The New Jersey Devils were already going to be one of the most fascinating teams to watch next season, and now they added another interesting wrinkle by signing Wayne Simmonds to what feels like a “prove it” contract at one year, $5 million.
After all, the Devils are, in a sense, trying to “prove it,” too. Specifically, they’re trying to prove that they’re a team Taylor Hall should stick with. The winger has one year left on his current contract, and considering all of the frustrations he’s dealt with during his career, Hall probably doesn’t have patience for rebuilding processes any longer.
The Devils could have stuck with that rebuilding script, and many would understand.
If landing Nico Hischier at No. 1 in 2017 wasn’t enough, Hall provided his patented lottery ball luck to the Devils once again for 2019, as New Jersey lucked into hyped top 2019 prospect Jack Hughes. Some GMs might rest on their laurels, hoping that Hall would merely see the longer future.
Credit Devils GM Ray Shero for making aggressive moves, instead, with the amazing bargain P.K. Subban trade standing as the headliner.
[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]
Adding Simmonds to the mix makes sense, and theoretically, Shero could simply offer Hall that $5M onto his next contract starting in 2019-20. The dream scenario is that Simmonds can give the Devils’ power play a boost, thus helping them make the playoffs (and ideally keep Hall), while Simmonds proves that he’s not washed up.
There’s another scenario that’s somewhere in the middle: Shero once again shows Hall that the Devils are aggressively trying to improve, even if Simmonds ends up being as limited as some fear. It’s plausible that Shero could eventually flip Simmonds for assets around the trade deadline, if worse comes to worse.
(That could also happen with Hall, which would definitely be filed under “worse.”)
Speaking of scenarios, this might be especially telling about the market for Simmonds. At 30, you’d think some teams would be enticed by his experience, grit, and potential to score goals in the “dirty areas,” but apparently Simmonds’ decline reduced his options? Or maybe Simmonds simply likes what he’s seeing in New Jersey?
Again, if Simmonds doesn’t have much left in the tank, this is an expensive gamble for the Devils, but the one-year term eliminates most reasons to worry.
The variety of good-to-great scenarios is enticing, and frankly, Simmonds probably deserves a shot at getting a contract year “right.” If he does, both Simmonds and the Devils stand to profit from this arrangement.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.