You know who just had a really good weekend? ME! That’s because Ray Shero, the GM of my beloved New Jersey Devils put in some goddamn work at the NHL Draft here in Vancouver.
For starters, he used the number one pick in the draft to select 18-year-old Jack Hughes, who promises to be an elite-level talent at center for years to come. As a kicker, he was also able to snag P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators for some spare parts, some draft picks and some major salary cap relief. And y’know what? I don’t think he’s done.
The Devils still have north of $25 million in cap space, although they will no doubt be saving a chunk of that in hopes of being able to sign Taylor Hall to an extension, seeing as how he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent after next season. But with a hoard of contending teams looking for ways to stay under the $81.5 million cap threshold for next season, Shero and Co. are in an enviable position when it comes to the flexibility of being able to add to their roster without having to subtract much.
The same can’t be said for a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who just had to surrender a future first round pick to Carolina simply to free themselves from the weight of Patrick Marleau’s contract. The Vegas Golden Knights are in a similar predicament. They currently find themselves more than $6 million over the cap ceiling, and it seems they will likely have to part with some high-end talent for a light return. The Devils are one of the teams best positioned to swoop in and take advantage of that much like they just did with David Poile’s situation in Nashville.
There is also a tantalizing crop of free agents available that Shero may be willing to bring on board if the price is right. Artemi Panarin highlights that list, but the idea of adding a player the likes of Anders Lee, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Dzingel, or even Joe Pavelski is an enticing possibility. But I wouldn’t expect the Devils to start throwing cash around recklessly. After all, this summer is really putting a spotlight on the importance of having financial flexibility.
Even without taking any future maneuvers into account, the Devils roster as currently constructed is a leaps-and-bounds improvement over what they finished with last season. They may not be at Cup contender status yet, but the additions of Hughes and Subban in one weekend puts a lead block on top of the gas pedal on their rebuild. This team was thought to be years away from their contention window just a few months ago, and now they find themselves in a position where a few more savvy moves by Shero could put them right there.
The Devils also have some promising prospects in their system that might slot into the NHL lineup as early as this coming season. The impact that veterans like Subban and Andy Greene could have on the development of defenseman Ty Smith is incredibly exciting. If the organization is high enough on a guy like Swedish winger Jesper Boqvist, they likely wont feel pressure to overspend on a free agent forward. I get the sense the Devils feel like they have legit future pros down on the farm, meaning they can save their financial assets and wait to spend until they’re one or two major signings away from being a championship team.
Aside from the obvious talent boost, this team also just became a lot more fun from a personality perspective. Subban is one of my favorite characters in the league, as evidenced by this video he tweeted out after the trade to New Jersey became finalized…
#Smashville – I love you! Thank you to the @PredsNHL team, teammates, fans and community for embracing me over the past three years. Ready for this next chapter… @NJDevils are you ready for the Subbanator? 😈☝🏿👀 pic.twitter.com/rkPkkqRKRT— P.K. Subban (@PKSubban1) June 22, 2019@PKSubban1 on Twitter
After watching cameras follow Hughes around on draft day, a few things become clear. One, the guy eats, sleeps and breathes hockey. Even as he was being whisked around from one media availability to the next, he couldn’t take his eyes off of the TV broadcast of the draft. But the other thing that is apparent from watching this video is that this kid is going to inject his personality into the locker room as well…
Keeping with the theme of Devils having fun, here’s a video of Blake Coleman dancing to Old Town Road at his wedding last week just because…
All of this is to say that it’s a damn good time to be a Devils fan right now. There are few teams in the league who are as solid down the middle with Nico Hischier still on the upswing of his career. A defense corps that was once the glaring weakness on this squad is officially on the come up. Strangely enough, the biggest question mark for this team may be in between the pipes. Cory Schneider isn’t getting any younger and had a hell of a time recovering from injury last season. 22-year-old Mackenzie Blackwood showed a ton of promise in limited time, but still has a lot of room to grow his game.
Needless to say, I am giddy with anticipation over what the rest of this offseason may bring. Last season was a painful one. The litany of injuries never really gave the Devils a chance to return to the playoffs after a surprising postseason berth the year prior. But going forward, a playoff appearance should be the baseline goal for the team this season. October can’t come soon enough. And who knows, if things break right, there may be a summer in the not too distant future where the Devils are lifting the Stanley Cup over their heads once again. And best believe when that happens, we’re gonna party like it’s 1995.