As we emerge from the NHL All-Star Break, the Devils sit just above last place in the Eastern Conference heading into the start of the playoff push. In most scenarios, this would establish a team as a clear seller as the trade deadline approaches. With the way the NHL’s standings look right now, though, it’s possible for even the last place team to talk themselves into still having a shot at the postseason. The Devils should resist those urges, though, and get as much as they can at the deadline.
Now, the Devils could somewhat plausibly climb back into the playoff picture, particularly if the Flyers enter another swoon, but despite that possibility, the conclusion I have arrived at is that the team should be looking to offload pieces where it can in order to continue building up the system. Even if the team does manage to string together some wins and is only a few points out in a few weeks, they should still be sticking to a seller’s mindset. It might be tough if they are in the neighborhood of the playoffs around the deadline, but given how the team has looked at times this season, they should remain focused on the future.
Heading into this season, I had a little bit of a wait-and-see feel on how this team should approach things at the deadline. If the team was good enough, it felt reasonable to want them to stand pat if they were in the conversation in February. Now, even if they do manage to climb back into the race, it seems relatively clear that the team as currently configured isn’t particularly good. The Devils have scratched out enough points to not be the unmitigated disaster that the Avalanche and Coyotes are, but overall there have been far too many nights where the team looks lost and outclassed to believe a surge is coming.
Even with an uptick in play, the odds have become pretty long for New Jersey, despite the bunched standings. The team fell to seven points out before the break and, as things currently stand, will have to jump over five teams to make the playoffs. If they play good hockey for the remainder of the season, there is no guarantee that would even get them to a playoff spot. For that reason alone, the team should be looking toward the future over the next month and trying to get value for the movable assets that they have.
Another thing to keep in mind that most of the players the Devils are likely to move are primarily role players. If the Devils offload P.A. Parenteau, Kyle Quincey, and/or Vernon Fiddler, are they that much further from being a playoff team than they are now? Even if they were to explore selling on someone like goalie Keith Kinkaid while he is in the midst of his best season, it doesn’t preclude them from going on a run. So Ray Shero should be focused on trying to maximize returns and continue to build the organization up by whatever means necessary.
The other reason the Devils should be looking at moving pieces is directly because of the bunched standings. With just about 28 teams theoretically in the mix for the playoffs, the trade deadline figures to be a seller’s market this season. If a team commits to selling early, they could be helped by a market full of teams looking to plug holes and make a run. The Devils don’t necessarily have the type of blue-chip assets that are going to bring back first round picks, but if they can collect a few mid-rounders and maybe even a second or two, they will be much better for it going forward. So my plea is for Shero to not stand pat at the deadline, even if the Devils are close, because this team still has significant building to do and the market might be one where they can get some value out of players who are unlikely to be a part of future seasons in New Jersey.