Summer is coming to a close and Fall is upon us. That means training camp is just around the corner and soon after, the 2023-24 NHL season. Leading up to training camp, NHL teams will extend professional tryouts to unsigned, unrestricted free agents. We’ve already seen a few players sign PTOs in recent days. The Pittsburgh Penguins signed a pair of tryouts to defenseman Mark Pysyk and Libor Hajek. The Edmonton Oilers also signed a pair of tryouts to forwards Brandon Sutter and Sam Ganger. The New Jersey Devils have some young talent coming through the pipeline that has earned a vow of confidence from management to fill some voids that were left on the roster this summer. However, New Jersey shouldn’t hesitate to take a look at some veterans on PTOs themselves this September.
Players’ incentive to sign a PTO is self-explanatory. If they’re unsigned by the time NHL training camps are underway, it’s a last-chance effort to prove they belong. However, on the management side, players on PTO create some internal competition. There have even been cases in the past where players don’t sign out of training camp but ink a deal later in the regular season after becoming familiar with the organization in need of their services.
According to CapFriendly, the Devils currently have $1,919,167 in cap space. However, there’s some flexibility on the roster depending on who moves up and down through the NHL and American Hockey League. So who is a player at each position General Manager Tom Fitzgerald can bring aboard during training camp for a chance to earn a roster spot?
There’s a spot up for grabs on the third line in the forward group somewhere. The Devils appear set down the middle with some strong center depth. As a result, one of the spots on the wing can be won. Coming into training camp, New Jersey will give Nolan Foote and Alexander Holtz every chance to win that roster spot. However, if they don’t show up and show out, it’s a void that head coach Lindy Ruff will need to fill.
Who better than someone who already knows the system, right? Tomas Tatar remains an unsigned, unrestricted free agent. According to a report by Rob Rossi of The Athletic, the Penguins remain one team that has significant interest in the Czechoslovakian forward. Sure, he could sign a PTO in Pittsburgh. However, if he doesn’t necessarily have to leave New Jersey, could that same situation be more appealing to the 32-year-old?
Holy moly, Tomas Tatar! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/fPHMhGRgNq
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 22, 2022
Last season, Tatar scored 20 goals and 48 points spending most of his time in the top six on a line centered by Nico Hischier. With Timo Meier in the picture from the get-go and Dawson Mercer’s ascension as a top-six player, that opportunity is likely no longer available. However, in the case of injury, there could at least be familiarity in the lineup.
Affording Tatar is an obstacle, yet not impossible. The veteran forward made $4.5 million per season over the last two seasons. Yet, Fitzgerald has been quite good at getting his own players to take hometown discounts. Sending Chris Tierny’s $775K contract to the AHL as well as Foote’s $863,333 creates a little over $3.5 million in cap space. With no one knocking down Tatar’s door as September approaches, a one-year, $3 million doesn’t seem unrealistic. If there’s ultimately no room for Tatar, there’s little doubt a team will scoop him up before the start of the regular season.
Losing Damon Severson and Ryan Graves is a pretty sizeable loss on the blueline in terms of experience. New Jersey has all the confidence in the world in the young Luke Hughes. The same can be said of Kevin Bahl who really came into his own down the stretch of the 2022-23 season. In all honesty, it’s not very likely there will be much room for any additions to the group of defensemen. New Jersey will have seven capable NHL defensemen in 2023-24 on the roster. Not to mention, Simon Nemec is looking to steal a spot for himself as well.
However, it’d be wise for Fitzgerald to bring in a hungry veteran on a PTO in order to drive up the competition. Last year it was Thomas Hickey who was ultimately cut and later found his way on MSG Networks working as a broadcaster. This year, Alexander Edler is the sort of veteran presence that makes sense to bring to training camp.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 4, 2023
Playing for the Los Angeles Kings last season, the left-shot defenseman scored two goals and 11 points in 64 games. He’s a defenseman who’s not afraid to use his body, registering 104 blocks and 106 hits last season.
The Devils are looking to take another step forward next season and plan to do so with their young core. However, having Edler’s 1,000-plus games of NHL experience (not to mention his 93 Stanley Cup Playoff appearances) is worth the league minimum he’d sign up for if New Jersey finds itself in need of his services.
If you can believe it, the Devils STILL have question marks regarding their goaltending situation. Vitek Vanecek had his best season yet in 2022-23. He posted 33 wins, a .911 SV%, and 2.45 GAA in 52 games, 48 starts last season. At one point, he was the backbone of New Jersey giving them stability in the crease the Devils hadn’t had in a long time. However, there was some regression along the way. Eventually, Akira Schmid broke onto the scene, ultimately making Mackenzie Blackwood expendable this summer.
For a while, New Jersey remained in the Connor Hellebuyck sweepstakes this summer. However, the Hellebuyck conversations cooled off drastically. As of now, it appears the Devils will go with Vanecek and Schmid as their tandem. The Devils do have options with Schmid. The 23-year-old netminder is still waiver-exempt and although he posted a strong .922 SV% and 2.13 GAA last season, his sample size is still very small with just 18 games of NHL experience and nine Stanley Cup Playoff appearances.
It would make sense for New Jersey to bring a veteran goaltender to training camp. That goaltender should be Jaroslav Halak. Halak is already very familiar with the tri-state area, previously playing for the New York Islanders and New York Rangers. The 38-year-old goaltender is no more than a backup goaltender at this point in his career. Last season, he relieved Igor Shesterkin for 25 games, securing 10 wins while posting a .903 SV% and 2.72 GAA.
— Allan Walsh🏒 (@walsha) March 20, 2023
In the six-game series against New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs, Halak didn’t see any ice time. However, the Czechoslovakian goaltender has plenty of postseason experience and success with a 2.48 GAA and .919 SV% in 39 playoff appearances.
Halak has remained a consistent goaltender in the NHL. He’s kept his save percentage above .900 in 16 of 17 seasons in his NHL career. When New Jersey received that kind of consistency in their crease last season with Vanecek, the Devils went on to have their best season in franchise history. In the case that one of Vanecek or Schmid finds themselves out of the equation, the Devils won’t have a viable third option to turn to as Nico Daws is recovering from off-season hip labrum surgery.
Widely viewed as one of the best teams in the NHL, New Jersey should turn to the best goaltending option still available in Halak if they find themselves in need.