New Jersey Devils

A second look at the free agent market for the Devils

As we near the end of July, it seems as if the free agent frenzy has taken quite a dip since it began on July 4th. A number of teams have scoped out the remaining market and have locked away the blank contracts for the season. For the Devils, it could be just the opposite. A great deal of players still await offers, and the rumours are swirling around those remaining now more than ever. There’s been plenty of buzz that the Devils are in the running to get either Damien Brunner or Jaromir Jagr, who stand to be the two most prominent remaining free agents. Either player would be a vital addition to a team who have lost two of their best offensive forwards  in the past two offseasons.

On one end of the spectrum, you have Brunner. A 27-year-old NHL sophomore who has spent several years playing in his homeland of Switzerland, he tallied 26 points in 44 games this past season. An undrafted forward, he signed as a free agent with the Red Wings in 2012. And then, you have Jaromir Jagr. Yes, the Jaromir Jagr. This Czech veteran has been on 6 NHL teams in his 20 year career, and will move onto a 7th before the start of the season. Even as a 41-year-old, he hasn’t lost control of the puck and was a great addition to the two teams he was a part of this past season.

But, unless the Devils are on the receiving end of some fantastic luck for once, it’s going to be between the two of them for a roster spot.

Who would be the ideal fit for the New Jersey Devils?

Age

-Here is the most obvious argument, in my opinion. Short, sweet, and to the point. Are we just going to forget that Jaromir Jagr is 41 years old? As he’s made very well-known, he still has it in him to score a few goals and make a solid pass or two. Next year, will the same statement still apply? There’s no way of knowing – so why put out the money? It wouldn’t be in Jagr’s nature to degenerate and stop producing. But as he becomes less of a superstar, is he still capable of being not only a first liner, but a player that we can depend on?

-Damien Brunner is no rookie. Well, if we’re going to get technical, he’s coming off of his first season in the NHL. But being 27 years old, Brunner knows his way around professional hockey. He is in his prime – mature enough to play smart, but also young enough to have maximized potential and stamina. I can’t even think of something bad about his age. If we wanted to, we could first give him a shorter contract first, and lock him up for good when we know what he is able to do. Although he wouldn’t be so interested in that…which brings me to my next point.

Contract Length

-Jagr seems to be a time bomb in this league. At the ripe age of 41, he can only stay fresh for a limited amount of time. It would be of the utmost priority to give him a one-year deal – not only will he likely retire after this season, but every additional season he stays active, in turn he gets increasingly fragile. Likeliness of injury and stamina are two things that will be factors in the time remaining in Jagr’s NHL career. But would a one year deal be something the Devils are interested in? If the Czech superstar could at least carry them to next year’s postseason successfully, then it would no doubt pay off. But what happens after next postseason? Several important players such as Adam Larsson will be awaiting new contracts, and having yet another short-term player will only increase the need for new players to bring in. If a player would be signed long-term, then there would be no issue for at least a few years’ time. Now that Kovalchuk is gone, the Devils will definitely need some kind of certainty in the years to come that I don’t know Jagr would provide.

-Brunner is at a great age in his career, as we’ve established already. He seems ready to settle in, something that the Red Wings did not want to make happen. This is why he moved on to test free agency – and I think that pertaining to contract length, the Devils have a home for him. I know you’re sick of hearing he-who-shall-not-be-named yet again, but we just freed up 12 years of cap space when “you know who” decided to take a trip back to Russia. We need a trustworthy forward who can replace Kovalchuk and make a name for himself. Can we find that in Brunner? It’s quite honestly too soon to be able to tell. I think it would be stupid to sign him for such a long time if there’s so many variables involved. I’d love to sign him short-term and once we’re confident, seal the deal – but that’s exactly the reason he didn’t return to Detroit and something along those lines would not be in his best interest.

Consistency

-Jaromir Jagr is obviously a legend. He still holds an insane amount of scoring records from his early career, and will always be   remembered for his tenure as a Pittsburgh Penguin. Not only has he racked up the most amount of points for any European player, he is also the 8th best scorer in NHL history. The only difference between him and the 7 men before him is that Jagr is still going strong today. This past season, Jagr was able to prove that players past the accepted retirement age can still earn their money well. He is still a great player. However, he has gone from a superstar to a “great player”. It’s only downhill from here (at least, that’s what I’m led to believe). Is it worth putting out anywhere from $3 million/year to $5 million/year if there’s no guarantee that Jagr will still be able to hold his own?

-Damien Brunner has had very little time to prove he’s worth signing – unless we venture over to Europe at take a glance at his stats over there. It goes without saying that the NHL is a completely different world than European pro hockey, but his stats are worth noticing. After having several seasons where he was less than productive with the Kloten Flyers, Brunner found a home with the EV Zug, and something clicked. He earned 26 points in 35 games during the 2008-09 season, and that’s when he really turned it on. With four consecutive point/game seasons and a scoring title, he was named the player of his league in 2011-12. There’s no doubt that he can score, and he can do it often. But can he do it in North America? For a number of foreign players, it’s a difficult transition not only in the locker room, but on the ice. Although Brunner earned himself a decent amount of points with the Red Wings, it was nothing like everyone had seen when he took the ice in Switzerland. It’s much too soon to know whether Brunner can continue to score in the National Hockey League like he did in the National League A (NLA).

It could come down to a good old-fashioned game of  eenie-meenie-miney-moe to decide which of these players could have a better fit. They’re almost polar opposites in their wants, needs, and skills, but either could prove to be a necessary addition to the Devils. Although I’ve been hearing that Jagr is extremely close to signing, it’s always up in the air when it comes to Lou Lamoriello, and only time will tell who will become a New Jersey Devil (if either of them do).

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