Whether you like it or not, it's the offseason for the New Jersey Devils. This is the time where management has to take a hard look at the team and make a lot of tough decisions with respect to retaining a player and giving him a contract that he would find fair enough to sign while not hurting the team. This is the time where fans look to see who's going "hit the market" in early July; hoping that their arrival will help the team take that proverbial next step in the league for the future. However, it's not all about the glitz and glamour of the big name unrestricted free agent. Teams have to pay just as much attention to the restricted free agents as they manage the salary cap, their budget, and their roster.
For the unaware, here's a quick summation of the different between the two types of free agents. An unrestricted free agent (UFA) can sign with anyone once the free agency begins. There is no compensation or right of refusal by the other team; hence, they are unrestricted. The restricted free agent (RFA) is subject to those parameters. The team that has his contract initially can give the player a qualifying offer to retain his rights. If they don't get an offer, then they can become UFAs. If another team wants to sign a qualified RFA, then they must present an offer sheet. The player has to sign it, and if so, the original team has two options. They can match the offer or they can not match it and receive compensation depending on the amount of the offer. This is somewhat rare since the compensation can be deep. For example, a $5.1 million per year offer requires a compensation of a first, second, and third round pick in the following draft - and a team must have those picks available at the time of the offer sheet. Generally, players are able become unrestricted free agents when their contracts end and they are either 27 or older, or have played seven seasons in the league. Therefore, most of the RFAs are younger players.
The Devils have thirteen RFAs as per CapGeek. Only four of them received significant time in the NHL in 2013-14 and only three of them have done so for New Jersey. Most of the RFAs spent most of their season with the Albany Devils - and a few haven't even done that. Still, these are the players the Devils have on the books that they could've called up when injury arose.
Again, in order to keep their rights, the Devils must give the pending RFA a qualifying offer. Per 10.2 of the CBA (the NHLPA site has a link to it here), those who made less than $660,000 in salary (signing bonuses are subtracted) must get an offer of worth 110% of their salary and those who made between $660,000 and $1 million must get an offer worth 105% of their salary not to exceed $1 million. Anyone making more than that just has to match it (100%), but the Devils don't have any RFAs making that much. Based on CapGeek's qualifying offer calculator, here's the list of all 13 RFAs and how much it would cost to qualify them:
|2014 RFAs||Pos.||13-14 Salary||Qualifying Offer|
Adam Larsson, Brandon Burlon, Maxime Clermont, and Riley Boychuk all can be qualified for less than their listed salary from last season. They all have received signing bonuses, so those were subtracted. Yes, someone gave Riley Boychuk a signing bonus. In any case, the thirteen as a whole are a mix of players who definitely have a future, those who have been useful for Albany, and those who may go elsewhere. To keep them all together, the Devils won't have to pay that much more assuming everyone signs their qualifying offers. However, those at the top will almost definitely get paid more than their offers and there will be those near the bottom who may not be qualified at all.
There are two who definitely have a future within this organization as of right now: defensemen Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas. Larsson looked steady until he got injured. Due to a crowded blueline, he ended up playing more with Albany than he did with New Jersey. Still, his past experiences with New Jersey in the last two seasons are proof enough he's a NHL-caliber defender. He won't be waiver-ineligible next season so he should stick around. The question is whether he'll have a regular spot or not. Gelinas is partially why Larsson was kept in the A, as he provided an element the defense hasn't seen in a while: an excellent shot. The team, I think, appreciates The Truth. He's got potential of becoming a good defender but there's a lot of work to put in before he gets there. All the same, the question for them isn't whether they'll be qualified; but how much they should get paid on their next deals. I think bridge deals for both are appropriate. It's clear that Larsson belongs, but it's not so clear whether he has a spot in the near future. Gelinas has a big shot and has some work to do elsewhere, but there's a future. My gut reaction is that a bridge deal about what Mark Fayne made ($1.3 million) for two to three years would be sufficient. We'll see.
Jacob Josefson is an interesting spot. Last summer, he signed a one-year deal as a RFA worth $725,000. Josefson only appeared in 27 games, scored one goal, earned three assists, and doesn't have great underlying metrics. It's worth noting that for the first time since he's come to America, he didn't play a single game in Albany. Then again, he also wasn't waiver ineligible. While I'd like to think he can be a decent bottom-six forward, I can't say he really made the most of his opportunities this season. Beyond being 23 and showing a little skill, what does he do that should make him a regular? A part of me thinks he'd be better off in a different organization. Another part of me, I'd rather have Josefson as a spare forward than another should-be-AHL veteran. It won't cost much to keep him around if last July is any indication; but it begs the question whether he should be kept round - presuming he wants to stay.
Beyond those three, the situations start to vary. The very crowded blueline in New Jersey made for a crowded blueline in Albany. Alexander Urbom actually got to play twenty NHL games with Washington (they didn't go so well), but was then dumped on waivers and re-acquired by New Jersey. He didn't get out of Albany whatsoever. With limited offense and questionable defending where he played himself off of the Capitals' blueline, I don't see a real future beyond additional depth. Brandon Burlon was a second round pick that's lost in the shuffle. As New Jersey's defense was hit with injuries, leading to the call ups of Jon Merrill and Gelinas, it was Seth Helgeson who got an emergency call up over Burlon. That tells me where they think of Burlon. I think his time may be up, if it's not already. He may be kept around for another year but I don't think it'll be necessary, especially with Damon Severson joining the team next season. Maybe on an AHL deal? Time should definitely be up for Harry Young, who only appeared in ten games with Albany. I don't think Young will be qualified; I don't see the need.
The non-NHL RFA forwards are a mixed bag aren't that appealing. None of them really lit it up for Albany or showed something that commands that they should be kept around as a potential NHL call-up or anything like that. Scott Timmins played his whole season with Albany. It appears to me he was good for them, but not necessarily good enough for the next level. Joe Whitney and Mike Sislo, two of three A-Devs who out-scored Timmins this season, got call ups ahead of him. As did Reid Boucher, who finished with one less point than Timmins. While I don't know if it's necessary, I wouldn't mind keeping him around, though. Albany is already lacking scoring, dropping one of their six 30+ point scorers doesn't seem wise for their purposes. David Wohlberg's future really depends on how much Albany relies on them. Even then, the team may opt to cut him loose from a NHL contract but keep him on an AHL deal if they feel that way.
Harri Pesonen is a guy the Devils hoped could be somebody; but it doesn't appear it turned out. Unless he really likes being in Albany or he's shown something there the team could use, I think he goes back to Europe in the summer. Mattias Tedenby got 120 games in the NHL, played his way out of it, and despite all of his supposed talent, managed just over a half of point per game in the AHL. I don't see him getting qualified, really. I don't see the point. Likewise, Riley Boychuk - the throw-in from the Henrik Tallinder deal - only played in 18 games in the AHL. He wasn't gooning it up, but he didn't do all that much either as he spent more time with Elmira. Essentially, the Devils may not qualify most of their six RFA forwards, which speaks to their quality and situation. At least the contract spots on the reserve list may be cleared up for others.
There are two goaltenders, and I think the Devils will keep both. Keith Kinkaid posted 91.6% and 91.2% save percentages in each of his last two regular seasons in Albany. He was better at stopping the puck than Scott Wedgewood (89.9%), though Kinkaid's percentages aren't giving me a ton of a confidence he's ready for the NHL. But he's going to stay in the organization either way. Should the Devils get a veteran backup, then he'll remain as Albany's top goalie. If they want to promote him (and he's been called up on emergency basis in the past), then they can do that. He'll get a new deal for sure, nothing too expensive but it should signify his future. Maxime Clermont had a rough time in the ECHL with a second straight sub-90% save percentage this season. He could be the Albany backup should Kinkaid get moved up; however, I question whether he'll be any good at it. If save percentages are any indication, then I fear for the 2014-15 Albany Devils. Their lack of offensive talent plus a Wedgewood-Clermont pairing spells bad times unless something changes drastically. In any case, for depth purposes, I do think he'll be qualified and signed to a short, cheap deal to see what happens.
Ultimately, the most attention will be paid to Larsson and Gelinas. They will be kept. They will get raises. I'd like to think the team will make some room for both players. The questions are: how much and for how long? Beyond those two and Kinkaid, it's a murkier picture with further questions. What should they do with Josefson? Which of the other RFA defenders get a new deal? Who shouldn't the team qualify? If they let players go, who do they pick up to replace them? And, of course, who opts to not get qualified but stays on a separate (and possibly one-way) deal? This isn't easy to sort out and it's certainly not as glamorous as wondering whether the Devils can make a splash in July or who which UFA should they re-sign (we'll get to them separately). Yet, it definitely factors into a team's depth throughout the regular season and in the near future. This is as much a part of the offseason as any. Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils' RFAs in the comments. Thank you for reading.