The Devils seem to have a strong core of young forwards for years to come, if they can extend one of their best players this offseason.
Jesper Bratt was a sixth round pick by the Devils in 2016 and was just 19 years old when he debuted on opening night in 2017. In the Devils 4-1 win over Colorado that night, Bratt scored a goal and earned an assist to announce his arrival to the NHL. Bratt would go on to have a strong rookie season, scoring 13 goals and adding 22 assists, totaling 35 points in 74 games played as he helped the Devils reach the post season for the first time in six seasons. Prior to this season, Bratt was a strong middle six forward who showed flashes of greatness. He set a career high for goals with 16 in the pandemic shortened 2020 season, but never surpassed the point total of his rookie year, until this season. In January of 2021, Bratt signed a two year contract extension with the Devils for an average annual value of $2.75 million and that contract expires at the end of this season, making Bratt a restricted free agent due for a LARGE pay raise.
All of the highlights in the video shared above came before Bratt exploded this season with 65 points (22G 43A) in 61 games played so far. In this season, Bratt has gone from a decent middle six winger, to an elite offensive threat that can skate, shoot, score and pass with the best in the NHL on a night in and night out basis. As a pending RFA, the Devils do have some control over Bratt’s future for the next few years. If he were to accept a contract offer from another team, the Devils would have a chance to match it and keep Bratt with whatever contract he agreed to with the other team. If the Devils chose not to match it and let Bratt go somewhere else, the team signing Bratt would have to compensate the Devils with future draft picks, depending on the length and salary in the contract. However, the Devils should not let this 23 year old star sign anywhere else. Hell, they shouldn’t even give him the temptation of negotiating with other clubs. They need to lock him up to a long term extension ASAP. But what might that look like?
That list above is the core of the Devils for the foreseeable future, minus Alexander Holtz, all Devils fans hope. Hischier and Hughes are both already under contract until 2027 and 2030 respectively. Hischier is making $7.25 million per year over the life of his contract and Hughes is making $8 million in each year of his deal. Like Bratt, neither Hughes nor Hischier has turned 24 years old yet. So they are both pretty comparable to Bratt with the exception of Hughes and Hischier being centers while Bratt plays on the wing. The Devils have over 7 million dollars in cap space right now and are projected to have over 24 million dollars in cap space available at the end of next season. (according to capfriendly.com) That means there is plenty of room to make Jesper Bratt a rich and happy man for many years to come. When considering that the captain makes a little over 7 million dollars and the face of the franchise makes 8 million dollars, one could assume that Bratt falls into that same range. If I were sitting in the seat of Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald, I would offer Bratt the same contract that I signed Nico HIschier to, 7 years for $7.25 million per season. An elite winger like Bratt is exactly what the Devils need to help players like Hischier and Hughes realize their full potential. Bratt’s fantastic skating ability allows him to stretch opposing defenses and create more space for his line mates. Bratt then excels at finding those open teammates in space with his incredible tape to tape passes. His outstanding shot allows him to finish plays set up by his teammates. Bratt has shown flashes of all of this in the first four years of his career but has put in all together consistently this season. If Bratt rejected the Hischier deal, I think it would fitting to offer him the Hughes deal, 8 years for $8 million per season. Bratt alone may not have the value that the two centers do, but the Devils need Bratt on the ice to get the best production out of Hischier and Hughes.
The only scenario in which the Devils should decide not to match a Bratt offer sheet would be if the other team was willing to pay him upwards of $10 million per season like the Leafs do for their star winger, Mitch Marner. As the Leafs show every year, paying half of your salary cap to a few elite forwards works well from October through March, but doesn’t do you much good when the playoffs begin in early April. If the Devils can sign Bratt to a contract in the neighborhood of the Hughes and Hischier contracts, they should do it in a heart beat. But if another team blows them out of the water with an offer north of $10 million in salary, the Devils should probably just take the draft picks, wish Bratt well (depending on where he goes) and hope for the draft picks all pan out. I love Bratt and it would make me sick to my stomach to watch him play for another franchise. Hopefully he and Devils agree to a fair, long term, contract extension soon so we as Devils fans can truly excited about our teams future… on the offensive side of the puck at least…
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