New Jersey Devils Should Target Brandon Pirri in Free Agency

Mar 30, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Brandon Pirri (11) is greeted at the bench after scoring a goal in the first period of the game against the Calgary Flames at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 30, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Brandon Pirri (11) is greeted at the bench after scoring a goal in the first period of the game against the Calgary Flames at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Unrestricted free agency in the NHL is set to begin on Friday, July 1, and as fans we often psych ourselves up for the “frenzy” that occurs in the opening hours, where we see the biggest available names sign the biggest contracts with new teams. However, New Jersey Devils fans are used to scoping out the “under-the-radar” targets that hope to provide good value at a lower price. We examine one such case here.

Earlier this week, every team in the league finalized which restricted free agents on their roster would receive qualifying offers. A team must extend a qualifying offer to a restricted free agent if they wish to retain negotiating rights to that player – the player is not required to accept the offer, but teams protect themselves from losing players for nothing by extending it. If a team does not qualify a player, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team at any price once free agency begins. That leads us to Brandon Pirri.

The Anaheim Ducks front office chose not to qualify Pirri after trading for him at the trade deadline last season, sending a sixth-round pick in last week’s 2016 draft to the Panthers as compensation. The return puzzled many around the NHL, seeing as how Pirri, a former product of the Chicago Blackhawks organization (second-round pick in 2009), was coming off a 22 goal campaign with the Panthers in the 2014-2015 season, and had also scored 11 goals for the Panthers last season by the time the trade deadline rolled around. Now, three months later, the Ducks have seemingly cut ties, allowing Pirri to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

A closer look at Pirri’s numbers show that he has the capability to be a legitimate contributor in an NHL lineup. After the 6’0″ center was drafted, he struggled to crack the lineup on a team that was full of top end talent. In his time with the Hawks, Pirri played in only 35 games spread out over four seasons. In those 35 games, he tallied six goals and seven assists before being traded to the Panthers in 2014 in exchange for two draft picks, a third-rounder in 2014 and a fifth-rounder in 2016 (curiously enough, a substantially bigger return than when he was traded two years later). His time in Sunrise showed significant improvement – after the move to Florida, Pirri finished out that season with 14 points in 21 games for the Panthers. The next season, 2014-2015, would be Pirri’s breakout – he scored a career high 22 goals in only 49 games, as his season was stalled by two separate injuries that occurred months apart. Last season, Pirri was able to find the net a total of 14 times in 61 games between his stints in Florida and Anaheim. When you total Pirri’s time in the NHL, he has scored 49 goals in 166 games, which amounts to 0.3 goals per game. To look at it another way, 0.3 goals per game over an 82-game season equates to 25 goals. It’s no secret that the Devils could use a 25-goal scorer.

As far as what Pirri would cost in terms of dollars, he is coming off a contract he signed with the Panthers two years ago for a total of $1.85 million, or $925,000 per year. Despite the fact that his production last season did not match his 22 goal effort of 2014-2015, Pirri has certainly earned himself a raise, all things considered. The fact that he will now be on the open market for any team to have will only help him financially, but whatever number he finally lands on will not be unreasonable – he simply does not have a long or impressive enough resume`. The Devils have an abundance of cap space, and could easily afford whatever salary Pirri commands in what will most likely be a short term deal as teams look for him to prove his worth before committing substantial salary or term.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The left-handed shooter is listed as a center, but the criticism that has fallen upon him throughout his career is that his play is weak in his own zone. The Devils already have defensively responsible centers in Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, and Jacob Josefson, so perhaps Pirri could be enticed to move to the wing where he would be free to explore more scoring opportunities. Pirri also boasts a less than stellar career faceoff win percentage of 46.1, but is known throughout the league as a shootout specialist. Ray Shero should find a place for the 25 year old in the Devils lineup next season – he has the potential to provide a much needed offensive spark for a reasonable price.