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While Not Flashy, Devils Check All the Boxes

July 10, 2024, 3:49 AM ET [20 Comments]
Guest Writer
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After a year of complete hell, a year devoid of any of the heart and grit we were hoping this team would demonstrate in its quest to propel even further into the playoffs, we again arrived at an all-too early offseason, and find ourselves analyzing this latest round of Tom Fitzgerald wheeling and dealing (and praying it will yield something great).

I think it is fair to say, at this point, that every box was checked.

To start, they snag whom I believe was the best available coach on the market in Sheldon Keefe (and, as Fitz put in a call for Keefe just hours after his firing from Toronto, I’d say Fitz would agree with me). His tremendous winning record and work with young stars like Matthews, Marner and Nylander aside, Keefe is an injection of youthful energy and a new way of thinking into what had become a rigid, old school and often stale situation under the auspices of Lindy Ruff and the short tenure of Travis Green. Keefe will excite the players, and perhaps just as importantly from this writer’s perspective, the fans.

Onto the guys on the ice.

Prior to the draft, we learned that the union of the Devils with Jacob Markstrom had finally come to fruition, capping off a months-long expectation that Calgary would ship Markstrom off to his preferred destination in New Jersey. While obviously excited about this clear upgrade at the most important position, some fans may have hoped for more of a “sure thing,” or for a goalie with a higher ceiling, like an Ullmark or Soros. But that requires a higher price (i.e., the tenth overall) and, perhaps more importantly to this organization, a high cap hit as part of an extension (for either Ullmark or Soros). That was a no-go for this team. If there is one thing for which you can give the Devils credit over the past decade, it is their practice of cap discipline to a tee and getting Markstrom for two more years at 25% retained keeps the bill of a solid Markstrom-Allen tandem at a delightful $6.05m. That is right where any contending team would want to be.
On the blue line, Pesce and Dillon are perfectly adequate replacements, if not upgrades, for the departed John Marino and Kevin Bahl (and the now further departed Ryan Graves and Damon Severson). Again, these guys were linked to the Devils by several insiders as part of the ever-burgeoning pre-July 1 rumor mill. And they add much needed experience and defensive prowess, something this team sorely lacked with an injury-riddled and rookie-laden core last year. Kovacevic for a fourth rounder is also the perfect move for a solid 7th defenseman.

Up front, some were looking to add that star top six winger to the fore, forgetting that the Devils have about $32 million tied up in Meier, Hughes, Bratt and Hischier (and, not to mention, a lot of damn talent as well). When word came out on the Eve of July 1 that there was interest in Steven Stamkos, Devils twitter went wild. And as cool as that may have been, with long term contracts for their blossoming stud defensemen in Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec on the horizon, the Devils were not in a position to spend like drunken sailors (*our condescending eyes slowly turn over to the Predators*). The bottom six additions though of Cotter, Noesen and Tatar (and for the latter two, a cute homecoming) are nice, especially with the loss of Motor Mikey McLeod last season, just as he was hitting his stride. I think the unpleasant circumstances surrounding that departure notwithstanding, McLeod’s absence really left a whole in the bottom six that the team could not figure out for the rest of the year. So a few more grizzled veterans with a scoring touch is just what the doctor ordered.

My only knock on Fitz is giving Kurtis MacDermid a contract worth an amount greater than six figures, but I guess the idea is a few bouts with Rempe (or whomever else the Rangers decide to trot out there to cause trouble) is worth a couple extra hundred grand. Three years though blows the mind – I mean, was there really competition out there for the services of a three-minutes a night guy?

I think all in all, this is as good an offseason as could reasonably have been expected from Fitz, and one that the NHL folks and insiders are acknowledging may have been one of the more underrated among the 32. It seems like the right guys, with the right skills set and attitude were targeted, and acquired at prices we can all live with (especially since they ended up making the pick at 10, and knowing the cap will keep going up).

Fitz confirmed at his July 3 presser that save for an unforeseen trade, and a new contract for Dawson Mercer with the almost $5m left in cap space, the Devils are pretty much finished with the bulk of their offseason business.

As in the recent past, there are again sky high expectations for this team. The front office has for the most part taken care of its business. It is now up to the guys on the ice to establish this team as what we all expect and hope it to be: a perpetual contender.

By Uri Segelman
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