The Devils had an active start to free agency on Friday, as they look to improve on what they achieved last season and make a run for the postseason.
Forward Devante Smith-Pelly and defenseman Jon Merrill re-signed with the Devils.
The Devils signed forwards Beau Bennett, Carter Camper, and Vernon Fiddler, and defensemen Ben Lovejoy, Karl Stollery, and Andrew MacWilliam.
Devils Executive Vice President/general manager Ray Shero said he thinks his team is “a lot better” with these moves.
“A month ago, we were trying to be a deeper team up front at forward, be a four-line team,” Shero said in a conference call on Friday night. “Certainly, by bringing back the guys like Smith-Pelly, and surely hopefully with Kyle Palmieri and Beau Bennett, and signing a guy like Vernon Fiddler, we’re getting where we want to go. We’re leaving a couple spots open for some younger players, what might come about later in the summer.
“Certainly, the trade for Taylor Hall really helps us and sets the direction that we want to go,” Shero said, referring to the trade he made Wednesday with Edmonton, where he traded Adam Larsson for Hall.
“Today, signing a guy like Ben Lovejoy, who we’re all familiar with and we know, a right-shot D-man who will fit in with what we’re trying to do here. He’s very familiar with everybody here, from a coaching system standpoint. And you can’t replace an Adam Larsson in terms of minutes and so forth. It’s a good signing, and we’re very happy to have Ben with us as well.
“I think today, we’re a better team than we were at the end of last season and we’ve got a little ways before October when we drop the puck.”
The Devils signed Vernon Fiddler to a one year, $1,250,000 contract. Fiddler, 36, skated in all 82 games with Dallas last season, scoring 12 goals and 10 assists for 22 points and 31 penalty minutes while serving as an Alternate Captain. He added one goal and two assists in 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
“Here’s a guy, especially the last couple of years on a good Dallas team, talk about getting deeper up front, Vernon’s a guy that was assistant captain in Dallas and last couple years has between the two years scored 25 goals combined,” Shero said of Fiddler. “Here’s a guy, very good faceoff guy, the left side, hopefully takes some of the burden off of Travis Zajak in defensive situations. He does a lot of good things, jack of all trades, very good person, love his personality and what he can bring to the group.
“To me, adding the depth to our lineup and the competition and what he has done, how he’s done it, as an unsigned free agent, then working his way from the East Coast League to the American League to the National Hockey League. He’s a very good competitor, same as Ben Lovejoy, in terms of being a competitor and someone we want to add to our group. We’re very happy with Vernon, again what he can do up and down the lineup for us on a one-year contract.”
Lovejoy was on the Penguins Stanley Cup winning team and played for Devils head coach John Hynes on Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
The Devils were in talks with Lovejoy during the free agency interview period and it became a certainty when they traded Larsson.
“I think, when you get in the interview period there, and this is before the Hall and Larsson trade and very familiar with Ben. Again, what we talked about earlier, distributing some of our minutes, whether offensively, we didn’t know if we could get David Schlemko back. Obviously, he signed with San Jose and I’m thrilled for David. he did a great job for us. I said earlier that I think our best offensive defenseman was Andy Greene, but he never had the opportunity in that situation.
“Ben can obviously play some minutes defensively and offensively in some situations. We were looking at Ben even before the Larsson trade, so with the Larsson trade, I mentioned on the day of the trade, we’re thrilled to have Taylor Hall, that’s the direction we want to go.”
The Devils will be looking to improve the depth of their defense, which was left thin by trading Larsson.
“In looking at our lineup on defense, there was a pretty big hole there, and Ben will help fill that to a certain extent,” said Shero. We’re going to continue to see where we are. We re-signed Jon Merrill, obviously, so that’s a good thing for us as well.
“Right now, we’re going to stay where we are, and we have some young defensemen that may need an opportunity to look here, which I’m happy to do. If something comes our way that makes sense, that might be good. Adding Ben helps solidify our group and it’s a good deal for us that way.”
Re-signing forward Kyle Palmieri is now at the top of the list of things the Devils need to do this offseason.
The Devils acquired Palmieri from Anaheim last summer and he had 30 goals and 27 assists in his first season in New Jersey.
“Kyle’s always been at the top of the list in terms of priority,” Shero said of the New Jersey native. “I’m really looking forward to eventually getting him under contract and I think we’re moving in the right direction. More conversations with his agent, but again I think with Kyle, with the trade we did last year with him and the season he had with us.
“I always said with Kyle, whether he scored 30 goals, 20 goals, he fits into the style we want to play. He could be from Timbuktu, not New Jersey, and he fits into what we want to do. I’m looking forward to finally getting a contract done with him. I think that will be done, hopefully, pretty soon and we’ll see where it goes. He has arbitration rights, but the good news for us is he’s two years unrestricted free agency and we’ll have him under contract at some point here, whether it’s one year, two years, five years, six years, we’re going to figure it out and we’re working toward that on both sides.”