Sami Vatanen

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Devils avoid salary arbitration with Will Butcher

New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero has been busy this summer and he took care of some more business on Wednesday morning. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Will Butcher to a three-year deal. The contract carries an annual average value of $3.73 million.

Butcher and the Devils were scheduled to go to salary arbitration on Aug. 2, but that will no longer be necessary.

The 24-year-old just completed his second season with New Jersey. He had five goals and 44 points in 81 games with the Devils in his rookie year but his number came down slightly last year, as he posted four goals and 30 points in 78 contests.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The youngster is an important part of the Devils’ power play, as he picked up 14 points on the man-advantage in 2018-19. Only Kyle Palmieri (18) had more points on the power play than Butcher last season.

Butcher becomes the fifth-highest paid defenseman on his team behind P.K. Subban ($9 million), Andy Greene ($5 million), Sami Vatanen ($4.875 million), and Damon Severson ($4.166 million).

Shero only has one more restricted free agent to get signed before the start of the year and that’s forward Pavel Zacha. After the Butcher signing, the Devils still have $8.715 million in cap space, so they could probably make another move or two if they wanted to.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Key defensemen enter contract years, possible free agency

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Despite being the most exciting offseason since PHT started in 2010, the NHL will probably always lag behind the NBA when it comes to stars moving in free agency.

Rudely, players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid don’t even flirt with drama, instead sticking with their teams by signing extensions, often almost at the first possible moment they legally can. Again, rude.

So, it’s important to get that disclaimer out of the way. Chances are, the fascinatingly robust list of pending free agent defensemen will narrow down, possibly starting before the 2019-20 season begins.

But, even so, it’s quite the list, and a lot of these defensemen will earn enormous, team-changing raises, whenever their next deals get signed.

And, hey, sticking with your team can still alter its course. Just look at how scary that Drew Doughty extension ($11 million AAV through 2026-27) seems today compared to when Doughty re-upped with the Kings in July 2018.

Let’s consider some of the most intriguing names, split by UFA and RFA designations. Cap Friendly’s listings were helpful in putting this together, and being that these lists aren’t comprehensive, you may enjoy digging deeper there to find even more.

Prominent UFAs

Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), Roman Josi (Predators), Tyson Barrie (Maple Leafs), Torey Krug (Bruins), Jared Spurgeon (Wild, more on them here), Justin Faulk (Hurricanes), Jake Muzzin (Maple Leafs), Justin Schultz (Penguins), Christopher Tanev (Canucks), T.J. Brodie (Flames), Sami Vatanen (Devils), Travis Hamonic (Flames).

The headliners of this list – particularly Pietrangelo and Josi – must have licked their chops when Erik Karlsson signed that mammoth eight year, $92M ($11.5M AAV) contract with the Sharks. Pietrangelo and Josi don’t boast multiple Norris Trophies, yet they might also be healthier than Karlsson when he signed his deal, so there could be interesting value debates.

Either way, Roman Josi’s borderline-insulting $4M won’t cut it after 2019-20.

The marquee names are the most intriguing, yet there are interesting situations as you go down a rung and more. And those are the players who are arguably more likely to sign with new teams.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Would Toronto be able to bring back even one of Barrie or Muzzin after next season? Are the Hurricanes destined to move on from Faulk, or would they instead keep Faulk and move someone else, like Dougie Hamilton? Players like Faulk, Schultz, and Vatanen could see their value shift in big ways depending upon how well or poorly they perform in 2019-20. Will P.K. Subban‘s arrival hurt Vatanen, or will the former Ducks defenseman thrive in a more relaxed role next season for New Jersey?

There are a lot of intriguing situations to watch there.

Notable RFAs

Josh Morrissey (Jets), Thomas Chabot (Senators), Samuel Girard (Avalanche), Mikhail Sergachev (Lightning), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), Darnell Nurse (Oilers), Brandon Montour (Sabres), etc.

These players don’t have the same leverage as they’re restricted, but it should still be interesting if there’s a ripple effect when the Jets have to pay Morrissey, and how strenuous negotiations could be between Chabot and the penny-pinching Senators. Tampa Bay’s really brought Sergachev along slowly, and you wonder if they’d be wise to try to extend him before a potential breakthrough?

***

Again, extensions will kill some of the wildest daydreams by crossing names off the list long before July 2020. Don’t assume your team will happen upon a Pietrangelo or Spurgeon.

That said, there are certain “something has to give” situations. The Maple Leafs may know that they’re only getting Muzzin and Barrie for a limited time. The Bruins have a tight squeeze happening, especially with Charlie McAvoy still needing an RFA deal this summer.

Either way, teams should savor deals like Josi at $4M, because they won’t last much longer.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

With Hughes in Devils camp, it’s easy to overlook Ty Smith

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — With Jack Hughes in the New Jersey Devils’ development camp, it’s easy to overlook Ty Smith.

Hughes was the No. 1 overall selection in the draft last month and much is expected of the playmaking center. It’s almost certain he will be on the Devils’ roster when the regular season opens in October and the packed-crowd at the team’s training rink in the Prudential Center roared on Wednesday when he was introduced before a four-team, 3-on-3 competition.

Much like the other three dozen young players at the weeklong gathering, the 19-year-old Smith received polite applause.

What people tend to forget is Smith was the Devils’ first-round pick a year ago – 17th overall – and he nearly made the roster after a tremendous training camp.

A year later, Smith may be ready to take that next step. The puck-moving defenseman has added about 8 pounds since last year and he is coming off a great season in the Western Hockey League. He had seven goals and a career-high 62 assists, the second-highest single-season total in league history.

Devils coach John Hynes said Smith appears to have matured in the past year, noting his body is thicker and he looks fit.

”He is not a wide-eyed kid here that is taking everything in for the first time,” Hynes said of the WHL defenseman of the year. ”It’s the second time he is coming into the culture of what we are doing. He sees the needs and knows what you are talking about. He seems a lot more confident. I don’t want to say on a mission, but he seems a little more focused as opposed to taking everything in for the first time.”

Hynes expects Smith to be a motivated player when training camp starts in September.

Smith will be trying to break into a veteran defensive unit. It’s led by captain Andy Greene and recently acquired Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. Sami Vatanen, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, Mirco Mueller and Connor Carrick are returning from last season’s team.

Despite being a little bigger and stronger, Smith doesn’t believe he has lost any quickness or agility.

”I like to get the puck and give the puck to the forwards,” Smith said. ”My dad always tells me ‘Get the puck to the skill and then support it.’ They’ll make the play and then join the rush in the second wave and create offense.”

Smith refuses to speculate when he will play in the NHL. He saw action in the preseason last season and was sent back for another year of junior hockey, helping the Chiefs get to the semifinal round of the WHL playoffs.

”I feel confident in myself, that I can play,” he said. ”Whenever the Devils want me to. It’s up to them. I have to be the best I can possibly be and come out and compete, compete for a job. It’s not easy to make the NHL. It’s up to them.”

NOTES: Hughes’ team won the 3-on-3 competition, posting a 1-0 win over a squad that included Joey Anderson, his roommate for the camp and a player who saw some time with the Devils last season. … Xavier Bernard, a fourth-round pick in 2018, had the only goal in the deciding game. Akira Schmid, a Swiss native who was a fifth-round pick last year, had the shutout.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Devils should go bold, and not just to keep Taylor Hall

Winning an NHL Draft Lottery should attach a rocket to your team’s hopes, especially when you land that top overall pick even though you don’t have the best odds.

Yet, Taylor Hall‘s been here plenty of times before, so forgive him for not looking at a draft lottery win as a cure-all. Instead, through his time seeing the Edmonton Oilers, and now the New Jersey Devils, landing unexpected No. 1 overall picks, Hall’s name has been associated more with memes (also: “the trade is one for one”) than with being one of the best wingers in the NHL.

The one-time Hart Trophy winner couldn’t help but lean into the jokes himself after the Devils landed the top pick of the 2019 NHL Draft:

No rush on extension

The Fourth Period’s Dave Pagnotta created a stir with a report that mentioned that “as of now,” Hall isn’t interested in signing a contract extension with the Devils, which he would be able to do by July.

Hall, 27, addressed the rumblings, telling The Athletic’s Arpon Basu (sub required) that he’s confused that it would be such big news that he’s simply not in a rush to sign an extension. Hall’s agent and Devils GM Ray Shero made the same general points about there being no real rush to NHL.com’s Mike Morreale.

“We never really looked at July 1 as a deadline and Ray hasn’t looked at it like that either,” Hall said to Basu.

One key point people emphasized from Pagnotta’s report, either way, is the phrasing “as of now.”

In a way, you almost wonder if a light bulb was going off over Taylor Hall’s head as he watched Kawhi Leonard’s situation play out with the Toronto Raptors. Despite being an excellent scorer and player basically since his first NHL game, Hall’s only been to the playoffs once, and that was thanks to his Herculean Hart season where he dragged the Devils into the 2018-19 postseason. Why shouldn’t Hall wait and see if the Devils can actually contend before signing away his rights to hit the open market? As Hall’s agent Darren Ferris mentioned, some players only get one chance to truly sign the contract they want with the team they want to play for – without the artificial bindings of RFA status, and without the aging curve limiting their demands. Hall deserves to explore his options as much as just about anyone else, so it only makes sense that the Devils would need to be really convincing to lock him up for what would could be the rest of his prime.

Got to be smart to take advantage of being lucky

The thing is … the Devils should be aggressive to improve, even if Hall’s $6M cap hit wasn’t expiring after 2019-20.

While Hall’s Oilers blundered despite winning multiple draft lotteries, the Devils should view Jack Hughes’ or Kaapo Kakko’s rookie deal as a window of sorts. You can compete beyond that potential three-year entry-level contract, but you’ll never enjoy savings like these again with whoever the Devils pick first overall on June 21.

Consider that:

  • The Penguins won their first Stanley Cup of their current era (in 2008-09) when Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal were in the final year of their rookie contracts, and made it to the previous Stanley Cup Final in the last year of Sidney Crosby‘s rookie deal.
  • The Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup of their run (in 2009-10) during the final year of rookie contracts for both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

The Toronto Maple Leafs could still compete for years thanks to the bounty of talent they’ve accrued, yet the 2018-19 stings a bit extra because it represents the end of those rookie contracts for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

So, really, the Devils have two directives to get aggressive during this offseason. First, adding more talent can show Taylor Hall that they’re serious about competing, after Shero’s (wisely) taken the slow-and-steady approach before. Secondly, with Jack Hughes/Kaapo Kakko, the Devils could have a difference-maker on a limited contract for three seasons.

A ton of cap space for Devils

While the Devils have a lot to work on – this post from January lays out big issues for their rebuild, including goaltending – Ray Shero has plenty of ammo to use if he wants to be bold. Which, again, the Devils should be, what with that top overall pick and the need to woo Hall.

As you can see from their Cap Friendly page, the Devils have a ton of cap space to work with, as they have an estimated $35.6M in space with 14 roster spots covered. Will Butcher is really the only truly prominent free agent to deal with, although Devils fans might interject with a Stefan Noesen or two.

Yes, Shero must be cognizant of future decisions. Along with Hall being up after 2019-20, Nico Hischier only has one year remaining on his entry-level contract, Sami Vatanen is also entering a contract year, and Kyle Palmieri‘s bargain $4.65M cap hit expires after 2020-21.

But, for the most part, the Devils boast as close to a clean slate as you can hope for in the modern salary cap era, and now is the time to really start taking advantage.

Trades, free agency … offer sheets?

While the free agent route is fascinating and more straightforward (is Newark close enough to New York for Artemi Panarin?), Shero can also get creative.

The Devils have three second-rounders and two third-rounders to go with their normal choices in the 2019 NHL Draft, so Shero could use those picks to swing trades for roster players or try to move up in the draft.

Maybe just as tantalizingly, the Devils’ bounty of 2019 NHL Draft picks could also make them more comfortable with the idea of forking over picks to go the offer sheet route. What if the Devils presented Hall with the opportunity to play with, say, Hughes/Kaakko, Hischier, and Mitch Marner or Brayden Point in the future?

Admittedly, offer sheets are a “believe it when you see it” proposition in the risk-averse NHL. Still, the Devils are one of the teams that are best situated to make such a move, as they have the cap space, the urgency to improve, and the requisite picks to hand over a challenging offer sheet.

(All About the Jersey’s CJ Turturo has a fantastic deep dive on offer sheets and how they relate to the Devils, which also understandably emphasizes that it’s an unlikely route.)

***

Don’t get me wrong; it makes sense that Devils fans might feel a little frightened here. There’s the nightmare scenario where Hall leaves the Devils for nothing, much like what happened with John Tavares and the Devils’ buddies on Long Island.

But, really, this situation should give the Devils another push to be aggressive – and maybe even creative – to get better, fast. Even if Hall isn’t a part of the longer solution, the Devils were gifted with the No. 1 pick, and should take advantage of the significant competitive advantage you can enjoy in competing while key players are on entry-level contracts.

If that aggressiveness impresses Hall enough to stay, then it’s all gravy … or sauce.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils sign GM Shero to multi-year extension

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The 2018-19 season turned out to be a massive disappointment for the New Jersey Devils.

After returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago on the back of an MVP season from Taylor Hall, the Devils badly regressed this season and finished with the league’s third-worst record. Even with that fall in the standings, Devils ownership obviously still believes in the job general manager Ray Shero is doing and announced on Monday that the team has signed him to a multi-year contract extension.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed by the team, but Shero will get the opportunity to continue putting his stamp on the team for the foreseeable future. He has been the Devils’ GM since 2015, leading the team to one postseason appearance in four years.

His most significant additions with the team over the past four years include Kyle Palmieri, Sami Vatanen, using the No. 1 pick on Nico Hischier and, most importantly, the trade that landed them Hall from the Edmonton Oilers prior to the 2016-17 season.

Hall’s injury, which limited him to just 33 games this season, was one of the big factors in the Devils’ disappointing year.

Shero’s two big orders of business in the short-term will be working out a new long-term contract for Hall as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract, and also adding to the depth around him.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

For as good as Hall is, and for as much as he carried the team to the playoffs a year ago, he alone is not going to be enough to get the Devils back to the postseason and make them a formidable threat in the Eastern Conference. Even with him the team has flaws offensively, and we saw what happened this season when he is not always available.

One area where he might get some help is if the Devils get a little bit of luck in the draft lottery. They have the third best odds (11.5 percent) of landing the No. 1 overall pick.

Related: NHL 2019 Draft Lottery odds and top prospects

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.