After missing out on free agency’s top prize, the Devils signed Ondrej Palat to a 5 year deal. Let’s examine if this was a good or bad move for New Jersey.
The 31 year old Palat has two Stanley Cup rings and has played in the last three Stanley Cup Finals with the Lightning. In 628 career regular season games, Palat has tallied 423 points with 143 goals and 280 assists. In his playoff career, Palat has 94 points in 138 games. In each of the last three seasons, Palat has earned at least 40 points. At 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, Palat also plays a physical game, racking up at least 120 hits in 5 seasons, including last year. For reference, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian were the only Devils to register more than 120 hits last season.
Palat provides a lot of things the Devils lack. Most important is secondary scoring. Last year, the Devils had just five forwards score over 40 points meaning that almost all of the offensive responsibility fell on players such as Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. If those three weren’t at their very best, the Devils struggled mightily to put the puck in the net. Palat helps ease some of the pressure on those guys by adding offensive depth. he scored 49 points last season and averages 55 points per 82 games played over the course of his career. If he can produce around that level, the Devils top three lines become much more formidable for other teams to attempt to shut down.
To go along with the offensive depth and physical presence that Palat provides, he adds veteran leadership and championship experience to the youngest team in the league. For a franchise that has won one playoff game in the last decade, a champion’s voice and example could go a long way. If and when things get tough for the Devils, two time Cup champ Palat will be able to lead with either words or example to show the young Devils how to get back on the right track.
Since the details of the contract were announced ($6 million dollars per year for 5 years), some people have criticized the contract as over paying Palat. That may be true. Palat’s contribution on the ice may not quite be worth $6 million dollars per year for the next five years. Here is the thing though; it doesn’t matter at all. Even with Palat’s salary accounted for, the Devils still have $17 million in cap space. More than enough to sign Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood and the rest of the RFA’s. Furthermore, the Devils have no big players to extend and give pay raises to anytime soon. Hughes, Hischier and Hamilton are all already locked up. Next summer, the contracts of Tomas Tatar and Andreas Johnsson come off the books, freeing up an additional $7.9 million in cap space. Additionally, it is expected that the salary cap will continue to rise in the coming years as the pandemic fades further into the rear view mirror. With this contract accounted for, the Devils are not currently in cap trouble, nor will they be over the next few years.
So with all things considered, what grade should we give this signing? I give it a B+. While Palat isn’t the high end forward the Devils were hoping for, he is still a very valuable piece to help the Devils development next season. Not only that, but the contract is reasonable enough that it does not put the Devils in any sort of salary cap related danger. The signing isn’t an A because Palat can’t fill the net like certain other free agents could have, but it is still an improvement that addresses several of the Devils needs.
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