The New Jersey Devils spent a ton of money this offseason, and now they are technically a “salary cap” team. While the Devils aren’t even a guaranteed playoff team, is the cap situation as dire as it looks like on paper?
The New Jersey Devils currently have $73,000 in salary cap space according to CapFriendly. The Devils came into the offseason with more than $25 million in space. Then, they signed Ondrej Palat and Brendan Smith to free agent contracts. They traded for Erik Haula, John Marino, and Vitek Vanecek. Vanecek signed a restricted free agent contract. That left just enough money to settle one-year deals with Jesper Bratt and Miles Wood to avoid arbitration. Now, the Devils barely have enough cap space to pay for the average New Jersey worker (which makes about $64,000 per year).
On paper, a lot still has to go right for the Devils to make the playoffs. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier have to stay healthy. Jesper Bratt has to repeat his 2021-22 performance or possibly exceed it. They need to find another competent winger for the top six, whether that’s Yegor Sharangovich, Dawson Mercer, or Alexander Holtz, to play on the top line.
Possibly most important of all, the Devils need competent goaltending. Vanecek is a good goalie who hasn’t had the best stats. Mackenzie Blackwood can be a starter, but he’s coming off two awful seasons. Can they bounce back? We won’t know until the season starts.
Is it bad that the New Jersey Devils are so close to the salary cap?
Then, aside from all that, the Devils would need one of the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, or Washington Capitals to fall off without the Islanders, Blue Jackets, or Flyers stealing one of those spots.
The Devils are asking a lot to go right with a team that really only added Palat, Marino, and Vanecek while losing Pavel Zacha, Ty Smith, P.K. Subban, Janne Kuokkanen, and Jimmy Vesey. The team is definitely better than its record last season, but are they the 37 points better it would require to make the playoffs?
Well, that’s a question for a different day. What we are looking at today is the Devils salary cap situation on its own. It’s really not nearly as bad as it looks. For one, the Devils are going to put Jonathan Bernier on long-term injured reserve. That will free up at least some of his $4.125 million salary. That will help until at least as long as he’s rehabbing back from his hip injury. He might not even make it back at all this season (although that is still to be determined). If he does come back and plays well, the Devils could easily drop one of their goalies on a team that desperately needs one.
On top of that, the Devils have 13 expiring contracts. That includes a $3.4 million cap hit for Andreas Johnsson and a $4.5 million hit for Tomas Tatar. They have some value on an expiring deal. Granted, it’s not a ton, but teams would be willing to take on the cap hit to see if they have something to give.
Looking beyond this season, the Devils are actually in good shape. They will have $36.5 million in cap space next season. They have to give new contracts to Bratt, Sharangovich, and possibly Damon Severson. That likely leaves the Devils with a minimum of $20 million in space with Holtz, Simon Nemec, Luke Hughes, Nolan Foote, Tyce Thompson, Reilly Walsh, and others coming to play for the Devils on contracts paying them under $1 million per season.
The Devils are in great shape for the future. The fact that they are a cap team this year really doesn’t matter. Enjoy hopefully having a competitive team without blowing the future.