Is Johnny Gaudreau just Taylor Hall with better timing
The New Jersey Devils are ready to take a big step this offseason, and many are predicting they could be the first to sign the best free agent in the class. Johnny Gaudreau seems destined for free agency, and the Devils have the money and the location to be a promising option for the soon-to-be 29-year-old winger. Gaudreau grew up in Carney’s Point. He was a Philadelphia Flyers fan, and they could be a huge player in that process, but Gaudreau could still pick a team he probably wasn’t thrilled about as a kid.
Gaudreau has just had his best season. It’s always a scary proposition for a player entering the year a team has to pay him. He’s not necessarily a one-hit wonder, but he’s clearly had his best season now. He scored 40 goals for the first time and he recorded 115 points after never scoring 100 points in a full season. This shows that Gaudreau has had very good seasons (99 points in 2018-19 and north of one point per game the season before). There’s just nothing close to what he did last season.
Gaudreau finished voting for the 2019 Hart Trophy in fourth place, so he showed he can carry a team in the past. Now we have to see if it is durable. This is the magic question. Someone is going to pay Johnny Gaudreau an uncomfortable amount of money for a long, long time. We are talking about 6 to 8 years depending on where it ends up. Should the Devils really make that kind of commitment when he’s expected to make over $10 million a season? Are they really that close?
This situation reminds us of two situations that affect us closely. One is Artemi Panarin. He signed for a large sum of money with the New York Rangers after his best season. The Rangers thought he might be the game-changing piece for them, and he sort of was. He helped Rangers out of the doldrums, and although other players seem to have passed him in his own team, he’s still a star amidst this roster. However, it looks like this contract might get worse before it gets better.
The other situation is one that never materialized, but it would have if the player had said yes. Taylor Hall was close to signing an eight-year contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020. He chose to come out on top and see how the season went after his knee injury. Maybe the Devils too, we’ll never know. Either way, if Hall were to become a free agent after the summer of 2018, teams would have lined up to pay him $11 million. Even if he was a full year away from free agency, the Devils would have signed him to that contract on the spot.
Honestly, Hall is the luckiest player in the NHL. He played for years on an Edmonton Oilers team trying to figure it out, and then they won the NHL Draft lottery that won them Connor McDavid. They didn’t need Hall anymore, and the fact that he didn’t put in a no-trade clause sent him to New Jersey. He finally embraced his new team and won the MVP award. Unfortunately, he was two years away from free agency. After an injury-riddled year, he was traded midway through his senior year as part of his contract with the Arizona Coyotes.
We all know how it went from there. He picked the silver in the offseason, signing with the miserable Buffalo Sabers. Then he signed a four-year contract for just $6 million per season with the Boston Bruins. Looks like they’re going to rebuild themselves.
Gaudreau has excellent timing. It’s his best season to come when he can actually cash in. That doesn’t necessarily mean it would automatically be a bad deal, but it does mean it’s an even greater risk. If a team signed him after last season, when he had 49 points in 56 games, his contract would be much less. He would still be paid, but instead of being in the $10-11 million range, we’re looking in the $7 million range.
The Devils must determine the level of risk they are willing to take if they really want to participate in the Johnny Gaudreau contest. It takes a pretty penny to stay in the conversation for these huge names. After spending an arm and a leg on Dougie Hamilton last offseason, they may be looking to do it again. Are we looking at another Taylor Hall? The Devils have dodged a bullet before. Let’s see how this one unfolds.