Late yesterday morning, the New Jersey Devils announced they had signed defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler, who’s 25 years old, to a five-year extension at a cap hit of $3.4 million. He has one year left on his current deal at a cap hit of $1.125 million before his extension kicks in for the 2023-24 season.
Siegenthaler finished the 2021-22 campaign with 14 points in 70 games before his season came to a close when he broke his hand in April. The counting totals aren’t impressive, but there’s much more to his game than how many points he scores. He quietly was one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL this season, and the Devils are right to bet that’ll be the case moving forward.
Siegenthaler’s Breakout Year
The Devils acquired Siegenthaler ahead of the 2021 trade deadline in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2021 draft. At the time, he had fallen a bit on the Washington Capitals’ depth chart and was not receiving much playing time. With the expansion draft coming up, the Capitals didn’t have a protection slot available for Siegenthaler, so they traded him to New Jersey instead of losing him for nothing.
That turned out to be the Devils’ gain. Though he only played eight games after the trade during the 2020-21 season, Siegenthaler had shown signs of being a high-end defensive defenseman as he did in his limited time with the Capitals. The Devils allowed just 48.69 shot attempts and 1.89 expected goals against per 60 minutes with him on the ice, meaning they allowed much of nothing in those eight games.
Fast forward to the 2021-22 season, and Siegenthaler continued to post excellent defensive results. The Devils finished averaging 51.78 shot attempts and 2.21 expected goals against per 60 minutes with him on the ice, the first and third best rates on the team. His even-strength defense was worth an expected goals above replacement (xGAR) of 10.4, the best mark in the NHL for all defensemen.
That number placed Siegenthaler ahead of blueliners such as Charlie McAvoy, Jaccob Slavin and Jonas Brodin, three players considered among the best defensive defensemen in the game. Those three have more to offer offensively than Siegenthaler, but he is slowly proving that he can defend at a high level.
And it’s not like Siegenthaler’s minutes with the Devils this season came against easy competition. Per PuckIQ, he played 40.4 percent of his minutes against elite competition in 2021-22, the highest number among Devils defensemen. In those minutes, the team had a Corsi for percentage of 49.1 percent and a goals share of 51.2 percent. Considering the team had the worst goaltending in the league, that’s an impressive feat.
When looking at Siegenthaler’s last three seasons, it shows much of the same: not much value offensively, but a defenseman with very strong defensive results based on xGAR and GAR:
Siegenthaler’s value didn’t only come at even strength, either. He was the Devils’ best penalty-killing defenseman and succeeded at the things he did well at even strength, suppressing shots and quality chances. So what is it that makes him so good defensively? Let’s take a look and why it makes him the ideal fit as a defense partner for Dougie Hamilton.
Siegenthaler’s Style Complements Hamilton
When looking at Siegenthaler’s microstats, they’re pretty much what you’d expect from a defenseman with his makeup. Offensively, there’s not much going on. He’s not a big-time shooter and doesn’t create much in-zone offense, nor does he generate much through passing the puck. When in transition, he doesn’t attempt zone entries with possession often and does not have much success when he does try one.
However, Siegenthaler is quite good at the opposite end of the ice. What makes him a top-flight defenseman is his ability to defend the rush. He ranks in the 79th percentile in denial rate and the 95th percentile in preventing carry-ins that lead to a scoring chance. Given that, it’s no wonder he’s one of the top shot-suppressing defenders in the league. He just doesn’t allow opponents to create much when he’s on the ice.
If Siegenthaler is consistently posting defensive numbers that put him on the same playing field as Slavin, Brodin or McAvoy, pairing him alongside Hamilton is a no-brainer as was the case with Slavin in Carolina. It’ll allow Hamilton to do what he does best, joining the rush and creating offense, which is what coach Lindy Ruff will want from a defenseman like him. He won’t have to worry about playing a bit more passive than he’d like to since he knows Siegenthaler will be there to back him up defensively.
Devils’ Long-Term Outlook After Re-upping Siegenthaler
Once Siegenthaler’s extension kicks in for the 2023-24 season, the Devils will have three defensemen under contract for four or more years with him, Hamilton and the newly acquired John Marino. Hamilton is the most expensive at a cap hit of $9 million, while Marino has a cap hit of $4.4 million.
The Devils will have a core defense group to build around with those three defenders signed long-term. They also have Luke Hughes and Šimon Nemec coming up, the fourth and second overall picks in the 2021 and 2022 drafts, respectively. Depending on what the Devils decide to do with Ryan Graves and Damon Severson, unrestricted free agents in 2023, it’s not hard to envision what the team’s defense group will look like for the next three to five years.
If the Devils retain one of Graves or Severson, that’s their top-four locked up long-term. And since they’ve drafted Nemec, Hughes, and Seamus Casey with high picks the last two years, they’ll likely fill in the bottom pair for a year or two. Add in that the Devils got Siegenthaler below market value, per Dom Luszczyszyn’s model at The Athletic, and their blue line should be in a healthy place for the next few years:
Since the Devils’ left side is a bit weaker than the right at the moment, having Siegenthaler signed at a cap hit of $3.4 million and below his market value of $4.7 million will give the team roster flexibility moving forward. Since Hughes will only be 19 or 20 years old when he begins his NHL career, retaining a veteran like Graves would help keep him sheltered in a third-pair role until he’s ready to take a bigger step forward.
A left side of Siegenthaler, Graves and Hughes should set up pretty well moving forward. But if they don’t re-sign Graves, the Devils can always look to free agency or the trade market since Siegenthaler would be the team’s most expensive left-handed defenseman at $3.4 million per year. That’s why it should help keep the blue line consistently talented with not much else work needed, but it’s not just the blue line where his contract will help.
Like Siegenthaler would have been, Yegor Sharangovich will be a restricted free agent next summer. He produced at a 26-goal, 50-point pace this season, so he’ll be in line for a noticeable raise from his current cap hit of $2 million. Factor in a looming extension for Jesper Bratt that could be coming in the next week, and having Siegenthaler signed under $4 million per year could prove useful once the Devils’ contention window opens up and their salary cap gets tighter.
Siegenthaler may not be the flashy, offensive defenseman that makes the highlight reel on the NHL’s Twitter account, but he is emerging as a top-flight defensive defenseman. He turns 26 in March, meaning the Devils have him locked up for what should be his best years. And if he starts showing signs of decline in his early 30s, which tends to happen with defensemen who play his style of hockey, he’ll be off the books by then. It’s a bet worth taking given his 2021-22 season, and one that should pay off how the Devils hope for the next five-plus years.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017