Are New Jersey Devils Johnny Gaudreau’s Most Realistic Free Agent Option?

Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) controls the puck during the warmup period against the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) controls the puck during the warmup period against the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils are looking to make a splash this offseason. They’ve reportedly talked amongst themselves about who they would be willing to trade the second-overall pick for. There’s talk about every possible available goalie in the league coming to New Jersey. However, the most impactful option for the Devils might actually be a free agent.

The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian writes about the Calgary Flames, and she made the incredibly bold decision to talk about the other teams who might be able to sign him. There were some of the obvious answers on the list. The Philadelphia Flyers will always be on the list for Gaudreau since his family grew up in South Jersey, which is basically Philadelphia Lite. He grew up a Flyers fan, and they are in a transition period after trading away Claude Giroux. She also mentions the Penguins, Islanders, and Predators as options to sign Gaudreau.

However, the most likely option according to her is the New Jersey Devils. Well, outside of Gaudreau just staying with the Flames of course. So, why?

"“They’re an East Coast team with cap space, a talented young roster, a future star at centre and the desire to get better – now,” Salvian says in her The Athletic piece. “The Devils have a ton of cap flexibility, given the only players signed past next season are franchise pieces. In other words, money shouldn’t be an issue.”"

New Jersey Devils were named “most realistic option” for free agent Johnny Gaudreau.

Well, those points do make sense. The Devils have cap flexibility that almost no other team in the league that’s trying to get better has. They have around $25 million in cap space next season, which is nice, but they have $56 million in cap space in 2023. That’s not a typo, and that’s with the salary cap going up to just $83.5 million. If they start to see the dividends of their TV deals with ESPN and TNT and the cap goes up more, then obviously the Devils would have even more to spend.

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Obviously, that $56 million can’t be spent willy nilly. The Devils are in this position because they didn’t spend on bad contracts. There are a few deals they’d like to give up, but they all have one year left on the deal. They could also give bigger extensions to Jesper Bratt (this offseason), Damon Severson (this offseason or next), Yegor Sharangovich (next offseason), and Jonas Siegenthaler (next offseason). Even with those players getting fair market value, will they cost more than $20 million total on the 2023-24 cap?

The Devils can go big for a big free agent. They did this last year with Dougie Hamilton, and now they have the right side of the defense set up long-term. Could they break the bank to fix one of their biggest issues at wing? Outside of Bratt and maybe Sharangovich, there are a lot of question marks at the position.

Gaudreau’s biggest issue for the Devils is his age. He’s coming off a career year and is looking to get paid. He’s 28 years old, and he will undoubtedly sign the maximum available contract. That means the Devils are signing on for seven years of Gaudreau, paying him until he’s 35 years old. Are the Devils willing to bet they will get the best of Gaudreau or did that already happen with his 115 points this past season?

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It’s definitely a risk, but it’s an interesting proposition. To hear someone like Hailey say the Devils are the “most realistic option” feels a little unrealistic, but the arguments she lays out make perfect sense. Are the Devils really the most realistic option for the top free agent in the class? They were last season, and we saw how that worked out. Maybe they do it again.