The New Jersey Devils had three arbitration hearings scheduled for August. In order to avoid having a hearing, a contract must be agreed upon between the player and the team. Tyce Thompson, who was scheduled for a hearing on August 11, was re-signed to an NHL minimum deal for two seasons on August 2. Jesper Bratt, who was scheduled for a hearing on August 3, was re-signed right before the hearing began on August 3 for one season at $5.45 million. The last remaining arbitration hearing on the schedule was for Miles Wood on August 6. The Devils filed for arbitration for Wood; not the other way around. Now that hearing is not happening. The Devils announced this evening that Miles Wood and the team has agreed to a one season worth $3.2 million.
I figured that the team-elected arbitration was a way for the devils to argue for a lesser contract for the next season. Wood made $3.5 million in salary last season. Through team-elected arbitration, the arbitrator could award a deal worth 85% of that. He ended up taking less anyway outside of an arbitrator. Not a lot of savings, which is warranted given that Wood was hurt all last season and appeared in just 3 games. It remains to be seen whether Wood is fully healthy and can return to his former level of performance. This is clearly not a contract based on last season but on past seasons. Even so, it is a hefty amount of money for a third/fourth line winger.
Arguably, Wood’s peak season was in the pandemic-shortened 2021 season. In 55 games, Wood put up 17 goals and 25 points. If he was able to maintain that rate of appearances and production over a full 82-game season, that would be 81 games, 25 goals, and 37 points. It would have been a career year for the winger. His on-ice rates in 2021 were not that good but not that bad, per Natural Stat Trick. Certainly better than his dire 2019-20 season, yet behind his 2017-18 campaign. The 5-on-5 numbers matter more for Wood because his special teams work is often a secondary role on a power play He can fill in as needed if players are unavailable. But he has never been a chosen to be on a top unit unless necessary.
The issues with Wood are apparent from how he plays the game and how he is used. His even strength ice time per game has consistently been in the 11 to 13 minute range. Wood has been and is a bottom six winger. Wood is fast at chasing pucks, so much so that his line often dumps the puck in deep to have him go after it. Wood is not so fast when he is turning and backchecking, although he has put in more consistent effort in recent seasons to at least get to the Devils’ zone. The 6’2” and 195 pound Wood is lauded for drawing calls (which he does, 44 is second most over the last three seasons and he missed nearly all of 2021-22) and being tough; although this also means he takes his fair share of calls (37 total penalties, third most over the last three seasons) and toughness is one of those things that people like to talk about as important but no one in the NHL actually treats as important. (See: Mason Geertsen.) Wood does shoot the puck quite a bit; but he has a tendency to shoot from anywhere on offense as opposed to looking for a better location or situation to shoot. Given that he is 26, it is unlikely Wood will change. Given that he is effectively coming off hip surgery, there are real questions as to whether he can play the way he did. This is not to say that Wood is a scrub; more that he is a limited player. This is the kind of player you put on a third or fourth line and that is exactly how the Devils have used him since he broke into the NHL. And they will continue to use him that way.
Miles Wood and the Devils avoid arbitration and that is good. Wood is apparently well liked by the Devils and that is good. And it is a one-season contract so if Wood falters, then he can be let loose to the free market. Still, this is a lot of money for a guy who is only going to be in the bottom six. They are giving him $3.2 million for 2022-23 to see if he still has it at age 27 (his birthday is on September 13), after a hip surgery, and, ideally, repeat his 2021 season. If not, he could very well be dealt or left to go to market. We’ll see how this bet plays out.
As for the cap, the devils are just about capped out at the moment. CapFriendly has the Devils at $73,735 in cap space right now. Of course, this is with Jonathan Bernier not on long term injured reserve. If it is true that he is unable to play, then he can be placed on LTIR and that would allows $4.125 million to be utilized. That is more than enough to take care of Fabian Zetterlund and leave some room for call ups and maybe an unexpected move that appears. And that is pretty much it for the Devils in this offseason: sign Zetterlund and prepare for training camp and preseason.
I believe there is one other option: a buyout. A second buyout window now opens for the devils with all of their arbitration cases settled. This could also provide relief to the cap. It is not often used, but we shall see.
What is your take on this new deal for Wood? Do you think Wood will live up to a $3.2 million deal in 2022-23? Do you think Wood will be a Devil by May 2023? When do you think Zetterlund would be sorted out? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this signing for Wood. Thank you for reading.