Are the New Jersey Devils the most realistic option for Johnny Gaudreau?

The New Jersey Devils are looking to make a splash this offseason. They reportedly discussed among themselves who they would be willing to trade the second overall pick for. We’re talking about every available goaltender in the league coming to New Jersey. However, the most impactful option for the Devils might actually be a free agent.

The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian writes about the Calgary Flames, and she made the incredibly bold move to talk about other teams that might be able to sign him. There were some of the obvious answers on the list. The Philadelphia Flyers will always be on Gaudreau’s roster since his family grew up in South Jersey, which is essentially Philadelphia Lite. He grew up a Flyers fan, and they are in a period of transition after trading Claude Giroux. She also mentions the Penguins, Islanders and Predators as options to sign Gaudreau.

However, the most likely option according to her is the New Jersey Devils. Well, apart from Gaudreau, I stay with the Flames of course. So why?

“This is an East Coast team with cap space, a talented young roster, a future star at center and a desire to improve – now,” Salvian says in his The Athletic article. “The Devils have a ton of cap flexibility, considering the only players signed next season are franchise pieces. In other words, money shouldn’t be an issue.

The New Jersey Devils have been named the “most realistic option” for free agent Johnny Gaudreau.

Well, those points make sense. The Devils have cap flexibility that almost no other team in the league trying to improve has. They have about $25 million in cap space next season, which is good, but they have $56 million in cap space in 2023. That’s not a typo, and it’s with the salary cap rising to just $83.5 million. If they start to see dividends from their TV deals with ESPN and TNT and the cap goes up further, then obviously the Devils would have even more to spend.

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Obviously, this $56 million cannot be spent anyhow. The Devils are in this position because they haven’t spent on bad contracts. There are a few deals they would like to drop, but they’re all a year away from the deal. They could also give bigger extensions to Jesper Bratt (this offseason), Damon Severson (this offseason or next), Yegor Sharangovich (next offseason) and Jonas Siegenthaler (next offseason). Even if these players get fair market value, will they cost more than $20 million in total on the 2023-24 cap?

The Devils can go big for a big free agent. They did it last year with Dougie Hamilton, and now they have the right side of defense set up long term. Could they break the bank to solve one of their biggest problems on the wing? Outside of Bratt and possibly Sharangovich, there are a lot of question marks in this position.

Gaudreau’s biggest problem for the Devils is his age. He has just completed a career year and is looking to get paid. He is 28 years old, and he will probably sign the maximum contract available. That means the Devils sign Gaudreau for seven years, paying him until he’s 35. Are the Devils willing to bet they’ll get the better of Gaudreau or has that already happened with his 115 points last season?

It’s definitely a risk, but it’s an attractive proposition. Hearing someone like Hailey say the Devils are “the more realistic option” seems a little unrealistic, but the arguments she makes make perfect sense. Are the Devils really the most realistic option for the best free agent in the class? It was last season, and we saw how it worked. Maybe they start over.

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