Last week, the New Jersey Devils brought in Damien Brunner on a professional try out contract. The 27-year old winger was an unrestricted free agent after his first season in the NHL. Despite a fairly successful first season with Detroit, he went through the entire summer without a contract. He was even rumored to come to New Jersey back in mid-July but whatever rumored plans fell through. So did whatever put off the Devils from signing him initially. After about a week of practices and two preseason games, the team made their decision earlier today. The team announced they signed Brunner. He's excited about it for obvious reasons per this video:
The organization doesn't release terms in their press releases, but Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that the Devils inked Brunner to a two-year contract worth $5 million. This is a very reasonable deal and it fits nicely into their salary cap. As I brought up back when the team was rumored to be interested in the Swiss forward, Brunner did well in 2013 and the Devils would be wise to go after him. He finished fourth on the Red Wings in scoring with 12 goals and 14 points, third in shots with 123, and he even produced in the postseason despite a drop in minutes. He plays a position of need and he's got a right-handed shot, which has it's own use. However, it wasn't all good. He was sheltered with plenty of offensive zone starts in 5-on-5 play, it's not known how good he is on defense, and he did a lot of his good work alongside Henrik Zetterberg, someone who makes a lot of different players look good. Throw in the fact that he's only played in one NHL season and a serious question remains. How good is he, especially without Zetterberg? There's only one way to find out and the Devils decided to find out.
Even with those real concerns, bringing him into camp on a PTO was a good idea and I think signing him to a contract like this is an even better one. The Devils will need all the help they can on offense. When I previewed the forwards for this season, I did it with the assumption that the Devils would sign him. Including that assumption, the Devils still lack for offensive punch on paper. Should he be another secondary scorer like he was last season, then he'll lessen the impact of that real issue. He'll make the team deeper as coach Peter DeBoer could put together three forward lines that could be expected to produce. That's far better than last season when he really only had two and in 2011-12 which was the same way until Alexei Ponikarovsky was acquired. The team also could stand to get a bit younger and faster, and Brunner helps in those areas as well. Most of all, the contract itself is not much. Like Michael Ryder's contract, it doesn't last too long and a cap hit of $2.5 million per year is not prohibitively expensive to move should the Devils want to do that. There's a lot to like provided Brunner doesn't turn into a one-season wonder.
Today's signing seals up the Devils' offseason actions (for now). According to CapGeek, they only have a little less than $1.4 million in cap space and 49 out of 50 contracts on the books. That's enough room for call-ups if or when they become necessary. It's not a lot of room for them to go out and get another player unless it's a minor deal. I don't expect them to do so since they have 15-17 forwards fighting for 14 roster spots (I'm assuming the Devils will carry seven defensemen and that's an assumption). Now the Devils' attention will be placed on who makes the roster. Brunner will undoubtedly be in New Jersey for these two seasons, so there's one less spot for a forward. Those lower on the depth chart will have to have been really impressive in preseason games and practices to be safe. It's a good problem for the organization but not if you're a player feeling the pressure. Still, the day is Brunner's and I welcome him to New Jersey.
What do you think of the contract Brunner signed? Would you say it's a good deal? What do you expect Brunner to do this season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Brunner and his new deal in the comments. Thank you for reading.