There was a lot to unpack with New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald on Tuesday, including the status of some key pending free agents.
Dawson Mercer and Tyler Toffoli each have expiring contracts at the end of the 2023-24 season. However, each is in a different situation. Mercer, a third-year pro, is in the last year of his entry-level contract as a restricted free agent. Whereas Toffoli is in his 12th NHL season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. That is, of course, if he gets that far.
As a restricted free agent, the Devils have time to negotiate with Mercer. They know he’s not going anywhere if they don’t want him to, and there’s been no indication from Mercer and his side that he wouldn’t want to stay. That sentiment was echoed by the Devils’ GM in the media conference following Fitzgerald’s extension.
“With Dawson, we have time with his agent,” Fitzgerald explained. “He’s a young player that obviously we would love to continue to work with for the next bunch of years. So again, I haven’t had a conversation with his agent.”
Mercer (22), started his NHL junior year off slow, however, he’s picked things up, especially with some key injuries out of the lineup. The Devils forward has scored 13 goals and 23 points in 45 games. He’s on pace to score about 24 goals and 42 points in 82 games by the end of 2023-24. That will be a bit of a dip in production compared to Mercer’s sophomore campaign when he scored 27 goals and 56 points.
Additionally, Mercer has not missed a single game since the start of his NHL career. His Iron Man streak will reach 210 games when he takes the ice against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight. Mercer certainly came into the Devils’ organization with a boom and despite a dip in offensive production, is an all-around dependable player that New Jersey is certainly going to want to lock up long-term.
Toffoli is a bit of a different story, however. The 32-year-old veteran was acquired from the Calgary Flames this summer in exchange for Yegor Sharangovich and a draft pick. Trades are hard to judge, however, thus far it’s been a win-win situation for both teams. Both Toffoli and Sharangovich have scored a team-leading 20 goals so far this season. Toffoli reached the 20-goal mark on Monday when he netted a hat-trick in the Devils’ 6-5 OT victory against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Fitzgerald knew he was acquiring a pending unrestricted free agent over the summer. Fitzgerald’s approach with all of his acquisitions has been to let New Jersey sell itself in convincing the acquired players to stay. It worked with Timo Meier. However, Toffoli has known he’s wanted to stay with the Devils since day one.
“(An extension) is something that’s on the wish list, for sure,” Toffoli said to the media the day after he was acquired from Calgary in June.
Now, Toffoli has had seven months to get to know New Jersey and the Devils’ organization. He’s the team-leading goal scorer and before his ticket becomes even more expensive, it sounds like Fitzgerald wants to try and at least iron out the details of what an extension will look like soon.
“With Tyler, I’ve had multiple conversations with his agent,” Fitzgerald continued. “I think we’re probably going to sit down here at some point before the (All-Star) break or after the break, (potentially) in the break just to see where he’s at. What’s he thinking, where he’s at? And then, we’ll talk about, if there’s a marriage here moving forward. I like Tyler Toffoli. I think he’s been a really good add for our team because of his professionalism and his winning pedigree, but it is a business.”
Toffoli is in the final year of a contract that holds a $4.25 million AAV. At 32 years old, term will certainly be a factor. The player will want it. But, it’s reasonable to believe the team prefers less-term which could result in a higher AAV. If an extension comes to fruition, perhaps we could see a similar deal to Ondrej Palat’s.