Dawson Mercer made a substantial impact on the New Jersey Devils’ 2022-23 season, and he’s poised to be an integral part of the team’s future. With one year remaining on his entry-level contract, the Devils want to get an extension done this offseason to ensure Mercer is in New Jersey for many years. He is eligible for an extension as of July 1, which would take effect in the 2024-25 season.
General manager Tom Fitzgerald has his hands full this offseason. An early extension for Mercer isn’t a top priority since he won’t be an RFA until next offseason, but it’s already on Fitzgerald’s mind. In a recent press conference, he revealed that he hasn’t spoken to Mercer’s representation yet, but he plans to do so. “There’s no rush,” Fitzgerald said, “but I definitely would like to explore tying this young man up long-term.” He pointed out that July 1 is just the start date, and an extension could happen at any point after that.
Fitzgerald is known for savvy moves, so it isn’t surprising that he’s aiming to get a deal done with Mercer before his value rises. His comment about exploring a long-term deal is telling. A bridge deal of two or three years wouldn’t be the best play for the Devils, as that would mean negotiating with Mercer again while he’s still an RFA. A longer deal avoids that situation.
As a key contributor to the Devils’ offense, Mercer is worth a long-term deal. He has fought for a top-six forward role among a loaded group. At just 21 years old, he’s already unlocked a huge chunk of his potential. Mercer’s an exceptional puck-handler who capitalizes on opportunities.
In his rookie season in 2021-22, Mercer tallied 42 points. During the 2022-23 season, he had 56 points, with 27 goals and 29 assists. He held an eight-game scoring streak and a twelve-game point streak. Mercer also celebrated his first career hat trick. He played in all 82 games in both of his first two seasons.
Fitzgerald should aim for longer than four years, as a four-year deal would take Mercer right to unrestricted free agency. The Devils should avoid him becoming a UFA at his first chance to do so. On the longer end, eight years is likely too long. Considering how young he is, he will have more opportunities after his next contract to get paid, so eight years would tie him up for too long. With the cap expected to go up in the coming years, eight years would mean Mercer couldn’t test the waters for a raise as a UFA until 2032. He is eligible to become a UFA in 2028.
A five or six-year contract would work for both sides. Mercer’s cap hit could be somewhere between $4 and $6 million. Six years at $5 million AAV would be a fair deal.
It’s clear that Mercer wants to be a Devil in the long run. “There’s a real positivity to this group. Call it a vibe or a culture or whatever, but it’s real, ” he explained in a piece for The Players’ Tribune. “I’m just really glad I’m a Devil,” he added. The desire to keep pushing with this team is there.
Mercer has a high hockey IQ and a special feel for the game. He believes, “Sometimes, hockey is a feeling.” The greatest athletes have a finger on the pulse of the game, and that’s something that can’t be taught. It can be sharpened and refined, but that feeling is just there at its core, and Mercer has it.
The Devils are now in a window of opportunity. After an exciting 2022-23 season, it will be interesting to see how young players like Mercer respond to higher expectations next season. He will aim to build upon his successful sophomore season next year. Hopefully, he’ll be armed with a new contract that solidifies his future in New Jersey. Mercer is just getting started.