Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at New Jersey.
The Devils will have two huge decisions to make before 2023-24 and one is up front: Hall is due to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020 and in all likelihood, he will test the market. Now, he could very well go the Steven Stamkos route and re-sign anyway, or he could follow John Tavares by taking his talents elsewhere. Given the current good vibes in New Jersey, we’ll keep Hall in Newark for his next contract. Expect a lot of turnover in other spots, however, as New Jersey turns prospects into everyday contributors and veterans age out of the program. Nikita Gusev, who is technically both a prospect and a veteran, is another wild card. If one or more of the prospects listed don’t pan out, Fabian Zetterlund and Nathan Bastian are options too.
Just as Hall will be big up front, Subban will be a crucial re-signing decision on the back end, though the defenseman isn’t eligible for free agency until the summer of 2022. Will a 34-year-old Subban be worth an extension? And how long would said extension have to be? It won’t be an easy call for GM Ray Shero, but hopefully for him, the Devils are good enough in five years to make on-ice success a big part of the pitch. New Jersey has a nice complement of blueline prospects coming up and Daniil Misyul would be another option for the top-six as well.
Here’s where things may get dicey for the Devils. If Blackwood continues to build on his solid rookie campaign in New Jersey, then perhaps he is the answer long-term in net. At 22 right now, he’s just entering his NHL window and a .918 save percentage is a nice starting point. If Blackwood is better suited for the backup role, the Devils will need to either hit up free agency for a big name or hope one of their prospects develop. Schmid and fellow Swiss netminder Gilles Senn both have size but are still very raw. Evan Cormier is also finding his way in the pro game and could be an option.
Overall, the New Jersey rebuild is going quite nicely and the twin powers of Hischier and Hughes at center offer the most promise. The Devils have plenty of prospects to battle for spots and that internal competition will be great for the franchise. Decisions on veterans Hall and Subban will be the biggest game-changers in the coming years and there is no obvious answer for the right path right now, given salary cap considerations. Goaltending is the biggest concern, though as Blackwood showed last season, you can't dismiss any prospects until they get their shot at the big time.
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