Good evening. I decided to put together this quick, last-minute preview of the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline for the New Jersey Devils. I've delayed on this because, well, there could have been a move made already for all I know. There have been plenty of deals made this weekend. Earlier today, Our Hated Rivals mortgaged their future further by obtaining Eric Staal from Carolina for picks and a prospect. On Saturday, Florida was the most active in acquiring Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell, and Jakub Kindl in three separate deals. This past Friday featured Chicago getting Dale Wiese and Tomas Fleischmann and the day before that, they got Andrew Ladd. While some of the more significant names thought to be moved were moved, that could mean many more will happen tomorrow as some teams scramble to get any help before 3 PM EST. It's best to briefly identify what the Devils could do.
The Deadline Itself
First and foremost, the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline is tomorrow. Teams have register trades with the league by 3 PM EST. After that, while some trades may be announced that were filed in at the final minute, no new ones can be made. Once the deadline passes, teams can go beyond the 23-man active roster limit. However, the salary cap and contract limit still apply though.
The Devils' Cap & Roster Situation
Per General Fanager, the Devils have a projected end of season cap space of about $8.5 million. They have 48 contracts on the books, with Pavel Zacha, MacKenzie Blackwood, and John Quenneville exempted. They have fourteen forwards (which includes Stefan Matteau, who's in Albany on a conditioning assignment) with seven turning UFA this summer, seven defensemen with one turning UFA this summer, and two goalies up with the team with none of them turning UFA this summer. There are four players on injured reserve; they cannot be moved. The biggest team need is offense. The biggest surplus they have, I guess, are depth-quality players.
What Could the Devils Do?
The biggest expectation for the Devils is to sell some of their players. There's been Tweets from legitimate reporters all weekend noting that some players are definitely in play. The most recent I've seen came from TSN's Gary Lawless:
Devils appear to be making all non-core guys available. Stemniak, Tootoo, Kennedy, Schlemko being shopped— gary lawless (@garylawless) February 28, 2016
And this other one by Lawless definitely justifies this post by Gerard last Thursday about defenseman Eric Gelinas.
Devils telling teams D Eric Gelinas is available— gary lawless (@garylawless) February 28, 2016
Based on these two Tweets among others, I would expect Ray Shero to make some kind of deal. Lee Stempniak and David Schlemko are certainly two names I've heard among the fans as players that could be moved. I'm surprised there would be teams interested in the likes of Tyler Kennedy and Jordin Tootoo. Especially since they could get either player in the summer without giving up an asset. In fact, except for Gelinas, everyone of those players Lawless mentioned are free agents this summer according to General Fanager. If Shero can get a legitimate asset something for them if there's no plan to keep them, then great.
The Players That Could Be Moved
Among those five, Lee Stempniak should gather the highest return. He's been traded so many times not because he isn't good, but because teams that want to "go for it" like this kind of forward. Stempniak has experience, he can fit into a top-nine role, and he puts in a solid effort at a minimum. He's been a fantastic find by Shero. Signing him from a professional tryout contract was arguably his best offseason move as Stempniak now leads the team in scoring with sixteen goals and twenty-five assists. He's got 120 shots, which is a bit under a two-shot per game rate. He's been a great fit in the Devils' top-six (CF% aside, not that there are many good Devils in that stat this season) and he's played in all situations for the team. Granted, his bloom in production is a function of getting minutes and opportunities on the Devils that he would not have on other teams. Still, 2015-16 has been his second most productive season in his career and there's still more hockey to play for the 33-year old. This should entice many teams looking for some help on offense while wanting someone who knows what he's doing and for a contract that's expiring and will be far less than seven figures.
I will say there are a few issues with moving him. One, I do recognize that the Devils are re-building. This is usually done by keeping good players. Stempniak has been good and it's an open question with who replaces his minutes and role should he get traded. Of course, if the Devils are giving up on 2015-16, then that question is somewhat moot. Still, I sympathize with his desire to want to stay with the team during what could be (is?) some lean years. Two, I think most teams would recognize that while he's received more offensive minutes and situations than in the past, he's not likely to continue it when he's 34 or beyond. Typically, older players don't keep up a swell in points or even general play. So if a team wants him but expects a similar level of production on a third line, then they're going to be disappointed. That realization may help limit what asset he brings back. Of course, I still think he'll get more than the rest.
David Schlemko is the other popular name for similar reasons. Unlike Stempniak, he doesn't have any gaudy numbers although his six goals and eleven assists mean this has been his most productive season in his career. He's a 28-year old defenseman who is capable of either being a depth defenseman or can fill in at times in a top-four role. He's done the latter more often than not in New Jersey with the struggles and/or injuries of Damon Severson, Jon Merrill, and Eric Gelinas at times. It helps that among the regular defenders in NJ, he's got the best CF% - even though it's below 50% per War on Ice. What that means is that he could provide some assistance to a team that needs some strengthening on their blueline. While Schlemko has never been traded, he's been moved through waivers so other teams do recognize what he can add. I don't think he'll get as much of an asset as Stempniak would, but I don't think he would be traded for very little.
Gerard floated the notion of Eric Gelinas being traded. I think it's definitely possible. Gelinas hasn't played since February 8. It's clear that John Hynes does not see him as a regular. His performances prior to his scratching certainly didn't endear him to the coaches. So while he's got one more year left on a contract that pays $1.575 million, I can see other teams picking him up to see if they can help him out. It may be a bit too late for that since he's 24, he's played 156 NHL games, and his big feature was his big feature from two seasons ago: he's got a great shot. Everything else needs at least some work. Still, he's got something going for him, his contract isn't too expensive, he's still under 25, and a change of scenery might do him so good. So if someone is willing to offer something decent and Schlemko isn't drawing much, then I can see Shero pulling the trigger.
As far as Kennedy and Tootoo go, well, I can't say I would miss them if they were gone. But I'd be surprised if a team offers much of anything for either. I think they're the sort of players that if a team covets them, then they can wait until July (or August or early September) to get them without giving anything to the Devils. Of course, I've been known to be wrong before.
What Would the Devils Want?
Picks immediately come to mind. Prospects could be a possibility, as well. Preferably the former, as I don't think the non-core players that could be dealt will get anything more than a low-to-mid-level prospect. While it remains to be seen how the Shero regime drafts now that he's had a full season of scouting and preparation, it's better to have more picks than less.
As the team is re-building, there's little value in trying to trade for a player unless it's somebody they can rely on to be a part of the re-build. With the previously listed players being on the block, I don't think a package of them will yield a deal to get a player that the Devils may want. Like, say, Jonathan Drouin. I may be wrong, but I don't think Stempniak plus Schlemko and a pick moves the needle unless they're expecting similar players in return. The Devils do have the cap space to take on a really bad contract, which would be useful if the Devils had more tantalizing assets to move for a significant deal. Still, if I were Shero, I'd settle on trying to get first (if possible), second (more likely), and third round picks over the next few drafts. And then hope those picks turn into the players to turn a re-building Devils team into a Devils team moving on up. That's the smart play in my opinion.
One More Thing...
There's always the option that Shero does nothing. Whether that's a function of there not being a good enough deal to take or Shero thinking this team is fine as it is, I leave that up to you. As much as some fans may want the Devils to sell what they can, it's never really a good idea to make a move for the sake of making a move. For example, if all that is offered for Lee Stempniak are third round picks, then I can understand Shero just holding onto him instead. Or if a team requests the Devils' first rounder in 2016 to make a deal work; Shero should just walk away. (Aside: By no means should the Devils move their 2016 first rounder. They need all the firsts they can get.) No deal is better than a bad one. That won't mean the team will remain the same for 2016-17. As the team is in a re-build and has plenty of expiring contracts, they could wait until the 2016 NHL Draft to make something more significant happen, similar to how they got Kyle Palmieri. They could also make a big splash in free agency given the roster turnover and their significant amount of cap space.
The Devils could be active tomorrow, not all that active, or not active at all. What would you like to see Shero do? What are your expectations for the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline? We will have an open post in the morning tomorrow for you discuss all trade activity so far. In the meantime, please leave your answers and other thoughts about the deals made and the deals to come in the comments. Thank you for reading.