New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald made it clear that he wanted the team to “start playing meaningful games” again next season. The Devils entered the off-season with three areas of need. The first was defence. The second was a 1B backup goalie. And finally, the team needed to address their scoring woes on offence. On the first day of free agency, the Devils were able to address two of their biggest needs. The big news of the day was the fact that the Devils signed free-agent defenceman Dougie Hamilton to give them a true number one defenceman. In addition, the Devils signed goaltender Jonathan Bernier to back up Mackenzie Blackwood.
This was the first time in history the Devils were able to make a big splash on the opening day of free agency. Let’s break down the Devils needs in these areas and how they were addressed with these signings.
Dougie Hamilton and Jonathan Bernier Signed By Devils To Address Areas of Need
Ever since the Devils stop winning Stanley Cup Championships, a major area of concern for New Jersey was their defence. It was their bread and butter during their runs to the Stanley Cup Final. Ultimately winning three Stanley Cups. To say it has been poor is an understatement. They just could not find the right combination of players to protect in front of the net. The Devils have good young players coming along. Ty Smith, Kevin Bahl, and the newly draft Luke Hughes. But Hughes is a couple of years away, and they needed a number one defenceman. New Jersey first added Ryan Graves to add more depth on the backend. He can play on the second pair and maybe the first pair minutes. But they needed something else.
It was all or nothing at all to use a Bruce Springsteen song on how the Devils courted Dougie Hamilton. They were going big game hunting. The poker chips were all in on the top free-agent defenceman on the board. And for once the Devils were able to land the biggest fish in the pond. Dougie Hamilton signed for seven years, $63 million with an AAV of $9 million. Most of the money is being paid out in bonuses. But the Devils finally have a number one defenceman that can move the puck. Something the team had not had since Brian Rafalski or Scott Niedermayer.
Hamilton’s numbers are great as he put up 42 points on the backend. Hamilton can run the point on the power play. Just like this young Devils team, Hamilton has room for improvement in his own game. Not to mention, there are similarities to when he arrived in Carolina to the Devils now. In the fact, they were an up-and-coming team, like the Devils are now. His addition to the Devils has made the Devils’ defence instantly better. The Devils can now roll out three solid pairings. In addition, he can be a leader to the young players on the team and help them improve.
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The Devils were looking to add a backup goalie ever since Corey Crawford retired before the start of last season. Tom Fitzgerald thought he found something with Crawford however, things did not work out as planned. Instead, the Devils had a nightmare with the backup goalie position. Instead of shoring up a position, they were left with a hole to fill. Scott Wedgewood, Aaron Dell, and Eric Comrie platooned behind Blackwood. However, none of them really panned out. Wedgewood played the best, but that is because he had the most experience plus he knew the system. So Fitzgerald knew he must address this area at the beginning of the season.
With so many goalies on the market, the Devils had to choose the right guy to be the backup for Blackwood. There was some initial talk that Jaroslav Halak would come to New Jersey. But once he was linked to Vancouver, that shipped sailed. Instead, the Devils signed Jonathan Bernier. Bernier put up solid numbers last season despite being on a bad Detroit Red Wings team. Bernier is a significant upgrade over what the Devils had last season. And while Crawford was probably going to be the best fit, Bernier has been a starter in this league and can carry the load if Blackwood goes down.
Having Bernier allows the Devils to give Blackwood the night off especially with the season going back to an 82-game season. Bernier has a career .913 save percentage which is above the league average. So the Devils have a nice tandem in between the pipes. And with the defence being upgraded, the Devils’ goaltending duo will not have to be relied on to do too much.
Work To Be Done
With those needs addressed the Devils will now focus on upgrading the offence. Which they will either do by free agency or by making a trade. But Tom Fitzgerald accomplished two of his goals with the hopes the Devils play meaningful games this upcoming season.