New Jersey Devils: What Will Dawson Mercer’s Extension Look Like After Down Season?

Dawson Mercer's 2023-24 season has been a let down compared to his first two seasons in the NHL. He's still young and brimming with potential, but how will this year's disappointment factor into his next contract?
New Jersey Devils center Dawson Mercer (91) celebrates
New Jersey Devils center Dawson Mercer (91) celebrates / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Following two strong seasons, Dawson Mercer’s third year in the NHL has been disappointing. Last offseason, the Devils contemplated an early extension for Mercer, and we thought a long-term contract was in the cards. That didn’t happen, and his down year has likely cost him a long-term deal this offseason when he becomes a restricted free agent. If Mercer had played extremely well this season, that might have led to him being locked up for six or more years. Now, he's likely to receive a bridge deal.

In his rookie season in 2021-22, Mercer tallied 42 points, including 17 goals and 25 assists. In his sophomore season, Mercer had 56 points, 27 goals, 29 assists, an eight-game goal streak, and a 12-game point streak. In 2023-24, Mercer has just 28 points, with 17 goals and 11 assists. He is on pace for 35 points, meaning he’ll likely fall short of his rookie stat line. It seemed like Mercer was poised to have a 30-goal season. Instead, he has yet to reach 20 goals with just 16 games remaining.

We began to worry when Mercer was virtually invisible early on in the 2023-24 season. Not only was he silent on the scoresheet, but he wasn’t very noticeable in any area on the ice. He finally broke through and started contributing to the team, but he never really recaptured the spark from last season. 

Does this mean last season was a fluke? No. Mercer is only 22 years old and has so much hockey ahead of him. He skates well, creates offense, and has a high hockey IQ. One down year is not going to be the end of Mercer. If he can come out strong next season and look more like the 2022-23 version of himself, this season’s disappointment will fade. After all, a lot of Devils were disappointing this season. We've seen shades of 2022-23 Mercer throughout the 2023-24 season, like this crafty goal against the Dallas Stars.

Mercer ranks third in goals, and NHL games played among 2020 first-round draft picks. He ranks sixth in assists and fifth in points. Mercer was third in all four categories after the 2022-23 season. He has continued to stay healthy and in the lineup, but his point production has definitely dropped off. These are still great rankings among other top picks, especially since he was the 18th-overall pick.

The organization won’t want to get locked in long-term right now, but Mercer should still get more than a short-term deal. He’s earned the vote of confidence. A three-year extension may be the best length for his next contact. A four-year deal wouldn’t make as much sense for the Devils, as this would bring Mercer right to unrestricted free agency. He is set to become a UFA in 2028. The salary cap will continue to go up, so a bridge deal now would benefit Mercer in a couple of years when it comes time for his next contract.

Last summer, anywhere between $4 million and $6 million per year seemed realistic. Now, the realistic range may be between $4 million and $5 million. As Nick Natale of Pucks and Pitchforks recently suggested, 3 years, 4 million AAV would be a fair deal. That might be a little low for what he’s worth, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see this go a team-friendly route.

The Devils should not trade Mercer in the offseason. He’s a versatile forward who can play in the Top 6 or Top 9, depending on where he is needed. Mercer fits in well with the Devils’ core group. He was a big contributor to the team’s success in 2022-23, and he is poised to be a part of the future. He also has lower value now than ever before due to his weak season, meaning this would be the worst time to trade him. The Devils would be wise not to make that move this summer.

The 2024-25 season will be a huge bounce back opportunity for a lot of players. Mercer is someone who can flip the script and return to form. Look out for his resurgence next season.