With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the New Jersey Devils.
Pending Free Agents
With Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman now playing elsewhere, the Devils’ long-term outlook is in the hands of recent No. 1 overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.
The Devils thought so highly of Hischier’s development — and potential — that they signed him to a seven-year, $50 million contract that pretty much makes him the new face of the franchise. While his offensive numbers may not be eye-popping, there is a lot to be said for a 21-year-old forward that’s already established himself as a 55-60 point player while also playing a complete two-way game.
Hughes is the player that has the big-time offensive upside.
Beyond those two, Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev are very productive top-six wingers and would make an impact on any contending team. The problem, though, is that both players are unrestricted free agents after next season, and while the Devils should have the salary cap space to retain them if they wanted to, it is worth wondering if such a long-term investment would be wise, especially when it comes to Palmieri who will be 31 years old when his next contract begins.
P.K. Subban has the biggest salary cap hit on the roster, carrying a $9 million salary for each of the next two seasons.
Damon Severson and Will Butcher are also signed long-term on the blue line.
Goaltending was a question mark at the start of the season, but MacKenzie Blackwood has had a very promising start to his career (.916 save percentage in his first two years, well above the league average) and is still only 23 years old.
When you have missed the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons and been one of the league’s worst teams over the past two seasons there are obviously a lot of long-term needs.
Goaltending has been the big Achilles Heel recently due to Cory Schneider‘s decline, but Blackwood has shown a ton of promise and provided some optimism that he could be the long-term solution. But they still lack depth behind him in the short-and long-term.
The addition of Subban was supposed to give them a top-pairing, No. 1 defenseman to lead their blue line, but he will be 31 next season, is in the middle of the worst season of his career, and has almost certainly already played his best hockey. They not only need depth on their blue line, they need somebody to be a difference-maker.
Will Butcher is an underrated player while Ty Smith has a ton of potential, but there are more questions than answers when it comes to the long-term outlook of the blue line.
The other big need is that they need Hughes to be the superstar, franchise player they hope he can be.
You can not win in the NHL or compete for the Stanley Cup without impact players. The best place to get impact players is at the top of the draft. Fortunately for the Devils they have two of the past three No. 1 overall picks playing for them.
They may not be superstars quite yet, but Hischier is on track to being an outstanding player while Hughes is still only 19 years old and full of potential. Do not even think about writing him off just because he struggled at times as an 18-year-old.
Along with those two, the Devils are looking at the possibility of having three first-round picks in the 2020 class, including their own lottery pick. The other two picks are conditional as a result of the Taylor Hall trade (Arizona) and Blake Coleman trade (Tampa Bay, which sent Vancouver’s pick to New Jersey). The Arizona pick is top-three protected, while the pick from the Coleman trade will move to 2021 if the Canucks miss the playoffs this season. Still, those are a lot of quality assets — and potentially another very high pick — to add to the Hischier and Hughes core.
The Devils also have very few long-term commitments at the moment and as a result have a ton of salary cap space to work with. That could help with the potential re-signings of Palmieri and/or Gusev, as well as adding pieces around their new young core Hischier, Hughes, Butcher, and Blackwood.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.