An updated offseason checklist for the New Jersey Devils since hiring Sheldon Keefe

The New Jersey Devils can check one task off their list for the 2024 offseason, but they have a long way to go before calling it a successful summer.
San Jose Sharks v New Jersey Devils
San Jose Sharks v New Jersey Devils / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

In April, I unveiled an “ultimate offseason checklist” for the New Jersey Devils, and finding the right coach topped the charts. Now that it seems as though the Devils passed that test with flying colors, it’s time to provide an update and get a little more specific about what this franchise must do in the coming months to field a winner again. 

Before anything else, getting someone like Sheldon Keefe in charge should send a message to the rest of the NHL: The Devils are looking to become a relevant team again in 2024-25. We know what the Devils need, and one position that doesn’t need an upgrade is for the team to find a star scorer at forward. The likes of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Timo Meier, if healthy, give New Jersey a tremendous “Core Four,” something Keefe is rather familiar with. 

Goaltending and help at the blue line are two issues to solve, but where should this goaltender and at least one defenseman come from? Let’s start with the netminder and work from there. 

Create a selective shortlist of potential targets at goaltender

Give the Devils credit, as they’re a team that, despite the fact they planned on winning in 2023-24 and could have easily sold future assets throughout the offseason to win, still have plenty of them. This is because there’s no one worth going after in free agency and no, Ilya Samsonov isn’t following Sheldon Keefe to Newark, nor should he. 

Instead, the Devils will get their top goaltender via trade, and likely a blockbuster one. Since that should be the case, general manager Tom Fitzgerald must be selective about who he wants to bring over to Newark and to avoid making a rushed decision. 

It would be tough to see him making a big trade for someone like Jacob Markstrom, who may not be a 1A in the league much longer. Any goaltender on the trade block he decides to go after must have a proven level of consistency and should also be young enough to potentially stick around in Newark long-term. 

Weaken a division rival at the blue line

The Metropolitan Division doesn’t have many free agents worth pursuing for a team looking to win now. But there are quite a few notables on the blue line from the Metro, and it allows the Devils to weaken a division rival while strengthening themselves. 

Let’s start with the Carolina Hurricanes, where Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce are available. Carolina was a tough team this year, but with a plethora of pending free agents, don’t expect everyone to stick around Raleigh, meaning either Pesce or Skjei could be available. They’re both talented blueliners who would immediately upgrade the Devils rotation; the Canes would miss even one of them. 

Erik Gustafsson would also be an outstanding addition, and he’s one of the best value defensemen in the free agency class. Of course, there’s nothing stopping Fitzgerald from pursuing free agents from teams outside the Metropolitan Division, but with three solid players, and you can say even more about Skjei, it would make a lot of sense to snag one from a rival. 

Find a strong depth scorer

Injuries and misfortune hit the Devils top scorers this past season, and that was the last thing they needed for a team that was already struggling to stop opponents from scoring. Jesper Bratt was the only big-time scorer to make it through all 82 contests (27 goals and 83 points), while Jack Hughes, Timo Meier, and Nico Hischier missed a combined 44 contests. 

This season, Tom Fitzgerald must unearth a contingency plan, and that involves finding at least one strong depth scoring option. As with the blueliners, looking toward the free agent market is the way to go here, and Fitzgerald doesn’t need to break the bank and bring in someone like Sam Reinhart or Jake Guentzel - not that they would be depth scorers anyway. 

Instead, strong supplemental scorers like Adam Henrique or Anthony Mantha would work. Elias Lindholm would be a solid option, as would Sean Monahan or even an older player like Vladimir Tarasenko. Overall, the ideal player would be someone who can slide onto the third line, but if injuries strike the Devils again, every player listed above could easily play top-six minutes.


(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)