It's at least 48 games away, but Clarkson's impending free agency could be the biggest story of the summer for the Devils. Clarkson stunned everyone with a 30-goal season last year and could set himself up for a very nice pay day with a similar season -- a pay day that very well could price the Devils out of his services. The Devils will have around $26 million in available cap space (according to the wonderful Cap Geek) entering next season, which seems like a lot until you look at who needs to be re-signed. In addition to Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus and Patrik Elias will be UFAs and Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson will be RFAs. They may also choose to re-sign Marek Zidlicky, also an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Assuming Henrique performs to expectations, you're probably looking at deal at least equal to what Matt Duchene signed before this season: Two years, $6.5 million. That's also assuming Ryan O'Reilly doesn't drive the market price up with his holdout this year. Elias is in the final year of a contract that will carry a $6 million cap hit this year. While it's unrealistic to expect him to get that kind of money at the age of 37, it wouldn't be crazy to see something in the neighborhood of Shane Doan's latest ($4.5M annual hit adjusted to probably $4M in the new CBA). As for Josefson, I'd expect him to get taken to arbitration unless he exceeds expectations or takes a team-friendly deal. And Zubrus? He can probably expect to land some offers in the $2-$3 million range if he posts a 40-point pace this season. Not even taking into account Zidlicky or Clarkson, you're looking at around $12 million to keep those four players for a Devils team that is still kinda broke and will NOT spend to the cap.
On the ice, the Devils need Clarkson to match his breakout season to be a playoff contender again this season, but it's entirely possible that could play him right out of Jersey.