Maybe Tom Fitzgerald's go-to karaoke song is " Wait until the Midnight Hour" by Wilson Pickett. Or maybe Jesper Bratt and his agent Joakim Persson simply refused to budge on a deal that would have extended into his UFA period. Minutes before the parties started arbitration, the Devils announced that they had signed Bratt to a one-year, $5.45 million contract. The salary is a compromise between the parties' arbitration requests that were over two million apart.
While signing Bratt at a number below his predicted contract value is undoubtedly a win for the Devils, only signing him for one year is merely a short-term solution. It allows the Devils to continue to evaluate Bratt and determine where he fits in the future and if he can continue to produce elite winger numbers, but therein lies the risk. Should he continue to produce at the rates he did last season, his value will continue to increase, and the opportunity to sign him before he hits free agency diminishes greatly.
Fitzgerald is cognizant of the challenges but remains committed to keeping Bratt a Devil. "We are pleased to get a deal done today before arbitration, in what has been a challenging process. We believe Jesper is a part of our exciting, young core that is growing together and we will continue working on keeping him in New Jersey long term."
The risk of losing out on Bratt is real as every negotiation between the parties has been acrimonious and gone down to the wire. The Devils have very little choice in the matter and should continue to do all they can to keep Bratt as long as he continues to improve and show why he is one of the best wingers in the game right now and a perfect fit for the Devils style of play. Should they be unable to sign him long-term, they will have to seriously consider trading him either at the deadline or the draft, as letting him walk without any return would be malpractice.
There is also a need for cost control on Bratt. Despite the stability of the Hughes, Hischier, and Hamilton contracts, several young players will be entering restricted free agency at a significant cost to the Devils, including Yegor Sharangovich, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Dawson Mercer.
Jesper Bratt, signed 1x$5.45M by NJ, is a speedy offensive winger who was one of the best in the league this year at creating scoring chances. Ranked among the top forwards in shot assists, high-danger passes, chances, and rush offence in 2021-22. #NJDevils pic.twitter.com/RViJToIUk4
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) August 3, 2022
While signing a one-year deal is fraught with risk for the Devils, other than the potential for injury, Bratt is in a tremendous position with leverage that should land him the lucrative contract he desires when he is ready to commit. This season Bratt completed a two-year contract that paid him a total of $5.5 million. The new deal he signed today will pay him $5.45 million in one season, doubling his salary without giving up any free agency years. He is now set up to prove himself on a one-year deal with the team retaining his rights for one more year.
Should Bratt vindicate his stats from last season and prove that they are not an aberration, he is poised to cash in by pulling the trigger on a long-term deal during or after this season or simply playing out his last RFA season and walking into free agency. If this year is a guide, the signings of wingers of his caliber like Kevin Fiala (7 years at $7.8 million AAV) and Patrick Laine (4 years at 8.7 million AAV) are good places to guide where Bratt may seek a contract, especially with an expected rise in the salary cap. Evolving Hockey and The Athletic put Bratt's projected salary, based on his play, at between $7.2 and $8 million per year. Bratt has bet on himself, and if he validates that confidence, he will be in the driver's seat moving forward.
Saturday Deadline For Arbitration With Miles Wood
The Devils and forward Miles Wood have a Saturday deadline to resolve his contract before having to submit to arbitration. Wood missed all but three games of last season with a hip injury and his current health status is unknown. In the last update from the club, he had not yet resumed skating. The Devils took the unusual step of filing for team-requested arbitration largely in an attempt to bring down the salary of Wood to a more reasonable number based on the uncertainties of his injury.
Wood is coming off a four-year $11 million contract with a $2.75 million AAV. His combination of size, speed, leadership, and tenacity is unique to the locker room and valued by management, as Fitzgerald said after the season. "When you don't have a Miles Wood in your lineup, that type of player. It hurts."
There is every reason to believe that both sides value their long-term relationship and will find a deal before Saturday and avoid the midnight hour.