Since free agent frenzy has come and gone and the New Jersey Devils were unable to land a top-flite center (essentially Kevin Shattenkirk), the talk has been that the Devils will probably need to trade a forward if they want to bolster their shallow blue line for the upcoming season. Mike touched on this himself yesterday. Specifically, they would probably look to trade a center, given the large number they have both in New Jersey and in the pipeline. You could argue a left winger as well, but definitely not anyone who specializes on the right side, as that is another shallow position.
I would have to agree with this sentiment overall. It is not like there are a whole lot of free agents left out there, and there is no point in preventing someone like Steven Stantini from getting valuable experience at the NHL level because you felt the need to sign an older defenseman on the downside of his career. Unless Ray Shero is actually going to get someone who can handle his weight on the top 4 for the next several years, there is no point to rush to make a deal.
The problem with that logic, of course, is that if you want a top 4 defender who will remain at the top of his game or improve over the next several seasons, you’re going to have to give up a good amount. If we look specifically at center, which is definitely the deepest position in NJ, there are definitely some names that most likely won’t be traded. You have Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Nico Hischier, Michael McLeod, Pavel Zacha, John Quenneville, Brian Boyle, and more. Now of those centers, you can put Hischier in the 0% chance to be dealt column. Also, considering what they just signed Boyle for, you can assume he won’t be dealt either, as someone else would’ve just signed him instead. The other young guys with potential, Zacha and McLeod, I would think they have a very strong chance to not be dealt as well, but if another team is offering Taylor Hall-like defenders, that would probably make Shero reconsider. Chances on that are very slim.
That leaves Quenneville, Zajac, and Henrique. You could probably consider Quenneville in the “young guys with potential” category as well, although I think Shero’s price for him might be a little less than Zacha or McLeod. At least that would make sense to me. However, it would probably still require a quality, legitimate offer for Shero to consider. Again, that is possible, but I wouldn’t think likely. So what you have left is Zajac and Henrique. Given Zajac’s contract and age, he would not fetch nearly as much in return as Henrique would, and that probably means that he stays.
So who is left? Henrique. From what I have seen and discussed with others, it does seem like there is a decent amount of talk among the fan base about Henrique being the one most likely to be traded for a defender. He is still in his prime at 27 years old, is a quality two-way top 6 center who can also play left wing, has shown up in clutch situations, and only carries a $4 million cap hit for two more seasons. Those are all absolutely strong selling points for Shero to shop him around with, and most likely he could be traded for a type of defender that I mentioned above, a top 4 guy who is also in his prime.
On the surface, I understand the argument. Henrique did not develop into an elite scorer in the NHL. He is a quality two-way guy who plays solid top 6 minutes while chipping in a half point per game or so. On a team starved for elite offensive talent, it is easy to look at that and say that he is tradeable. However, today I want to make the counterargument and say that he should not be traded. There are a couple reasons that I will provide here. First, he flat out is a better player that just what you see on the surface. He won AATJ’s most versatile award last year and received votes this year because he has proven to be successful all over the ice and even when moved all throughout the lineup. Remember, he was given absolutely no consistent linemates this past season. Hall, Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri were together for almost 650 minutes; Henrique spent 296 minutes with Michael Cammalleri and 295 with Palmieri and another 277 with PA Parenteau. He had zero consistency surrounding him, yet he still had the fourth most points on the team, only 5 behind Zajac who had all of that time to gel with Hall and Palmieri, the team’s two best offensive forwards.
Henrique was forced to center a second line bereft of top 6 talent, yet still helped to produce some quality numbers. When you look at the WOWY numbers, many players have improved goal numbers when he is on the ice with them. The 5 forwards who spent the most time with Henrique last season were Cammalleri, Palmieri, Parenteau, Beau Bennett and Miles Wood. Of those 5, four of them had better goals for percentages when with Henrique than without him (Parenteau was the lone dissenter). The most compelling is Miles Wood. Wood was mostly as a speed guy looking to generate quick offense last season. When without Henrique, a solid 436 minutes of ice time, Wood seemed to fail miserably at that, as he produced an epically low 29.2 GF%. When with Henrique, however, for 225 minutes, his GF% rose to 45%. Henrique was able to play with Wood and work with his strengths to get more out of him that helped the team in terms of goals for versus goals against. It still netted a negative number, but 45% is much closer to 50% than 29.2% is.
Finally, there is no doubt that Henrique is a team leader. I argued that he could have been named captain instead of Andy Greene when that took place, and while I think Greene was ultimately the right guy, I still believe Henrique would have succeeded with the ‘C’ as well. He is a high character guy, works hard, and can provide a strong model for the young players on how to do it right in the NHL in order to succeed. If he stays around long enough, I could easily see him becoming the next team captain after Greene.
Also, for a quick off the ice argument too, he is absolutely a “Devil”. That is hard to describe and put into words, but I think you might know what I mean. He was drafted here, he has developed his talent here, he is a fan favorite, and he is responsible for the single best play that has happened to this franchise in a decade. As can be seen with what happened with Shattenkirk, it can be tough to recruit players to come to Newark and to make star players excited to play for the Devils. When someone comes along who wants to play here and is good enough to play here for a long stretch of time, there is something endearing about that, something that connects you to that person. I think Henrique has some of that, especially if he stays and plays well for a while longer. It would be sad to get rid of that. Hopefully Hischier becomes that (although he hopefully becomes a better player), and hopefully Hall re-signs and becomes that (definitely a better player), but at the moment, Henrique is that. Who else is? Zajac? Greene? I’d be hard pressed to say anyone feels more like a true Devil than Henrique right now.
In the end, that is only just a little bit of the information I could provide that shows Henrique deserves to stay with the New Jersey Devils. He also is a great penalty killer, plays against some tough competition while not being sheltered, etc., but that can be discussed in more depth another time. I understand fully that the Devils need a good defender, and you need to trade someone of value to get value back. However, I am not convinced that Henrique should be that value that is traded away. He is quite significant to this team, even if he is not producing high point totals. Even to that, however, give him solid, consistent, actual top 6 linemates this season and I would bet he produces more than last season. He may never breach 60 or 70 points in a season, but he does so much else both on and off the ice, especially as a leader, that I find it tough to just say get rid of him. He is a Devil, and I think he should remain that way.