By Allan Muir
It took a lot longer than expected — you can blame the change in ownership for that — but the Devils finally have come to terms with restricted free agent forward Adam Henrique.
The deal, according to Sportsnet’s Shawn McKenzie, is for six years and $24 million.
That’s decent change for a guy who followed up a 51-point Calder Trophy-finalist season in 2011-12 with a bum campaign that saw him score just 11 goals and 16 points in 42 games. New Jersey was willing to write last season off as the result of an injury-induced slow start.
On a team that doesn’t have a lot of talent down the middle, Henrique is being counted on to handle a heavy load this season. He doesn’t have the offensive upside to be a No. 1 center, but he could hold down the second-line job while scoring 60-65 points and chipping in with a strong defensive effort. If he can deliver on those expectations, this will be a fair deal for both sides.
As well as Henrique made out, the real winners of this deal might be the Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri and the Rangers’ Derek Stepan.
Kadri (18 goals, 26 assists) finished second behind Phil Kessel in team scoring, and 22nd in the league during his first season of full-time play. Toronto (wisely) was hoping to sign Kadri to a short-term bridge deal, something in the range of two years and $6 million, to give him time to prove that last season was the start of something big rather than a fluke. But now that he can add Henrique’s deal to his list of comparables, the Leafs are one step closer to caving in and giving him something along the lines of six-years and $25-28 million.
Stepan’s case is stronger. He kept pace with Kadri with 18 goals and 44 points last season, but he can also point to his three-year body of work, which has a clear trajectory of improvement. New York GM Glen Sather has said repeatedly that Stepan won’t get anything other than a bridge deal, but at this point the leverage is completely in the player’s hands. If Sather won’t budge, a holdout by Stepan seems inevitable, and for a team with aspirations to go deep into the playoffs, that would be a dangerous way to start its first season in the tough Metropolitan division.