3 New Jersey Devils players who won’t be back next season

These three New Jersey Devils players might be wearing a different jersey in the 2024-25 NHL season.
Brendan Smith
Brendan Smith / Adam Hunger/GettyImages

Every NHL offseason, teams make moves to strengthen their roster for the following season. In order to improve, that means negotiating contract extensions, letting some free agents walk, signing free agents, and making trades. The rosters look different from year to year. What will the New Jersey Devils’ roster look like next year?

The Devils struggled all season long. They finished the 2023-24 season with a 38-39-5 record and 81 points. They ultimately missed the playoffs. Tom Fitzgerald will need to make changes this summer both to the coaching staff and the roster in order to put the team in a position to change the result next year.

Some players have seen the end of their time in New Jersey. Here are three players who won’t be on the Devils next season.

3. Brendan Smith

Brendan Smith’s time as a Devil should be over. The 35-year-old has spent two years in New Jersey and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. With a high number of injuries, the Devils leaned on Smith a lot during the 2023-24 season, and he didn’t deliver. 

Despite his veteran presence, physical play, penalty kill expertise, and a little bump in his offensive production, the downsides of Smith’s defensive play have been costly for the team. Smith’s unnecessary penalties and turnovers are problematic. He often isn’t positioned correctly, which creates chances for the opposing team. Smith makes too many glaring mistakes. Other defensemen look better when they’re not paired with him. The negatives outweigh the positives.

Smith isn’t at the level of other NHL regulars. He played 60 games and would have played more if he hadn't missed some time due to an injury. He is more suited for a seventh defenseman role, but the team’s reliance on Smith made us realize how much more valuable someone like Nick DeSimone or Santeri Hatakka is in that role. The Devils should not re-sign Smith.

2. Kaapo Kahkonen

Kaapo Kahkonen is unlikely to be re-signed by the Devils. The 27-year-old came to New Jersey from San Jose at the trade deadline. The Devils traded Vitek Vanecek for Kahkonen in order to get Vanecek off the books for 2024-25 because Kahkonen is not under contract next season. 

It’s a small sample size of six games in the net for the Devils, but Kahkonen played well. He held a .923 SV% and saved 2.51 GAA. His numbers for the year, though, were not great. In 37 games played, he had an .898 SV% and 3.64 GAA. To be fair, though, the Sharks were a very bad team. Kahkonen wasn’t getting much help keeping the puck out of the goal.

Despite his solid play in New Jersey, Kahkonen doesn’t have a place on the Devils in 2024-25. The Devils need a true top goaltender. They already have Jake Allen under contract next year, likely to be the 1B goalie. The Devils also have Akira Schmid and Nico Daws knocking on the door. There’s a good chance that one of these goalies — Allen, Schmid, or Daws – will be traded in the offseason for a big fish. The only way it would make sense to re-sign Kahkonen is if it is Allen who is traded and if the Devils don’t trust Schmid or Daws to step up. Kahkonen probably won’t return next season.

1. Alexander Holtz

Alexander Holtz is a trade candidate. The 22-year-old has struggled to find his place since being drafted by New Jersey in 2020. The Devils have some needs for next year including a goalie, a center, and some bottom six depth. With Holtz's role rather unclear, he could be traded to help fill one of those needs.

Holtz didn’t have a stellar season, but he had a good season. He scored 16 goals and had 12 assists. Considering his lack of ice time, these numbers are relatively good. Holtz was noticeably faster than the previous season, but this is still an area he struggles in. His game is becoming more consistent, although he has more work to do on his defensive play.

The problem is that the Devils just don’t seem to know what to do with Holtz, and that has stunted his development. Lindy Ruff’s decision to healthy scratch Holtz for much of the 2022-23 season was puzzling. Then, in the 2023-24 season, Holtz was buried on the fourth line and given limited ice time even when he earned more. Perhaps this will be different next season under a different head coach. Holtz was elevated to the top 6 in some games under interim head coach Travis Green, who also gave him a longer leash at times. Holtz should continue to grow next year, but there’s a good chance he won’t be in New Jersey anymore.

Don’t expect to see these three players on the Devils next season.

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