New Jersey Devils: Predicting Michael McLeod’s Next Contract

New Jersey Devils center Michael McLeod (20): (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
New Jersey Devils center Michael McLeod (20): (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports) /

The New Jersey Devils didn’t know what they had in Michael McLeod coming into the season. He looked like an epic 1st-round bust after the Devils took him with the 12th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. His first year after the draft, he looked like a certified star and one of the best players in the draft. He carried the Mississauga Steelheads to the OHL Finals basically by himself. He put up 73 points in 57 as the team’s captain, and in the playoffs McLeod scored 27 points in 20 games. It looked like the Devils finally had their number-two center of the future after they would choose between Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick in that year’s draft.

Then, McLeod got hurt at NHL training camp. He went back to Mississauga, and it just wasn’t the same. The team was much worse, his friend Nathan Bastian was in the AHL, and McLeod just seemed distanced when he returned from his injury. He tried to pull another magic trick in the playoffs, putting up 10 points in six games, but he did not have the same team around him and the Steelheads lost in the first round.

He still looked good, and Devils fans were excited to have him turn pro the next season. Well, things got worse. It’s not worth delving completely into things, but know his professional start went awfully.

However, it seems like McLeod had a breath of fresh air under Lindy Ruff. The veteran coach’s system seems to build towards McLeod’s strengths. The Devils traded longtime center Travis Zajac at the deadline, which seems to give McLeod a long-term opening at the position. He was actually scoring goals, which he couldn’t do in 23 NHL games coming into the season.

McLeod only scored nine goals in the shortened season, but only four players on the Devils scored more. Plus, every single one of McLeod’s goals came at 5v5. That’s impressive for a player to get all of his scoring at even strength while also only playing under 14 minutes a night. Ruff was starting McLeod’s line towards the end of the season, which also consisted of Bastian and Miles Wood. It showed Ruff’s trust in the line that most consider fourth on the depth chart.

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McLeod is 23 years old, so he is actually closer to his prime than most of the other Devils prospects. Don’t get this twisted, he is still very young and has some growing to do. Just in terms of contract negotiations, he’s closer to a finished product than say Yegor Sharangovich is right now (even though he’s just one year younger). The Devils know at least McLeod’s floor is no longer in the basement.

So, how does that equate with a contract negotiation? McLeod obviously wants a raise, but what exactly can he expect? Ray Shero seemed to give players in the middle bigger contracts to get them done. Pavel Zacha, Will Butcher, and Miles Wood all got more money than one might expect. Those contracts have come with varying results. Meanwhile, Tom Fitzgerald has negotiated hard against Jesper Bratt and Mackenzie Blackwood, who are likely pillars to the foundation of this franchise.

McLeod isn’t quite there, so expect Fitzgerald to try and make this deal happen for as close to the minimum as possible. This might even be a one-year deal just to get it done. Maybe Fitz rewards McLeod with a little bit of a raise from his current $863,000 salary (courtesy of CapFriendly), but by how much is hard to pinpoint. Maybe he gets as high as a $1.1 million salary if he signs a two or three-year deal. There’s no real precedent on the Devils for a player like McLeod. He was a late bloomer like Blake Coleman, so his deal seems like a good benchmark. Coleman signed for three years and got a $1.8 million AAV. So, if McLeod agrees to a three-year deal, he might be in the market for around $1.5 million (since, again, Shero seemed to be more generous).

Most Devils fans would be happy with any deal that signs McLeod long term but doesn’t come off like a massive overpay. The team has a ridiculous amount of cap space, and they have to spent it on someone. They might as well reward some of the in-house talent. However, this just feels like Fitzgerald handing McLeod a one-year deal for $950,000 and asking him to do it again before he gets a long-term deal.