On Day One of Free Agency, Devils Make Significant Upgrades

Even without a decision from Gaudreau, it was a tough day for Tom Fitzgerald’s haters as the Devils made some great moves.

The talk of the summer for Devils fans has mostly been centered on Johnny Gaudreau signing with us or a division rival. Well, as of the time of me writing this, Gaudreau hasn’t signed with anyone. However, even without the addition of the New Jersey born super star, the Devils are far better off today than they were yesterday.

Andrew Brunette, new assistant coach for the Devils, was head coach of the Presidents Trophy winning Panthers for the majority of last season. The 48 year old also played in over 1100 NHL games between 1995 and 2012 and has been as assistant coach in both Minnesota and Florida in his post playing career. In his playing career as a left wing, Brunette scored over 733 points, including four seasons over 60 points. Of those points, 292 came while on the power play. In his career as a coach, Brunette’s teams have a history of scoring a lot of goals. The Panthers led the NHL in goals scored last year with 340 while New Jersey was only able to score 248. In the shortened 2021 season, Florida scored 189 goals with Brunette as an assistant while New Jersey only scored 145. With Brunette behind the bench last year, Florida’s power play was successful over 24% of the time, well ahead of the league average of about 20%. With Brunette as an assistant in 2021, Florida’s power play was just about league average at 19%. In both of those last two seasons, New Jersey had an abysmal power play under coach Mark Recchi. In neither of those two seasons did the Devils have a power play with a success rate higher than 15%

I mention all this to make the point that not only has Brunette been part of a more successful franchise than New Jersey over the past few seasons, but to illustrate how successful the offense and power plays are of teams that Brunette is involved with. The Devils struggled at times to enter the zone, or even just control the puck sometimes, while on the power play and lost several games a result. October 31st, the Devils went 0-3 on the power play in the third period alone and lost the game 4-3 in a shootout. November 5th, the Devils again lost in a shootout after going 0-3 on the power play. November 24th, the Devils went 0-5 on the power play and gave up a shorthanded goal before losing to Minnesota, once again in the shootout. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. Not only was it the lack of goals that resulted in these lost games, but the inability to sustain pressure on the power play and create momentum leading to future later scoring chances really hurt the Devils too. Anyone who watched any significant number of Devils games last year knows what I’m talking about. Adding Brunette to this staff to help fix the offensive woes of this team is a huge win.

Once again, the trade is one for one. Granted this wasn’t a free agent acquisition, but it was a transaction that made the team better none the less. The Devils traded Pavel Zacha to Boston and got Erik Haula in return. The 31 year old Haula has earned 240 points in 534 career games so far. He has played for Minnesota, Las Vegas, Carolina, Flroida, Nashville and Boston in his career. While he has never been a dynamite offensive player, Haula has been a solid second or third center for most of his career. His career face off percentage is 52% while last year with the Bruins he won 53.8% of the draws he took. Haula, while not a great offensive player, isn’t inept at creating points either. He had 18 goals and 26 assists last season. Those 44 points would have put him 6th on the Devils last year, just ahead of Dawson Mercer. Adding a 31 year old veteran that has played 534 regular season games and 61 playoff games to the youngest team in the league could add a calming leadership presence to the young and inexperienced core of the Devils. Adding Haula while only “losing” the nothing that is Pavel Zacha is a big win for Tom Fitzgerald and the Devils.

TSN insiders Bob McKenzie, Pierre LeBrun and Darren Dregger have been reporting all day that the Devils are one of the front runners to sign Johnny Guadreau. Not just because of the proximity to Johnny’s hometown and family, but the the Devils large amount of cap space and exciting young core of Highes, Hischier, Bratt, Mercer and Sharnagovich make the Devils an attractive option for Guadreau. However, as far as I know, he is still considering offers from the Islanders, Blue Jackets, and Devils. If he signs here, great, the Devils immediately become a playoff contender. If he doesn’t sign here then that just means that he never wanted to be a Devils and that would never change. At this point, I think the situation is out of the Devils hands and they just have to wait for Johnny to make up his mind. If he doesn’t sign here, the Devils will likely pivot their interest to another free agent winger like Ondrej Palat, as will several other teams…

Whatever happens later tonight or in the next few days, GM Tom Fitzgerald has made significant improvements to the Devils roster today and every Devils fan should feel good about the direction the franchise is heading in.

You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth

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