With today being the first day that free agents can begin to sign with other teams, the New Jersey Devils were major players and very active in making moves to help improve their team. The Devils went out and signed the most coveted free agent defenseman on the market in Dougie Hamilton and picked up veteran backup goaltender in Jonathan Bernier. Dougie Hamilton signed a seven year contract worth 63 million dollars (9 million annual average value), while Jonathan Bernier received a two year deal worth 8.25 million (4.125 million AAV). Besides the two free agent signings, the New Jersey Devils traded defenseman Will Butcher to the Buffalo Sabres and a fifth round draft pick in exchange for future considerations. Below are announcements from the New Jersey Devils on their signings and the trade that was made today as well as my reaction to these moves:
Dougie Hamilton signing announcement
Jonathan Bernier signing announcement
Will Butcher trade announcement
What do I think?
First of all, I’m starting to think…either A I’m psychic, or B I can read GM Tom Fitzgerald’s mind! I’ve said this at nauseam but, the New Jersey Devils had to address the problems they had on defense as well as having a reliable and dependable backup goaltender this offseason to compliment MacKenzie Blackwood. Tom Fitzgerald certainly has addressed those areas. It first started when the Devils traded for Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche right before the expansion draft not long ago. Since that trade, the left side of the defense looks great with him, Ty Smith, and Jonas Siegenthaler. The Devils though needed to add one more piece to help make the right side of the defense even better. Previously, I had said the Devils would be smart to go out and sign Dougie Hamilton and they went out and did it today. Hamilton definitely helps makes this teams defense better right away. He’s a right handed shooting defenseman with size (6 foot 6 inches), can move the puck out of the defensive zone quickly, has a good shot from the point, is positionally sound, and can help quarterback and significantly improve the Devils power play which has been a disaster the last several seasons. Obviously, I love the move and was a move I thought the New Jersey Devils had to make. This to me signals that GM Tom Fitzgerald is looking to add some highly skilled veteran pieces to go with a young skilled team and help accelerate the youth movement process up a bit.
Next up, the Devils went out and signed Jonathan Bernier to be the backup to number one goalie MacKenzie Blackwood. New Jersey thought they had a very good complimentary backup goalie last season when they had signed Corey Crawford in free agency. However, Corey Crawford surprisingly retired at the beginning of training camp which put the Devils in a bind. They used what seemed like a carousel of backup goalies throughout the season such as Gillies Senn, Scott Wedgewood, and Aaron Dell. Fortunately with today’s signing of Jonathan Bernier, that should no longer be of concern. Bernier is a reliable, dependable, and steady presence who will help push MacKenzie Blackwood as well as being able to start games and come into them. Bernier has shown he’s a very good and solid goaltender at the National hockey League level which is exactly what this team needs when Mackenzie Blackwood isn’t in between the pipes. Jonathan Bernier has a career .913 save percentage and 2.77 goals against average. On a very bad Detroit Red Wings team, Bernier performed well last season in spite of that with a .914 save percentage and 2.99 goals against average. I love the signing and was another move the Devils had to make in order for this offseason to be a success.
Finally, the Devils traded defenseman Will Butcher to the Buffalo Sabres. I can’t say I’m surprised by this as Butcher’s play since his rookie season has kept on declining and has left him out of the lineup. The midseason trade of acquiring defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler from the Washington Capitals made Butcher expendable as they also exposed him in the recent expansion draft. It was for the best that Will Butcher gets a fresh start somewhere else. Some players at times throughout their careers need a change of scenery when things aren’t going so well for their current team. Butcher definitely has the talent of being a very capable NHL defenseman, he just needs to put in more work to correct mistakes and by simply playing his game which made him successful in the first place. I hope he does well with the Buffalo Sabres.
Overall, this was a very successful day for Tom Fitzgerald and the New Jersey Devils. It wouldn’t surprise me though if there is at least one more move coming to help add some more scoring to the forward corps. Could the Devils go out and acquire Vladimir Tarasenko from the St. Louis Blues as rumors keep speculating? It’s certainly possible, but we have to wait and see. Stay tuned!