New Jersey Devils Found A Perfect Fit In Erik Haula

New Jersey Devils left wing Erik Haula (56): Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils left wing Erik Haula (56): Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

“A better start?” Erik Haula quipped when asked what he wanted to work on getting better at this off-season during his final media appearance before the New Jersey Devils went their separate ways following the second-round exit from the NHL playoffs. “I’d like to get the deal done. It’d be nice to go into the summer knowing that I’m going to be here. I don’t know if I can find hands like Jack’s in the off-season, but I’ll work hard on little things.”

Jack would be Jack Hughes for those who are new here.

Sometimes a player just fits on a team. Whether it’s their personality, work ethic, or penchant for coming up big in the biggest moments. More than a few eyebrows were raised when the Devils swapped the younger Pavel Zacha (last summer) for the elder Haula, but following New Jersey’s magical 2022-23 season, was there a better fit for this group in this particular time period than Haula?

“Well, I’ll start by saying I would take that trade seven days a week, twice on Sunday. He was and is the player type that we needed to help us continue to move the ship forward,” Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald said of the acquisition during his end-of-season media availability.

Haula finished his first season with New Jersey seventh on the team in scoring (41 points/14 goals in 80 games), and then the 32-year-old helped lead the team to a first-round triumph over the New York Rangers with six points/four goals in the seven-game series.

“I was just in Fitzy’s office and was ‘like let’s get it done (a new contract).’ Whenever he gives that call, it’ll be great, and hopefully, we can do it sooner than later so I can get my living situation in order and make my wife happy,” he added with a smile and a laugh.

Haula and his experience (614 games with seven franchises now) were exactly what these Devils needed. Not just his presence in the locker room and on the buses or planes but on the ice, too. How many games did he play center with Hughes on his wing, where New Jersey’s young superstar didn’t have to worry about taking face-offs or a center’s defensive responsibilities?

Despite the slow start offensively, Haula still managed to post the third-highest point total of his now ten-season NHL career. He is the ultimate Swiss army knife player who can play up and down the lineup and in all situations. Those types of players aren’t plentiful in the league, and the Devils have one. And hopefully still have one for the next few seasons. His presence and play were likely what they thought they were buying when they signed veteran winger Ondrej Palat last summer; Palat’s season was derailed with a groin injury during the first few weeks, and he was always playing catchup it seemed.

New Jersey Devils
Erik Haula of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

“I’m not the GM by any means, so it’s not up to me. But I know, I think I know they want to come back. But at the same time, you have to get it done, too. You can’t just talk about wanting to be in New Jersey. If you want to be in New Jersey, you have to just sign the deal,” Hughes said after the season about Haula and other Devils currently without contracts for next season.

He’s 100 percent right. The Devils are at a point now where they don’t have to beg and plead for players to come to New Jersey or sign there. Quite the turnaround, right? This team will be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. Like Danny Ocean once said – ‘you’re either in or you’re out, right now.’ Clearly, from Haula’s words after the season, he is in. And we’d be shocked if his new deal isn’t one of the first signings announced by New Jersey this off-season.

Next. Was This Damon Severson's Last Dance With The Devils?. dark

“I’m a huge Erik Haula fan. He came in and did a great job for us, providing that leadership and experience. There’s a difference between being in the locker room, being a voice, and then not backing it up,” added the not-GM Hughes. “He’s been a gamer for us, played (almost) every game all year. He’s fighting, scoring, penalty killing, on the power play – he’s just a character guy and he fits really well in our locker room. That’s a guy we should bring back for sure.”

As a reporter, Haula is a great voice to hear from in the locker room because he doesn’t sugarcoat anything, no BS. He tells it like it is and keeps it real. And if he is doing that with us, who he only sees for a few minutes per day, one can imagine that he is doing exactly the same thing within that group, within that team. At 32 years old – he wants to win the Stanley Cup, and nothing else matters.

“I think there is a lot to be proud of. I think we took big steps and proved where we can get to. It was a lot of fun, honestly, the whole year. Just being a part of a young group like this, seeing how much they care and want to get better, where they want to get to,” Haula said. “I don’t want to play for any other team. I wanna come back here, and I wanna…it seems like the right spot for me. This is my family.”

“This is where I want to be. It seems like a great fit. I’m not going to lie; when I got the call that I was traded from Boston to here – I had mixed emotions. When I got here, when things started, it seemed right. I have a lot of respect for a lot of the guys in this room – all of them. You look at Jack (Hughes) and what he did this year. Nico (Hischier), some of our best players – I just think that they took such big steps in the winning aspect. I want to be a part of that (going forward).”

New Jersey Devils, Jack Hughes
Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils: Brian Sevald-USA TODAY Sports /

Haula’s prowess all over the ice and his ability to play a 200-foot game is starting to rub off on his teammates. No disrespect to Zacha, but he wasn’t giving that to the Devils. That’s why Fitzgerald said he would make that trade over and over again. The Devils GM had a lot of similar players, and after the trade, he didn’t. With Haula as one of its leaders, the team started to commit more to playing as a team and giving as much of an effort in the defensive zone as they were in the offensive zone.”

“I think that’s when we became a contender. Our team saw and learned what it takes to win, even in the two playoff series. I don’t know if Jack is gonna block many shots in the regular season, but if he wants to win, he’ll block ‘em in the playoffs,” Haula added. “It’s just like little stuff like that; when you see that as a player, when you have guys who are willing to do stuff a little bit harder, a little bit more in the playoffs – you don’t need to say anything. It speaks for itself.”

There won’t be any complacency either in Haula’s game. He knows it’s now a young man’s game, but also that he can play (well) and contribute at this level.

“I think it pushes me. Going into the off-season – I want to come back better. I know my teammates are, so I’m going to work hard this summer, and I want to come back better.”