The New Jersey Devils have lots of offseason wants. And a type of is discovering a top-four defenseman, particularly one who’s left-handed and may play top-pair minutes. If unrestricted free company (UFA) is the route they select to go, Jake Gardiner needs to be on the prime of their listing. He’s strong in his personal finish and may create offense, however he gained’t come at a reduction. Is he well worth the cash the Devils should shell out for his skills?
Gardiner Ought to Get the Devils’ Consideration
His title may not attraction to you want Erik Karlsson, who’s additionally a UFA this summer time, however Gardiner has put collectively a strong résumé with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his eight-year profession, he’s totaled 245 factors in 551 video games and has proven a capability to create offense. He additionally gives a bodily presence at 6-foot-2, 203 kilos.
Jake Gardiner will likely be one of many prime UFA defenseman this summer time. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
The left aspect of the Devils’ blue line might use somebody like Gardiner. They’ve an getting older Andy Greene, who isn’t able to enjoying top-pair minutes anymore. Will Butcher appears to be like like a strong top-four defenseman, but it surely’d be a stretch to say he can play constant top-pair minutes proper now. That leaves Sami Vatanen or Damon Severson needing somebody who can play alongside them.
Gardiner’s underlying numbers recommend he’s somebody who can play with both of these two. His targets above alternative, which determines what number of targets a participant provides to his group relative to a replacement-level participant, was 12.9 this season. That places him forward of defensemen corresponding to Alex Pietrangelo, Mattias Ekholm, and John Klingberg. It additionally places him first on the Devils by a good margin.
Visible by Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey), knowledge from Evolving HockeyAnother subject the Devils have on their again finish is their incapacity to maneuver the puck successfully. Butcher does this very properly, as does Severson, however the identical can’t be stated of their different defensemen. High prospect Ty Smith will be capable of assist, however they will’t financial institution on a 19-year-old to resolve all their issues.
Gardiner would offer the increase they want and may’t get from inside the group. He exits the defensive zone with possession at a excessive price and has a optimistic affect on shot contributions, which results in extra scoring. He additionally does a superb job of breaking apart zone entries with possession. If partnered with Severson, the Devils might have a fairly efficient prime pair.
Visible by CJ Turturo (@CJTDevil), knowledge by Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine)Severson doesn’t come with out his flaws, however he hasn’t performed with a defenseman of Gardiner’s caliber earlier than. His commonest companions over the past three seasons have been Greene and John Moore, who’s now with the Boston Bruins. Gardiner could be a big improve over each and could be a pleasant change of tempo for Severson.
To Signal or To not Signal Gardiner?
Gardiner is not going to come low cost. Some have speculated he might earn north of $7 million per yr, whereas TSN’s Darren Dreger says he’ll be trying for at least $6 million per yr, and that time period will likely be vital. In Evolving Wild’s contract projections, he’s forecasted to land a seven-year deal value about $6.950 million per yr. So what ought to the Devils do?
The Case In opposition to Signing Him
The Devils haven’t paid for a high-priced free agent below basic supervisor Ray Shero as he doesn’t consider it’s the proper approach to construct a group. They pursued Kevin Shattenkirk in the summertime of 2017 earlier than he determined to signal with the New York Rangers, the group he grew up supporting.
Brian Boyle did signal with the Devils that very same summer time, a deal that carried a cap hit of $2.55 million. Ben Lovejoy signed a three-year contract the earlier summer time, one which got here with a cap hit of $2.66 million per yr. These are the 2 costliest signings of Shero’s tenure, and he’d desire to maintain it that manner.
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Gardiner additionally comes with some damage issues as he had a again subject that stored him out for 20 video games this season. Again accidents are tough issues, and also you by no means know the way it’ll maintain up down the street. He’s additionally 29 years previous, and if he’s on the lookout for a max contract of seven years, the Devils should determine if it’s value handing out a deal for somebody who’ll be 36 years previous when it expires.
Jake Gardiner’s age might make the New Jersey Devils cautious of signing him (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports activities)
Gardiner’s asking value may also be a bit excessive. If he earns a deal that pays him $7 million yearly, he’d be one of many 13 highest-paid defensemen within the league. He’s an excellent defenseman, however one of many top-13? In all probability not. And he’s not going to get a lot much less cash than what’s speculated, particularly with the weak UFA class, so there’s the chance of overpaying.
The Case for Signing Him
The gist of the argument for signing Gardiner is fairly easy: he’d change into the Devils’ finest defenseman the second he indicators. He has the skillset they want and could be their handiest puck-mover. He’s a left-handed shot, which fills a necessity, and he can play top-pair minutes alongside Vatanen or Severson. Groups are inclined to overrate dimension, however Severson is the one Devils’ defenseman above six ft tall who performs each night time. So Gardiner’s body could be a welcomed addition.
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Gardiner might find yourself being costly, however the wage cap gained’t be a difficulty for the Devils. They’ve a projected $32 million in cap house, and that doesn’t embrace any further house they’ll get if the wage cap rises to $83 million, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman initiatives it is going to. So in the event that they’re itching to pay a prime free agent, this could be the summer time to do it.
If the Devils need to return to the postseason, they’ll must spend massive cash on a free agent or two in some unspecified time in the future. High expertise doesn’t come with out paying prime greenback, and Gardiner could be one value paying. Shero additionally has to point out Taylor Corridor they’re critical about contending to get him to re-sign, and Gardiner helps make that case. And as a substitute of giving up belongings in a commerce to amass a defenseman, he gained’t price something greater than cap house.
Jake Gardiner is an ideal match for the New Jersey Devils. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
One sticking level of Shero’s end-of-season interview was about including extra expertise this offseason. Corridor echoed these sentiments as properly. I don’t know what goes on within the Devils’ entrance workplace, however I doubt they’ll be as quiet as they’ve the earlier two offseasons throughout free company. Gardiner is a pure match for the Devils. And if the 2 sides see eye-to-eye on a possible deal, it could be sufficient for Shero to interrupt his pattern of staying quiet throughout free company.
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