Kyle Palmieri had little doubt he was staying with the New Jersey Devils for the long haul. Finalizing the five-year, $23.25 million contract he signed Thursday was simply a matter of time.
A restricted free agent, Palmieri, 25, filed for arbitration Tuesday, but in his words, that was "paperwork stuff." He grew up in Montvale, N.J., not far from where the Devils play in Newark, so the decision to sign for five years with an average annual value of $4.65 million and give up three years of potential free agency was relatively easy.
"For me, I knew we were close over the last week or two," Palmieri said. "Obviously it's a busy time for the front office with the draft and free agency. I think it dragged out a little bit toward the end purely because of the timing, but for me, obviously I'm happy to settle it before it went to arbitration. I don't think at any point it I thought it was going to get to that.
"Obviously having that opportunity is something that is tough to turn down. I think for me, like I said, just being with an organization that has that much faith in you and wants to invest in five years, it's a huge honor for me to have and I'm really looking forward to staying with the Devils for five more years."
In return New Jersey will have Palmieri during his prime years and coming off the best season of his NHL career. The Devils acquired Palmieri, the 26th pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks for a second-round choice in the 2015 draft and a third-round selection in 2016 on June 27, 2015. He rewarded them with NHL career highs of 30 goals, 27 assists and 57 points, including 11 goals and 23 points on the power play, in 82 games.
"We knew what we were kind of getting in Kyle in terms of the style of play and in terms of production," Devils general manager Ray Shero said. "Over the next five years, I don't want to base everything around how many goals he scores. I think the reason really behind Kyle and the signing of five years, including three years unrestricted, is he's going to help make us a better team, a deeper team and play the way we want to play. He's at that right age so, yeah, we consider him a foundation in terms of moving forward."
Before signing Palmieri, Shero changed the complexion of the Devils beginning with the acquisition of forward Taylor Hall in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Adam Larsson on June 29. Shero also signed defenseman Ben Lovejoy and forwards Vernon Fiddler and Luke Gazdic, traded for and signed forward Beau Bennett, and re-signed defenseman Jon Merrill and forward Devante Smith-Pelley.
The moves come with higher expectations for the Devils to improve on a seventh-place finish in the Metropolitan Division (38-36-8, 84 points) last season that left them 12 points out of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
"We were in the hunt for most of [last season]," Palmieri said. "A couple of little slides here and there, and we put ourselves in a tough spot. When you look at the additions of the team and how it's rounded out, I see no reason why we can't be competing for a playoff spot. Obviously there's been a couple of teams that shook their rosters up a little bit and will have a couple of different looks, but for us, that's the goal this year. We want to make it and be playing in the postseason. I think every guy in our locker room is looking forward to that challenge."
Palmieri also is being counted on to help boost an offense that finished 30th in the NHL with 2.2 goals per game last season. Palmieri and Adam Henrique each had 30 goals, but outside of forward Lee Stempniak, who had 16 goals before he was traded to the Boston Bruins on Feb. 29, no other Devils player scored more than 14.
"Obviously there were some things that we wanted to address over the offseason," Palmieri said. "You bring in that mixture of the veterans, and Taylor Hall (24) is around the same age as me. You feel great about the direction the team is going in. I can't wait to get the season started.
"I think, obviously, we've made some steps forward and steps in the right direction. Now it's up to the players. We have the tools and we just have to go out there and get off to a good start."