Newark, NJ – Who doesn’t love a good coming home story? Ross Colton is a native of New Jersey, growing up in Robbinsville Township. The 26-year-old forward broke out for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2021-22 season and in 2022-23, provided just as much value. He’s seemingly due for a raise, however, the Lightning have very little cap space and other needs to address. As a result, Colton may find himself in a new sweater. The New Jersey Devils have a lot of cap space, however, is Colton too costly for the Devils in terms of acquisition and dollars?
Colton is already somewhat decorated in his brief 2.5 NHL seasons. He helped the Lightning claim the Stanley Cup in the 2020-21 season and even scored the Cup-clinching goal. The New Jersey native followed his encouraging playoff performance with a 22-goal, 39-point season. In 160 games over his last two seasons, Colton totaled 38 goals and 71 points. Not too shabby for a third liner.
Now established as a 20-goal scorer in the NHL, Colton is looking to cash in, especially while in the prime of his career. His total career earnings that is just under the $3 million mark makes him an underpaid player to this point.
Although his career has been a little bit longer, looking at Vancouver Canucks forward Anthony Beauvillier might be a good place to start. Beauvillier is also a 20-goal scorer in the NHL, having accomplished the feat in the 2017-18 season as a member of the New York Islanders. He finished that season with 36 points. The 26-year-old forward followed that campaign coming up slightly short of the 20-goal mark in 2018-19 when he totaled 18 goals and 28 points.
Beauvillier consistently found himself in the high teens in terms of goals throughout his career. With the exception of the 2018-19 season, he usually floated somewhere around the 40-point mark, although only reached that mark once in 2022-23 between the Islanders and Canucks.
Beauvillier made himself well known as a playoff performer, however. He hasn’t quite scored a goal that clinches a Stanley Cup to this point in his career. But, he came up huge in Game 6 during the 2021 Eastern Conference Final that sent the Islanders to Game 7 against Colton and the Lightning.
Following his playoff success and his consistent ability to score 15-20 goals, Beauvillier earned himself a three-year contract that carried an average annual value of $4.15 million.
Colton is on the same trajectory to earn something similar. His playoff numbers aren’t quite as bloated as Beauvillier’s, however in the ever-inflating NHL, it’s not unreasonable to see Colton receiving an AAV between $3.5 and $4 million, especially because he’s arbitration eligible and there’s a case to be made based on his regular season contributions.
The thing about Colton is he’s a restricted free agent. The Lightning don’t have to trade him if they don’t want to. Sure, they need to make room and address other needs, but at some point, they could pivot and make Colton their priority.
Regardless, looking at how the Lightning acquired Brandon Hagel in March 2022, the Lightning could turn around and ask for something similar in return for Colton. To that point in Hagel’s career, he was a 20-goal scorer for the Chicago Blackhawks after 55 games in 2021-22. The cost to acquire Hagel was a top-10 protected 2022 first-round pick and forwards Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh, two prospects previously drafted in the second round of their respective drafts.
Now, Colton is four years older than Hagel. That’ll surely drop the cost. The problem is the Devils don’t have a first-round selection in the 2023 NHL draft after acquiring Timo Meier. So the Devils would be starting with their second-round selection at the upcoming draft or first-round selection in 2024. Tom Fitzgerald alluded to the possibility of acquiring a first-round pick in Nashville, however, seemed more inclined to want to do that in order to participate in the draft. Without a first-round pick two weeks from now, the Lightning might be able to find one elsewhere.
Handing over a B-grade prospect to the Lightning such as returning Nolan Foote back to the team that drafted him and a draft pick isn’t too costly for New Jersey. Their prospect pool is still one of the NHLs best and the core of the Devils is already young.
Still, recent history makes it feel unlikely the Lightning will settle for anything less than a first-round pick plus.
With $34 million available in cap space this summer, the Devils could afford to get Colton under contract. They also can afford to trade what it might take to acquire him, although the probability feels low without that 2023 first-round selection.
The Devils are hoping to lock both Meier and Jesper Bratt up long-term which will carry high AAVs. Dawson Mercer is eligible to sign an extension that will surely be a raise on July 1st, and New Jersey still might look to upgrade their goaltending.
Still, even with 11 contracts to address this summer, Fitzgerald could fit Colton in. That might spell the end of Tomas Tatar and/or Yegor Sharangovich’s tenure in New Jersey. However, Colton is worth it as a young, New Jersey native that already has a Stanley Cup under his belt, playoff pedigree, and is an excellent complimentary middle-six forward to what the Devils have secured in their top-six forward group. If the opportunity presents itself and Fitzgerald is positive he can afford Mercer’s and Hughes’ future contracts, Colton is absolutely an affordable fit.
If not, there are plenty of viable options for the Devils in the UFA market New Jersey can sign on for cheap for their bottom-six.
Be sure to like New Jersey Hockey Now’s Facebook page and follow us on Twitter: