New Jersey Devils
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Find out why the New Jersey Devils were better off not making any big signings from the NHL’s 2018 UFA class.

The New Jersey Devils entered the 2018 offseason and unrestricted free agency period with plenty of salary-cap space to spend serious money and make headlines across the NHL on Sunday, July 1. In fact, the team had over $20 million in cap space entering one of the NHL’s more anticipated days on the year.

Though, general manager Ray Shero and company didn’t make any significant signings, but the team was probably better off not overpaying for a number of skaters that Jersey’s fans may have wanted the Devils to acquire.

While New Jersey was a pleasant surprise last season and clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012, the reality is that the Devils are still in a rebuild and need to stay on course for developing younger skaters at the NHL level. It’s tempting to get off-track after the team tasted what success was like again during last year’s Cinderella run to the playoffs, but there’s a bigger picture brewing in Jersey.

For starters, the Devils were never reportedly in on this year’s top UFA in former New York Islanders captain John Tavares, and some of the other top free-agent options were re-signed by their respective clubs before players such as the Washington Capitals’ John Carlson could test the free-agent market.

Keep in mind that aside from those two all-star caliber skaters mentioned above, this year’s free-agent class wasn’t as strong as years prior, or (as of now) 2019’s list of available skaters. This year’s market was in favor of the players and would have costed the Devils contracts that the team would have more than likely regretted sooner rather than later.

Though, New Jersey made one of the earliest signings on the day when the team acquired defenseman Eric Gryba to a one-year, two-way contract ($700,000 AAV). The team also made another under-the-radar signing when the Devils inked defenseman John Ramage to a one-year, two-way contract worth ($650,000 AAV).

Both are as low key as a signing could get for a team that was expected to potentially make a splash in the free-agent market, but it also shouldn’t come to a surprise.

The signing could mean that a structured plan is in place for New Jersey and Devils fans are going to have to remain patient, for now. There’s a chance that the team could look to improve via trade before the first week in July ends, considering how disciplined the team was with spending money on July 1, or the team could just stay put and continue to make other low key transactions in free agency.

New Jersey letting defenseman John Moore sign a five-year contract with an Eastern Conference foe in the Boston Bruins is a prime example of how cautious Shero has been with this year’s UFA class. Moore, 27, had proven his value towards an up-and-coming Devils squad and made commendable strides in a positive direction as a depth defenseman over the past three seasons with the team.

There’s no questioning that the team didn’t upgrade its defense corps by letting Moore walk and adding Gryba to its potential starting six blueliners; so the front office must have some sort of better plan moving forward and for the long term.

The team has yet to re-sign Patrick Maroon, who was a nice fit for the Devils when the 30-year-old was acquired by New Jersey at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline. However, there are teams out there that would be willing to overpay for a skater that could be considered a risk to bring in for the type of money he’s seeking.

Would the Devils acquiring New Jersey, native James van Riemsdyk be a nice asset and complement the Devils’ lineup?

Yes, in the short-term picture there’s no arguing that case. But a five-year deal worth $35 million clearly wasn’t in the cards for the Devils to offer a skater that may run out of juice by the time New Jersey is ready to take that next step forward as a serious Stanley Cup contender.

However, then there’s another idea that New Jersey is stocking up on two-way contracts and acquiring skaters such as Gryba to acquire defenseman Erik Karlsson.

New Jersey would then have to part ways with notable and younger assets and would have to offer Karlsson a contract extension, immediately. The cap-space is there to make that a possibility.

At this point is it that farfetched on an idea, especially considering how many skaters the Devils have acquired through the draft since Shero took over in 2015?

That’s a story for another time, but the Devils staying quiet in free agency this time around is more than likely going to pay out bigger dividends than most think and in the long run.

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Kyle McKenna is a freelancer who covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Hooked On Hockey Magazine & Fansided. Follow him on Twitter @KMcKenna_tLT5 and use the hashtag #McKennasDigest to have your NHL questions featured in an article or answered over his weekly NHL podcast.