Tom Fitzgerald made a statement to his fanbase. He said his goal for the Devils was to acquire multiple top-four defensemen, a top-six winger, and work out extensions for their important restricted-free agents. In addition to nailing the 2021 NHL draft by selecting Jack Hughes’ brother Luke 4th overall, Fitzgerald has not only appeared to have kept his promise, but has put together quite the impressive offseason report, highlighted by Dougie Hamilton and Tomas Tatar opting for New Jersey as opposed to other destinations. Fitzgerald has done something that some General Managers have trouble doing; he’s convinced top teir free agents that his organization is one with a solid foundation and plan for the future, as well as proved that New Jersey is a market where elite talent wants to play. The last several weeks have been monumental for the future of the New Jersey Devils, as fans appear to be thrilled with the offseason to this point as they should. Since his very first move, we at HFFA have been heaping praise on Fitzgerald and his management team, as he’s seemingly done everything right since taking over for Ray Shero a couple seasons ago.
We wrote about how Fitzgerald already tremendously improved the Devils defense group in a pre-expansion draft deal to acquire Ryan Graves; but signing Dougie Hamilton takes the unit to a whole different level. Hamilton has been extremely consistent offensively, as he is a career 0.561 PPG defenseman. He’s scored ten or more goals in each of his last seven seasons and has hit the forty point mark in six of those seven years. On a loaded Carolina Hurricanes team in 2020-21, Hamilton registered a +7.41 AB score, which was his 2nd highest score of his career, as well as the 5th highest of any Hurricanes player last season. He was an outstanding +20 +/- wise this season and played over twenty-two minutes per game for Coach Rod Brind’Amour. His +12.26 score in 2019-20 was not only the 2nd highest of any Hurricane but was one of the highest scores registered by a defenseman in the entire league. He’s been a career positive AB defenseman in two of his three destinations, as he just was not a good fit in Calgary. With Boston, he had an average score of +0.5 in his three seasons. With the Flames, he had an average score of -5.58 in his three seasons. But in Carolina, he had an average score of +5.55 in his three seasons. Like some of the other notable defenseman this summer who signed massive contracts, Hamilton is a right-shot, which made him even more valuable, as there are few legit top right shot defensemen in the league who make it to free agency. Hamilton signed a seven-year, $63 million dollar contract ($9 million AAV) which will pay him until he’s thirty-five years old. When we ran Hamilton through our arbitration analyzer, we found that his closest comparable is his new Devils teammate P.K. Subban (38.05 career average points/AB for Hamilton, 37.84 career average points/AB for Subban), who also makes $9 million AAV. We think this number is exactly what Hamilton deserves, and that both sides did a terrific job with this contract.
Tomas Tatar will play either on either of the Devils’ 1st overall picks wings, as we imagine both Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier are extremely excited about this addition. The Devils agreed to terms with Tatar after day one of free agency on a two-year, nine million dollar ($4.5 million AAV) contract. In his last three seasons in Montreal, Tatar has had a tremendous run, as he has an average AB score of +3.02 during his tenure with the team. Tatar has only registered two individually negative AB scores in his career, and they came in his final year of Detroit and his only season in Vegas. He was then packaged with Nick Suzuki and a 2nd round pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for former Captain Max Pacioretty. Tatar is a career 0.6 PPG player and has scored twenty plus goals in two of his last three seasons. When we ran Tatar through our arbitration analyzer, we found his closest comparable to be Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames (44.11 career average points/AB for Lindholm, 44.06 average points/AB for Tatar), and Lindholm currently makes $4.85. Another extremely fair deal for both sides in our opinion.
The Devils have had a tremendous offseason to this point, as Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, and Tomas Tatar are all in the top-four players on the Devils roster today in terms of 2020-21 individual AB. All three of these players project to be significant contributors to the Devils success in 2021-22, and we look forward to attending several live games to witness their solid play in person. Much more to come, and again great job to Tom Fitzgerald and his team on what looks like the best offseason the Devils have had in years.