Grading The Devils 2022 Off Season

With the draft and several big moves behind us, it’s time to asses what the Devils have done to try and improve from last season.

The 2022-23 Devils will, thankfully, look vastly different from last season’s version of the franchise. Some key departures and key additions, as well as the transition of young prospects into productive NHL players (we hope), gives the Devils a vastly different look heading into next season. Most importantly, goaltending. Due to injuries and poor play, the Devils were forced to use seven goalies last season. It was an absolute train wreck. Truly painful to watch. That is an unheard of number of goalies to use and is highly unlikely to be repeated. The Devils went out outside of the organization to add some depth to the position. During the draft, the Devils acquired goalie Vitek Vanecek and subsequently signed him to a three year contract extension. The 26 year old Vanecek was in the Capitals organization from 2014 until last season, only playing 79 NHL games in that time, spread across the 2021 and 2022 seasons. His career NHL numbers, .908 SV% and 2.68 GAA, are solid for a backup goalie and far better than any net minder the Devils had last season.

If Blackwood is fully healthy, and all indications are that he is, he will hopefully return to the solid goalie he was in his first two seasons and Vanecek will be a solid backup. It is also possible that Vanecek wins the starting job in camp and Blackwood is the backup to start the year. That’s a question that can’t be answered until September. But the Tom Fitzgerald, for the third off season in a row, did attempt to improve the goaltending. A duo of Vanecek and Blackwood is a pretty big question mark but I am choosing to be positive and believe that they both play as the best versions of themselves and give the Devils average to, dare I say, above average goaltending. That being said this move far from guarantees to solve the Devils goalie issues so I give it a C+ for now.

I broke down the signing of Ondrej Palat in more detail here when the Devils first signed him. In short, I think that Palat adds scoring depth to the Devils top three lines as well as adds a physical presence that the Devils sorely lack. Should the team be in a position to be playing the incredibly elusive “meaningful games in March” that we have been craving for the vast majority of the last decade, Palat’s veteran leadership will be important for this young roster. I gave this signing a B+.

The Devils finally, mercifully, ended the Pavel Zacha induced misery that the Garden State faithful have suffered through since 2016. The 6th overall pick in 2015 never came close to hitting expectations… or the net. The 2015 draft will forever be a huge missed opportunity for this franchise, but no use crying over that spilled milk anymore than we already have. The Devils sent Zacha up to Boston and brought back Erik Haula. Haula can play both wing and center but I see him more as a third line center for the Devils this season. I broke this trade down when it happened as well. This deal gets an A from me.

Whew. This came down to the wire as both sides barely avoided arbitration by signing a one year contract just before the deadline. Arbitration is known to sour relationships between teams and players so its a good thing the Devils were able to avoid that with Bratt here. Now, this is far different from the contract I thought Bratt would get earlier in the year, but I will still take this. A one year deal still makes Bratt an RFA next summer, giving the Devils some leverage to either extend him or trade him for a worthwhile package. It is also a short deal, giving Bratt added incentive to prove that his explosion last year was not a fluke as he continues to look for a top tier contract. I believe that what we saw from Bratt last year was far from a fluke and will continue. We have seen his talent since he burst onto the scene with an explosive opening night in October 2017. Last year, he finally put all of that talent together consistently to produce at an elite level on a losing team. I think what we saw from Bratt last season is what we can expect for the better part of the next decade. For that reason I’m not thrilled about this being such a short deal. However, the Devils having leverage next summer makes it acceptable. I give this deal a B.

Ty Smith had a fantastic rookie season followed by a lackluster, at best, second year. John Marino is a 25 year old right handed defenseman that specializes in defensive play and has played the last three seasons in Pittsburgh. With Dougie Hamilton and Damon Severson relied upon to produce offense, it is valuable to have a strong defensive defenseman playing important minutes. Marino is also under contract until the 2027 offseason, giving the Devils stability. Essentially the Devils replaced an offensive minded question mark in Ty Smith for a sure thing defensive defenseman. Along with this, the Devils locked up Jonas Siegenthaler through the 2028 season for just $3.4 million per season. The Devils now have two young, reliable defensive defensemen to go along with the offensive threats of Dougie Hamilton and Damon Severson with Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec to be joining the roster soon. The Devils have a strong defensive corps built for the future here. The Marino trade is a B+ and the Siegenthler extension is an A+.

All things considered I give this off season a B+ to this point. I have some reservations about the goaltending being good enough but I am stoked about the forwards and defense and I think both groups have been considerably upgraded. I am excited to see this team on the ice in training camp next month and I really can’t wait to see them play some real games in October. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth. Let’s Go Devils!

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