space anytime soon.

Are you as optimistic about the Devils cap situation in the future or not? Will the long-term deals in place at the moment help or hurt them when a number of players need to increase next summer? Do you agree or disagree with the list of players I think the team can/will release? Leave all the comments below and thanks as always for reading!

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