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The New Jersey Devils should not pursue John Carlson in free agency

May 29, 2018, 11:36 AM ET [63 Comments]
Todd Cordell
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The New Jersey Devils need help on defense and have money to spend. John Carlson is a big name defender set to become a free agent on July 1.

As such, many have been quick to connect the two as a potential match this summer.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you the Devils wouldn't be a better team with Carlson. That's simply not true. For years he's been a big minute muncher on a perennial contender and he'd give the Devils another puck mover who can help transition from defense to offense, which they could use.

All that said, I don't think signing him is a good idea. Here's why:

1) The Devils would be buying high in the biggest way possible. Carlson's first full NHL season was in 2010-11. From then to 16-17, Carlson averaged 42 points per 82 games. Very good production but it certainly doesn't warrant ~$7.5-8 million per on a max-length contract.

This season Carlson put up 68 points in 82 games and suddenly he's a lock to get that kind of deal.

Given he'll soon be exiting his prime, and he probably won't have truly elite talents like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom around him at his next stop, I'm willing to bet his production from 10-11 to 16-17 is much closer to what we'll see moving forward. That's simply not worth ridiculous money he's going to get.

2) When you sign a player to a long-term deal, you want as many prime years as possible. Any team paying up for Carlson will be getting very few, if any. Will he be a strong player at 29? Absolutely. 30 and 31? Sure. But if he wasn't a $7.5M+ caliber player at, say, 24 playing for a powerhouse team, why are you paying him like one at 32, 33, 34, etc.? His next contract is unlikely to provide value in Year 1 or Year 2, forget about way down the road. If you're paying up for Carlson, you better be ready to win right now. And I don't think the Devils are.

3) Carlson is not a play driver. Not every player has to be, but generally that's a trait you'd like in someone you're handing a ridiculously lucrative contract to. In five of the last seven years the Capitals have controlled a larger percentage of the shot attempts without Carlson on the ice. The exact same can be said of scoring chances. Not ideal.

4) Carlson is not a matchup guy. Not every player has to be, but generally that's a trait you'd like in someone you're handing a ridiculously lucrative contract to (this is becoming a common theme).

To illustrate this, let's look at Carlson's playoff usage at 5v5 over the last three years. He has played seven full series in that span.

As you can see, Carlson spent 30% of his 5v5 time against the opposing team's best forward only once and he did so vs a rookie in Auston Matthews.

Again, it'll likely take $7.5 million per – if not more – to get Carlson signed. That would tie him for the 7th most expensive defender in the NHL. If you're paying up that kind of money, you should be able to put him in any situation with confidence he can excel. Based on his usage in Washington, that's not the case.


John Carlson is coming off a season that is likely unrepeatable. He doesn't have many, if any, prime years left. He's not a play driver and he's not a matchup guy. That is a lot of red flags for a guy who is going to command as much money as he is.

I didn't write this to rip the guy apart. He is a very good player and any team would improve by adding him to the roster. There's a reason general managers will be lining up to try and sign him come July. I just don't think it's a good idea for Ray Shero to be one of them.

Note: matchup data via NaturalStatTrick.com.

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