The New Jersey Devils are primed to make a huge move this offseason, and many are predicting they could be the frontrunners to sign the top free agent in the class. Johnny Gaudreau seems destined for free agency, and the Devils have the money and location to be a promising option for the soon-to-be 29-year-old winger. Gaudreau grew up in Carney’s Point. He was a Philadelphia Flyers fan, and they could be a huge player in this process, but Gaudreau could still pick a team he likely wasn’t thrilled with as a kid.
Gaudreau is coming off his best season. That’s always a scary proposition for a player who’s going into the year a team has to pay him. It’s not necessarily a one-hit wonder, but it’s clear he had his best season now. He hit 40 goals for the first time, and he recorded 115 points after never getting 100 points in a full season. It shows that Gaudreau has had some really good seasons (99 points in 2018-19 and north of a point per game the season before). There just hasn’t been anything close to what he did this past season.
Gaudreau finished the 2019 Hart Trophy voting in fourth place, so he’s shown he can carry a team in the past. Now, we have to see if this is sustainable. That’s the magical question. Someone is going to pay Johnny Gaudreau an uncomfortable amount of money for a long, long time. We’re talking 6-8 years depending on where he ends up. Should the Devils really be making that kind of commitment when he’s expected to make more than $10 million per season? Are they really that close?
This situation reminds us of two situations that hit close to home. One is Artemi Panarin. He signed for huge money with the New York Rangers coming off his then best season. The Rangers thought he could be the piece to change everything for them, and he kind of was. He helped the Rangers get out of the doldrums, and while other players seem to have passed him on his own team, he’s still a star in the middle of that lineup. However, it seems like that contract might get worse before it ever gets better.
The other situation is one that never came to fruition, but it would have if the player said yes. Taylor Hall was primed to sign an eight-year deal before he became an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020. He chose to ride it out and see how the season went after his knee injury. Maybe the Devils did too, we’ll never know. Either way, if Hall was set to become a free agent after the summer of 2018, teams would have lined up to pay him $11 million. Even if he was a full year from free agency, the Devils would have signed him to that contract right then and there.
Honestly, Hall is the unluckiest player in the NHL. He played for years on an Edmonton Oilers team just trying to figure it out, and then they won the NHL Draft Lottery that got them Connor McDavid. They didn’t need Hall anymore, and the fact he didn’t put in a no-trade clause sent him to New Jersey. He embraced his new team eventually, and he won the MVP award. Unfortunately, he was two years from free agency. After an injury-riddled year, he was traded in the middle of his final year on his deal to the Arizona Coyotes.
We all know how it went from there. He chose the money that offseason, signing with the paltry Buffalo Sabres. Then, he signed a four-year deal for just $6 million per season with the Boston Bruins. It looks like they are going to go into a rebuild themselves.
Gaudreau has great timing. It’s his best season coming when he can actually cash in. That doesn’t necessarily mean it would automatically be a bad deal, but it does mean it’s an even bigger risk. If a team was signing him after last season, when he had 49 points in 56 games, his contract would be much less. He’d still get paid, but instead of being in the $10-11 million range, we’re looking in the $7 million range.
The Devils have to figure out how much risk they are willing to obtain if they truly want to get into the Johnny Gaudreau Sweepstakes. It takes a pretty penny to stay in the conversation for these huge names. After spending an arm and a leg for Dougie Hamilton last offseason, they might be looking to do it again. Are we looking at another Taylor Hall? The Devils avoided one bullet already. Let’s see how this one plays out.