New Jersey Devils: Tomas Hertl is a Perfect Fit

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - JANUARY 24: Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks poses for a portrait ahead of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center on January 24, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - JANUARY 24: Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks poses for a portrait ahead of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center on January 24, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

As the New Jersey Devils continue to slog through a very unforgiving winter, the outcry to add a top-tier forward to help the goal-scoring woes has grown. The San Jose Sharks continue to wallow away at the bottom of the league, and many Devils fans again bang the table for Timo Meier.

The Sharks don’t seem to be in any rush to move their high-value veteran assets, but the trade deadline is fast approaching, and the Devils could use some help. Erik Haula’s faceoff prowess has seen him stapled to Jack Hughes’ wing, but he can’t score or dangle like Hughes or others can. What if there’s another player available that can score, defend, and take faceoffs, such as Tomas Hertl?

New Jersey Devils
Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Who is Tomas Hertl?

For the bulk of his NHL career, Tomas Hertl has been Mr. Reliable for the San Jose Sharks. Hertl was drafted by the Sharks 17th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft and made his NHL debut one year later.

As a young player, Hertl had the privilege to learn from highly-skilled veterans whose careers had great longevity, such as Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle, Brent Burns, and Scott Hannon. In his second full NHL season, Hertl finally took off, blossoming into a 20-goal scorer, a high-percentage shooter, and a high-percentage faceoff winner for the Sharks.

Now at age 29, having just turned 29 in November, Hertl has two 30-goal seasons under his belt, has a career shooting percentage of 13.6, a career faceoff percentage of 52.7, and six consecutive seasons with more takeaways than giveaways. Hertl has also never finished a season below 50 percent in the dot since that 2015-16 season. Oh, and he’s 6’2, so size won’t be an issue either.

Why Tomas Hertl?

In addition to the reasons above, Hertl brings the experience expected of a 10-year NHL veteran. Hertl can play on the power-play, short-handed and brings 24 goals and 18 assists in 62 career playoff appearances. Hertl’s faceoff percentage also ballooned to 57.2% in the playoffs, which suggests that, like Ondrej Palat, Hertl is a big game player. In addition, as a big centerman, Hertl averages 87 hits per season in his NHL career, including two seasons in which he threw over 100 hits. This is something the Devils sorely miss in their top six.

Considering Hertl would replace Erik Haula on Jack Hughes’ line, it’s important to note that Hertl has experience playing right wing, so it wouldn’t become a situation where the team acquires a player and throws him into a position that makes no sense. Despite his own offensive talents, Hertl actually isn’t a high-volume shooter, having crossed 200 shots on goal just once (2021-22) in his career.

If Hertl had to take a back seat to Jack Hughes offensively, there wouldn’t appear to be a conflict of interest there. If Hertl takes over the right wing, the team could move Yegor Sharangovich back up to Hughes’ left wing to get him going; the Belarusian sharpshooter has struggled mightily in his third year in the NHL after a strong 2021-22 season.

The Money

Similarly to Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and the St. Louis Blues musings, the Devils have a unique opportunity to acquire a high-salary veteran from a bad team that needs to rebuild. Simply put, Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier no longer fit into the San Jose Sharks’ timeline. The difference, however, between Hertl and those three is that Hertl has significant term left on his contract.

Hertl is in the first year of an eight-year, $65.1m contract that locks him down through his age 36 season in 2029-30. From 2025-2027, Hertl will have a three-team trade list, which will grow to 15 teams in the final two years of the deal.

Because the Sharks only have one year until that trade list comes into effect, they might feel inclined to move their Czech talisman while they have the flexibility to do so. As Hertl gets older, his value will subsequently drop, especially on his big money deal. For the Devils, this means early access to a versatile, All-Star caliber veteran forward who checks all the boxes for their current needs.

The Devils will have several free-agent decisions to make this summer, but some are more obvious than others. One would imagine that Damon Severson, Tomas Tatar, and Andreas Johnsson will all move on. Just two of those contracts could open enough space for Hertl’s cap hit.

Luke Hughes, Simon Nemec, and other prospects potentially coming through would allow the team more room to cut corners with the cap space and build around the core, especially within a bottom six that needs help as much as the top six does.

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