With the stunning trade of Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi for Sami Vatanen happening just the other day, there are still angles to be parsed out and analyzed. First off, let me say that I have to agree with John and say that this was a pretty fair deal for both sides. I feel badly for it because Henrique is a class act and a real fan favorite, and he was the last current Devil I own a jersey for (I might need Santa to bring me a new one now, maybe a Nico Hischier jersey?). However, removing emotion from the equation, the trade really does work for both sides and provides the Devils’ blue line with some valuable top 4 talent that was sorely lacking. As a non-emotional observer, this was a deal that Ray Shero had to make.
However, to gain talent, talent has to be shipped away. As John noted in that initial analysis of the trade, Henrique was becoming more and more expendable thanks to the development of new, young talent. Despite that, there can still be no doubt that removing him from the lineup will not help to strengthen the forward corps in any way. The hope is that the boost from Vatanen on defense will more than offset the loss from Henrique on offense, but there will almost undoubtedly be a loss on that front. It would be amazing if Pavel Zacha could begin to really develop and start to replace what New Jersey lost in Henrique, but for now the loss is still prevalent.
During this season, Adam played all across the top three lines, on the wing and at center. Over the last 10 games as a Devil he had mostly played at center with Drew Stafford on one side and either Travis Zajac or Jesper Bratt on the other. However, earlier in the season he was all over. Just look at the Washington game from October 13th as an example. He spent the majority of time on the third line centering Miles Wood and Jimmy Hayes, but also spent a decent chunk on the top line centering Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. The man was as versatile as it came, and that was a great benefit for the offense.
With the loss, however, that versatility leaves. That can have repercussions up and down the four lines, but I really think the affect could be seen on the bottom 6. As it was going, if someone like Bratt or Zacha was performing poorly, they could be moved to the third line to try and regain their form against weaker competition while Henrique took on a top 6 role playing against tougher opposition. If those young kids were performing well, like Bratt has been doing at times this season, then you could place Bratt alongside better teammates on the top 6 and have Henrique boost the performance of the third line wingers. Now, however, I feel like the lineup could become more stagnant. The top 6 versus bottom 6 have become more clearly defined, especially in terms of talent distribution. Just look at what Left Wing Lock predicted the lines to be for the Colorado game last night:
Taylor Hall – Nico Hischier – Jesper Bratt
Marcus Johansson – Travis Zajac – Pavel Zacha
Brian Gibbons – Blake Coleman – Drew Stafford
Miles Wood – Brian Boyle – Stefan Noesen
The dip between the top two lines and the bottom two lines is fairly significant in my opinion, and that is with Zacha playing on the top 6 despite clearly not playing anywhere near a level that was hoped and expected of him before the regular season started. On the bottom six you do have the team goal-scoring leader in Gibbons and a guy like Stafford who has played on the top 6 at times this season, and of course this has Jimmy Hayes as a scratch. But nonetheless, I feel the talent drop off is a more significant one now without having a proven guy and team leader like Henrique making his name shown on that third line. Gibbons may be the scoring leader for the team, but he had an astronomical 34.4% shooting percentage heading into the game last night, despite having a career percentage under 20%. There is no doubt that regression will come on that front at some point this season, which will begin to hamper bottom 6 production just because of regression to the mean.
After Gibbons, who has 15 points, you have Wood with 10, Stafford with 8, Hayes with 6, Boyle with 5, and everyone else noted on that bottom 6 has less than 5 (these numbers were all taken before the Colorado game last night, so you can mentally adjust these numbers if you know what happened). This is compared with Hall’s 26 points, Nico’s 18, Bratt’s 15, Palmieri’s 9, etc. Henrique had 14 points this year as a Devil as well. The production numbers comparing the top 6 to the bottom 6 now are starker without Henrique there to provide a bridge between the two.
Last season, one of the major problems with the Devils’ offense (there were many) was the lack of scoring depth. The top 5 of Hall, Henrique, Palmieri, Zajac and Cammalleri all produced at least 30 points (everyone except Cammy had over 40). No one else, however, was all that close except for PA Parenteau who was shipped away to Nashville. Only he and Zacha had over 20 points on the year. The difference between those top 5 and everyone else was huge, and it was a considerable detriment because the game requires you to play four lines, and the bottom 2 lines just couldn’t do anything at all.
Now, there can almost be no question that this year’s bottom six, even without Henrique, will be better than last year’s. The new young talent that has been infused into this roster has expanded the talent level of the entire offense, creating more talented third lines and checking lines. However, while I do appreciate the trade and it makes sense, I cannot deny that the one area that now begins to concern me a little is the bottom 6. Production from players outside the top talent has been incredibly important for the success of this club so far. Having someone like Gibbons scoring goals, and especially Henrique’s recent production before being traded, has helped the Devils to overcome a poor defense that allows a ton of attempts against. While Vatanen will certainly help to mitigate some of those attempts against, he will not all of a sudden make the Devils blue line into how it used to be. They will still be porous and allow attempts and goals against. If the Devils begin to only rely on the top 5 or top 6 to score goals, this team could get into a lot of trouble quickly. Now, perhaps more than ever, this is the time for someone like Zacha to step up. If he (or someone else) can take the place of Henrique and begin to produce more across different areas of the lineup, it would definitely alleviate the potential concern of a weaker bottom 6 and make the trade all the more worth it from New Jersey’s perspective.
Now that you’ve heard my concern about the trade (the potential drop off of the bottom 6), what are your concerns about the trade? Does this issue concern you as well, or does something else concern you more? If so, what is it, and why? Do you think the Devils offense is still dynamic without the versatility of Henrique? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.