The New Jersey Devils have had a busy week, and general manager Tom Fitzgerald has been a busy man. After inking second overall pick Simon Nemec to his rookie contract, he added Ondrej Palat to the top six of the lineup. He added to the team as he moved Ty Smith to the Pittsburgh Penguins and brought in John Marino to bolster the back end.
Those are exciting moves. Not-so-exciting times are gearing up as three players have filed for arbitration. It’s normal in hockey but also an absolute grind to get the player and team to agree to a deal. Let’s look at the three players who filed and the cases they have going for them.
Jesper Bratt is the first of the three to file for arbitration. Bratt is arguably the most important player on this list. Jesper Bratt had signed a two-year contract worth $5.5 million dollars and carried an AAV worth $2.75 million per season. After the season he displayed for the New Jersey Devils, he is due a significant raise. It was a career year for the forward. Bratt was one of the more consistent players in the lineup. In 76 games, he scored 26 goals, 47 assists, and 73 points, which was good for first on the team. He finished with 18 points on the power play—Bratt is nearly a PPG player for the Devils.
Throughout his career with the Devils, he has 203 points in 307 games. With the Devils locking up the core as they have done so far with Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Dougie Hamilton, it would be wise of Tom Fitzgerald to keep Jesper Bratt and keep him as part of the core.
Projected Contract: Five Years $34 million AAV $6.8 million
The goalie Tom Fitzgerald acquired via trade at the NHL Draft, Vitek Vanecek, is headed to arbitration. Vanecek has spent the last two seasons with the Washington Capitals and has provided consistent numbers. In 2020-21 he started 37 games and finished with a 2.69 goals against average, and a .908 save percentage. This season he started in more games and saw his goals against average go down to a 2.67, while his save percentage remained the same at .908. In each season, he has finished with a negative goals saved above expected with -7.3 in 2020-21 and -5.4 in 2021-22.
Vanecek arguably posted better statistics than the majority of the Devils goalies that started for the team this season. His sample size is small, but he has posted NHL-average goaltending and stability in the crease.
Projected Contract: 2 years $5.5 million AAV $2.75 million
Thompson is the next player headed for arbitration. He has had a very small sample size for the Devils at the NHL level. In 9 games with the Devils, he has one assist and is a -3.
Thompson has seen his growth in the minors with the Binghamton Devils, which is now the Utica Comets. During the 2020-21 season, he managed four points in 11 games. His play elevated this past season with the Utica Comets. In 16 games played, he scored six goals, nine assists, and 15 points. He was nearly a PPG player for the Comets and has a chance to possibly make the roster this year as an impact young gun for the Devils.
Projected Contract: 2 years $3 million AAV $1.5 million
Tom Fitzgerald has his work cut out for him. Jesper Bratt is a must-lock and an essential player for the Devils going forward. The chemistry he and Jack Hughes developed will be huge for the offense going forward. Vitek Vanecek, who the Devils acquired at the draft, is the upgrade Fitzgerald is looking for and lands it. Tyce Thompson is a player who could be one to watch for the Devils as an under-the-radar player to make it with the big club eventually.
Cap space could be created at some point. Forward Andreas Johnsson is a pending UFA at the season’s end. A trade involving him would make sense before the season. With the log jam on the back end, it will be interesting to see where Damon Severson ends up. He is also a pending UFA and carries a cap hit of $4.2 million per season. That would make more sense at the trade deadline and not before the season.
Get the popcorn ready as the contract negotiations continue.