With a month and a half to go before the 2017 NHL Draft, Ray Shero and the Devils will have plenty of things to mull over before the big day. As you may have heard, the Devils won the draft lottery last weekend, meaning the team will be blessed (cursed?) with the honor of determining and selecting the top overall pick for this year. The Devils will likely be spending lots of time determining if Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier (or even someone else?) is the best way to go with that #1 pick, but they also have plenty to figure out beyond that. Yesterday, Gerard looked at if the Devils should look at dealing some of their surplus picks for immediate help, similar to the Palmieri trade from two years ago. Today, we look at if the Devils should be thinking of either moving up or trading pieces to try to secure a second pick within the first round to try to acquire another core piece. Be warned: rampant speculation lies ahead.
In 2016-17, the New Jersey Devils were a very bad team. I’m not exactly breaking news to anyone here, but that is something to keep in mind when exploring the hypotheticals laid out here. They were the first Devils team to finish last in their conference since the 1986-87 season, and they were a fairly distant last at that. So while some substantial developments have occurred over the last couple weeks to provide a new ray of hope for the franchise, we are still likely a few years away from an actual Devils renaissance. With that in mind, should the Devils be trying to bolster their group of potential core players that could arrive in the next 2-3 years? One way to do that would be to secure more picks towards the top of the draft, where the likelihood of drafting an impact player is much higher.
So which ways can the Devils climb back into the first round at the draft? There are a few options, but the most obvious ones are this:
- Package other lower draft picks to get back into the mid or late first round
- Take on a bad contract from a team with cap issues
- Trade a current contributor for a high pick
Combinations of these are also possible and the expansion draft could plausibly play a part as well. To avoid muddying the waters too much, though, we’ll steer clear of the expansion draft scenarios for now.
Every season, it seems like there are a few picks with top-10 potential who will slide down into the mid- or even late first round before a team scoops them up and gets very good value for their pick. There are times when you see a player falling and start hoping he will get to your team, only for him to be swiped off the board before they are on the clock. The Devils have so many picks built up in this draft that if they see a player high on their board start to slide in the first round, they could consider packaging up picks to jump up and get them before a smart team wises up and takes him off the board (Alex DeBrincat getting swiped by Chicago just before he got to NJ jumps to mind from last season). Third and fourth round picks certainly have value, and it’s good to give yourself as many chances as possible to hit on picks, but they also give you the option of starting to move up 5, 10, or 15 picks to guarantee that you are getting a player you feel could have substantial impact. Sacrificing a later-round lottery ticket can be worth it if you are still in the area of the draft where some of the upper-tier talent is still on the board.
Bad Contract Disposal Surcharge
I went into this in some amount of detail a few weeks ago, so I won’t belabor it, but the Devils’ substantial amounts of space under the cap gives them the ability to acquire assets for little other than taking the headache off another team’s books. If the Devils took a major disaster contract like a Nathan Horton or David Clarkson off of Toronto or Columbus’ hands, could they secure one of those teams’ selections in the middle of the first round? If they could, then it might be an avenue worth exploring. A lesser bad contract could also be incorporated into a package of players and picks that ends up lifting the Devils from the second round back into the first. As I stated in my earlier piece, this is a major asset for the Devils and this is one of the significant ways they could use it.
Trading a Current Piece
This is likely the approach that would cause the most consternation among the fanbase, but I think it’s at least worth consideration. As I alluded to before, the Devils’ window of contention (which now, admittedly, feels closer than it did in early April) probably remains a decent distance away. With that in mind, it’s helpful to consider where a potential trade piece on the current roster is likely to be in a few years time. The Devils don’t have a plethora of pieces that are really much in the way of trade bait, but the ones who I would say have legitimate trade value on the market (assuming Taylor Hall is untouchable), are Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Cory Schneider, and (maybe) Andy Greene. Palmieri is signed for four more years and is the team’s best goal scorer, so he’d be tough to part with. Greene’s value is probably tailing off anyway and taking him away from an already shambolic defense is a good way to keep the team a mess. That leaves Henrique and Schneider. Henrique is an intriguing option, as he is a UFA in two years and is now entering the back end of his prime at 27. If the Devils could secure a high pick for him, it’s something you might consider, though I might be more comfortable trading him for some more immediate help in the form of a young defenseman.
Cory Schneider is the one option for a trade that has been piquing my interest in the past few days. Even a year or so ago, I hated the idea of trading Schneider. He is one of the best goaltenders in the game (despite a down year) and taking him away from the Devils was a good way for them to hit rock bottom. Well, they sort of hit rock bottom anyway this season and Schneider is now entering the “not getting any younger” portion of his career. At 31, Schneider could easily have 5 more very good years left in him, but if the Devils don’t expect to legitimately contend for another, lets say, 3 seasons, would it make sense to trade him away now to try to build a core that lasts through the next decade? It’s certainly not a proposal I make lightly, but if the Devils can trade Schneider for, say, the third-overall pick from the perpetually goalie-starved Dallas Stars, is that a move the team should consider?
If the Devils can land a Nolan Patrick/Nico Hischier and a Miro Heiskenan at the top of the first round and have potential centerpieces for the offense and defense in one shot is that worth the immediate situation it creates in goal? It seems like it potentially could be. Any pick outside of the top 4 or 5, and I don’t know that I make this deal, but if the Devils can immediately revamp their core in one shot (and if they believe that MacKenzie Blackwood has a legitimate future), perhaps the team can make due with stopgaps in goal for the time being. I would expect a little pushback on a proposal to move a piece like Schneider (or another current contributor) for a draft pick, but it could be a way forward for the franchise.
These are just a few of the potential hypotheticals for the Devils to move up and any combination of the three along with other factors could be used to try to build a truly strong core for the future at the top of the draft. Obviously, all of these deals on contingent on teams actually being interested in moving their first rounders. We’ve seen over the past decade that high draft picks are an almost essential part of any contending team. If the Devils can secure multiple picks in the top 20 or even the top 5, perhaps now is an opportune time to build up their core. With that in mind, what is your take on these options? Would you want the team to try to trade up to get back into the first round for a second pick there? Do you have some proposals of your own? Would you even consider moving major current contributor, even if the return is a pick in the top 5? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading.