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A New Jersey Devils Primer for the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline

The 2018 NHL Trade Deadline is less than a month away on February 26. With the regular season starting back up on Tuesday, this long post is a trade deadline primer for the New Jersey Devils. It covers their current situation, evaluates various trade assets, and notes some players to target and some to avoid.

2017 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
Ray Shero has a lot to consider and less than a month to make any other moves.
Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

The All-Star Game is in the books and the regular season will resume tomorrow. The next big date in the 2018-19 calendar is February 26. That day is the NHL Trade Deadline. All 31 teams have until 3 PM ET to submit their trades. After then, there can be no more trades. It’s less than a month away from today. Since the league got together in Tampa Bay for the All-Star festivities, you can be sure there have been some discussions about potential transactions. Now is the perfect time to get up to speed on what the New Jersey Devils can do and what they should or should not do for the NHL Trade Deadline

The Trade Deadline Itself

The 2018 NHL Trade Deadline is February 26, 2018. Teams have to register trades with the league by 3 PM ET. After that, while some trades may be announced that were filed in at the final minute, no new ones can be made. After February 26, teams can go beyond the 23-man active roster limit. Teams still have to meet the salary cap and contract limit requirements. Teams are also allowed up to four non-emergency call-ups from their AHL affiliate until the end of the season. When junior and college seasons end, players may be signed and added. But for the most part, whoever is in the organization is going to be in the organization until the offseason.

The Devils’ Cap, Contracts, and Draft Picks Situation

All trades must be cap and roster compliant. Therefore, it is important to know the Devils’ situation. The short version is that the Devils have plenty of cap space and room for contracts. According to CapFriendly, the Devils have a projected cap space of just over $8 million and 45 standard player contracts out of the maximum of 50. As long as ownership is willing to pay, money will not be an issue for the Devils. The Devils have plenty of space.

Draft picks are a bit more limited. The Devils traded their 2018 third round pick in the Henrique-Vatanen deal back in November. They also sent extra second round (originally Florida’s) and third round (originally Toronto’s) picks for 2018 in the trade that brought Marcus Johansson to New Jersey. The Devils are now left with seven picks for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft: their own picks in rounds 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 and an additional fifth round pick from Calgary, the return on the deal that sent Scott Wedgewood to Arizona.

It is early, but there are plenty of good things being said about the 2018 NHL Draft class. For example, this is what Steve Kournianos at The Draft Analyst had written in his first mock draft earlier in January, emphasis mine:

Barring any sort of second-half chaos, Rasmus Dahlin — the flashy defender from Sweden whose highlight clips in terms of draft prospects have taken the term “viral” to a whole new level — will be the first overall pick. But that doesn’t mean the remaining 30 teams will walk away empty handed from the 2018 draft. There are at least a dozen defensemen beyond Dahlin who can offer clubs not only top-pairing potential, but can also serve as a cornerstone piece towards building a strong foundation. Additionally, this group of prospects has a good mix of forwards, several with the ability and wherewithal to debut in the NHL almost immediately.

While the Devils had a big 2017 draft class led by Nico Hischier and their 2016 class already has a success in Jesper Bratt, their prospect pool is not so deep in talent that they can have a light year. Should Kourianos’ words ring true, the Devils may be able find that badly-needed premier defenseman prospect even in the middle or late parts of the first round. They will need to keep that pick in order to do that. Unless a once-in-a-lifetime deal comes along, it would be best for the Devils to keep their first and second round picks.

Buying or Selling?

Last season, this was an easy call. The Devils were bad, they were going to stay bad, and they did stay bad. They were clearly re-building and so they sold what they could, which was not much. This season, it is not at all an easy call. If you pay attention to my weekly Metropolitan Division snapshots - and you should be - then you’ll know that despite the Devils’ big January slump, they are very much in a playoff spot. They are just a handful of points from the bottom and just a handful of points from being in second place, which brings a playoff spot and home-ice for the first round. It is so close in the Metropolitan, that I don’t see any reason why any team should blow it all up.

Which makes the Rangers’ planning to do so strange. I’m not making it up, Larry Brooks wrote about it here in the New York Post. Yeah, it may make some sense for the long term, but when you’re literally less than a point away from the postseason with over 30 games left to play, the season is far from being done.

To that end, I don’t envy Ray Shero and his team here. If he sees this month’s results as a sign that the party is over and things are going to decline for the Devils, then that would justify wanting to do some selling. The Devils’ prospect pool has been bolstered but its still missing some additional talents, especially on defense. There are still some parts of the lineup that need addressing that may not be addressed properly through free agency this Summer. (Check out my really early free agency preview for more on that.) Some re-building can absolutely be done and, in the long term, will have to be done at some point.

However, the Devils have missed the playoffs for five seasons and are coming off a season so bad that this season has been so uplifting to watch, January excluded. Shero can get a big win in image and substance if the 2018-19 Devils do get into the postseason - which remains likely across various sites (e.g. MoneyPuck, Sports Club Stats). Like hot streaks, slumps do not last forever and the Devils really only need to be about average in results to get to the 95-97 points they’ll need for the postseason. If Shero believes that’s more in line with the current squad, then that would justify wanting to do some buying.

My heart says to consider the latter. My brain says similar, but don’t expect something big. I’ll let you all have it out in the comments as far as what would be better.

Past Trade Activity in 2017-18

Even if Ray Shero is quiet from now until February 27, we cannot say he wasn’t active in this season. From July 1, 2017, Shero has made the following deals:

  1. Acquired Marcus Johansson from Washington for 2018 2nd and 3rd round picks.
  2. Sent Scott Wedgewood to Arizona for a 2018 5th round pick.
  3. Traded Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 3rd round pick to Anaheim for Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick.
  4. Swapped Ryan Kujawinski for Michael Latta
  5. Acquired Eddie Lack for Dalton Prout

That’s two trades that directly affected New Jersey and three minor deals, two of which are relevant these days as the #3 goaltender did have to come to New Jersey - and it was Ken Appleby. The larger point is that Shero has not waited to make a move that he perceives as one that needed to make. The deals brought in a top-six forward, broke up a goalie log jam, brought in another goaltender with NHL experience to stabilize Binghamton’s goaltending, and moved a top-six forward that would have needed a new contract soon plus a forward on the outside of the NHL depth chart for a right-handed defenseman. The trades also used up the extra picks the Devils had for 2018 plus one of their own too. It now begs the question: what now?

Devils Needs

I’ve touched on this towards the end of my really early preview of free agency. From my perspective, the Devils needs are as follows:

Left Defense. The Devils have five defenders capable of playing on the right side. Their left side has three. Andy Greene, who isn’t getting any younger or more capable of handling tough competition, zone starts, and minutes. John Moore, who is all about high SA/60 rates, not covering his men at times, pinching like Marek Zidlicky but with less talent, and occasionally scoring in overtime. Will Butcher, who has been very good in a limited third-pairing role with power play time that has carried varying levels of success. Butcher is fine where he is. But Moore is a pending free agent, Greene has two more years left on his deal and its a question whether the Devils can keep up with him drowning on the first pairing, and the Devils do not have a prospect with a legit NHL future on defense. Mirco Mueller is left handed but his ideal spot in the rotation is being taken up by Butcher; he’s been mostly used at right defense for that reason. The Devils need an upgrade on the left side in the short term and in the long term unless the team wants someone (Damon Severson? Sami Vatanen?) to play on their offhand. Ideally, they should try to get two players, but I know that cannot be easily done at the trade deadline. In time, Moore and Greene will need to be replaced.

Play-Driving Forward. Part of the Devils’ success this season has been from some hot performances at forward from unlikely sources. Like Brian Gibbons shooting over 20% for two months. Like Brian Boyle and Stefan Noesen both having a hot December. While contributions from them as well as those like Miles Wood have been appreciated, the Devils could use another play driver. If we’ve learned anything in the past few weeks, its that if Taylor Hall is unavailable or his line is kept in check, the offense has tended to struggle. Marcus Johansson and Kyle Palmieri are fine guys for a top-six role but they aren’t drivers of play. The Devils can hope Pavel Zacha eventually becomes one or that Michael McLeod will be one. But adding another forward to bolster the teams’ possession game and deepen the offensive threat beyond whatever Hall and/or a hot player can do would be a big help. It may be the thing they need to get to the next level at forward.

Whether it is a center or a winger is not that big of a deal in my opinion at the moment. A center may be a slightly better fit if the Devils do not see Zacha or McLeod as centers or if they make some more room there. Serving the role is more important the position they do it from.

Right Wing Depth. While not exactly the biggest need, Drew Stafford hasn’t exactly moved the needle. I like how he has been playing recently, but he’s not a long-term answer. I like what Stefan Noesen has done this season but he’s not much more than a fourth-line right winger that can pitch in higher up the depth chart as needed. Jimmy Hayes is just a body who doesn’t fit in the plan of fast, attacking, or supportive. Rather than going through the PTO or late Summer signing well for depth at right wing, going to get one sooner could be advantageous.

Goaltending - for the Future. MacKenzie Blackwood and Ken Appleby have done so well in Binghamton that the Devils traded for Eddie Lack. To be fair, Appleby has done extremely well in his time in New Jersey and Binghamton’s problems go beyond goaltending. While we can go back and forth about Cory Schneider and his big contract ($6 million/year until 2022), Keith Kinkaid has struggled as the backup at points of this season. Keeping Lack around could be an answer, but he would need a new deal and to wait until Kinkaid’s contract ends in 2019 to have a real path to the #2 spot. By that time, the organization may desire Blackwood to take it - assuming he shows any reason he deserves it. Rather than throw one of the few 2018 draft picks they have at another goalie, the Devils could make a move for a solid #2 guy that they may need soon enough anyway.

While most of these needs are for the future, the 2017-18 Devils could benefit with a boost at defense and at forward. The former to strengthen the top two pairings would really help out with matchups. The latter to provide further scoring help on the nights where Hall-Hischier-Bratt isn’t doing so hot. But meeting these needs will requiring giving something up. Let’s look at who those should and should not be.

Devils Players & the Trade Deadline

Wayne Gretzky was traded. In theory, that means anyone can be traded. In practice, that isn’t so. It would be a very bad idea for the Devils to deal Taylor Hall or Nico Hischier. Especially if the Devils want to play more than 82 games this season. I’ve seen some names thrown around in comments sections about trading them. I want to touch on those with some thoughts about whether they should or should not be traded. Since the team has won all of two games in January as of this writing, some of those names have come up out of frustration. I will address them regardless. Note that this does not necessarily mean that I endorse or want them to be dealt.

Travis Zajac - Zajac has been a less productive Jonathan Toews for the Devils for most of his career. This season, Zajac has been, well, more like a has been. I don’t know what went wrong. Zajac isn’t that old at 32. Zajac has never been a significant point producer, but he was a solid 40-point guy for most of his career whilst facing tough matchups. Seeing only five 5-on-5 points from him is jarring. Zajac has been good in the run of play until the Shero re-build. I’ve always liked Zajac but his usefulness has plummeted and he has not contributed all that much. It may be time for the Devils to consider moving on from him.

Good luck to anyone who wants to move him, though. Not only would trading Zajac now be the equivalent of selling low on a stock, but his contract is undesirable. Per CapFriendly, Zajac has another three years on his contract, where he’ll be making $6.5 million next season and $5.75 million in the last two. He also has a no-trade clause, so Zajac has control over if and where he would go. What other team would take Travis Zajac and that contract? Maybe if they’re willing to deal a similarly awful contract back, but eating a bad deal doesn’t help the Devils today. Further, the Devils don’t really have a good fill-in at center. If they kept Henrique, then they could get by with him. If Zacha flourishes, then they could try him out. But right now, who would take his minutes? These are big questions that effectively prevent Zajac from being an actual trade asset.

Cory Schneider - I guess if you want to blow up the whole season, sure, trade Schneider after one bad month. Like Zajac, Schneider’s 32 and he’s signed until 2022 with a contract that will give him $6 million per year. Unlike Zajac, Schneider’s has contributed quite a bit in net (see: the first three months of this season) and he has a lot less mileage on his body compared to most 32 year-old goaltenders. The position also can lend itself to older players, too. I honestly think Schneider will return from injury and play more like he did in October, November and December. That would be more than sufficient for the team to find success - which they will need if they want to go for it. Schneider shouldn’t be traded. If he is, it means that the organization is throwing 2017-18 away, which would be really sad at this point.

Damon Severson - I really like Severson and I do not think John Hynes and his staff have given him a fair shake. We saw it last season when the coaches decided that Greene-Lovejoy being buried was somehow superior than Greene-Severson. In this season, Severson has actually done quite well in the run of play. Unlike John Moore, he can be effective in both ends of the rink and help drive the play forward. Ray Shero believes in Severson’s talents in so much that he signed him to a $25 million contract last September. However, Shero also brought in Mueller and traded for Vatanen. A right side of Vatanen, Steve Santini, and Mueller may be just fine with the coaches.

I would hate a deal that sends Severson away. Under 25 year old right-handed defensemen that are good at what they do are hard to come by. They are valuable assets, though. Adam Larsson was used to bring in Taylor Hall. While all 29 other GMs are smarter than Edmonton, such a player would not go for peanuts in a deal. If Shero wants to make a massive deal, then Severson may have to be a part of it. I hope it doesn’t happen because I do believe in Severson as an important player for the future. He is at least superior to Mueller, Santini (who’s been relegated to the scratch list in recent days), and Ben Lovejoy.

Ben Lovejoy - As much as I have criticized him last season, Lovejoy has done rather well in 2017-18. This is because the coaches have woken up and saw the light that spelled out that Lovejoy is not at all a first-pairing defender. He is a third-pairing caliber player and that’s where he has largely been used at even strength. Combined with some good work on the PK, and Lovejoy has been a capable defender next to Will Butcher. That said, Lovejoy has become increasingly unnecessary. He started playing a regular role after Mirco Mueller broke his collarbone. Mueller is now close to returning. Santini has been put in the press box after playing and drowning so much next to Greene. He could thrive with a lesser role and play alongside Butcher instead. As one of five right-side capable defensemen, I think he should be seen as a possible trade asset.

It also helps that Lovejoy has some other favorable aspects as a trade asset. While he’s an older player at age 33, he does have plenty of experience that could entice contending teams looking for that extra bit of veteran presence. Lovejoy only has one more season left on his contract, which will only pay him $2.75 million next season. That means acquiring him does not come with a long commitment. If the Devils are looking to clear up the blueline logjam without losing someone of massive significance, then Lovejoy appears to be the guy to move.

John Moore - Moore is a pending unrestricted free agent. He’s known for conceding a lot of shots when he’s on the ice, which is not good for any defenseman. The production is nice, but he doesn’t produce enough to be considered as an offensive player. Moore isn’t a bad skater but he tends to get lost in coverage. Moore is also one of the three left-sided defensemen the Devils have been using this season; that has given him plenty of job security in 2017-18. That being said, Moore is actually close to breaking even in CF% this season (thanks Severson and Vatanen), he has a chance at breaking ten goals and twenty points again this season, he’s young at 27 years of age, and he’s cheap with a $1.95 million salary - which has mostly been paid out already. It isn’t the most out-there idea that Moore may have value as a trade asset. It would likely be a rental, but it’s a possibillity. New Jersey may account for a Moore trade by sticking Mueller in his spot.

Pavel Zacha - OK, nobody has brought up his name as a potential trade asset. I’m going to, though. I’ve seen his name come up over and over and over here, lamenting how he has not taken his game to the next level, he may not be a top-six forward, why didn’t the Devils draft Barzal (I know that feeling), and so forth. Strangely, this is after he’s played some of his most effective hockey even though he hasn’t put up many points. I think Zacha has a real future in this league, though I admit I don’t know what that will be. If the Devils themselves aren’t so sure, they should try moving him sooner rather than later. He has more value as a 20-year old with potential than, say, a 23 or 24 year old that we know didn’t meet said potential. I don’t see the Devils actually moving Zacha and I’m not totally comfortable with the idea (not as uncomfortable as I would be with moving Severson), but it should be on the table for any potentially big trades.

I could go into more detail with other players in the comments. Please let me know who you’d like to know as a potential asset. But these are the big names that stick out to me. The summary is that I don’t think Schneider and Zajac are tradeable; the Devils shouldn’t trade Severson, Schneider, or Zacha; the Devils most valuable assets may be Severson and Zacha; and the more likely players to move are Lovejoy and Moore on a rental basis.

Ideas for Trade Targets & Players to Avoid

TSN has a Trade Bait list that they’re updating based on the various rumors, reports, and other rationale in the NHL. It’s a really good idea and you should check it out. With that in mind, here are some ideas that I have for some trade targets - and some players that New Jersey should probably avoid.

Ryan McDonagh - I hate the Rangers. They are Our Hated Rivals. I enjoy it when they falter, which is often because they inherently suck. That said, the Devils’ immediate answer at left defense may be in Manhattan. And since the Rangers are blowing themselves up (take that, Lundqvist), he could be available. He’s under 30, he’s used to taking on tough minutes, and he even signed for 2018-19. Even for the short-term, he’s an immediate upgrade on Moore and can allow Greene to play fewer minutes. The problem is that it’ll likely take something significant to get him and that something significant would have to go to Our Hated Rivals, whom the Devils often play and their success would hinder New Jersey’s. There are only so many spots in the Metropolitan and who wants to potentially help a rival? Especially if it costs a high draft pick plus a player? The Devils have never made a deal with the Rangers in decades (ever?) and given the potential cost, this is unlikely to ever happen. But if there’s one to at least think about, it’d be this one.

Max Pacioretty - Scoring wingers are usually coveted but Montreal may be interested in moving him for reasons I do not understand. New Jersey can benefit. Pacioretty is definitely a scorer. Pacioretty has scored at least 30 goals and 60 points in the prior four seasons before this one. Pacioretty also has some very favorable on-ice and relative on-ice numbers according to Natural Stat Trick. So favorable that he could be that play-driving forward to bolster the second line. He is 29 and he does have one more year on his deal, so there is a question of whether he can be a long-term answer for this need. But the short-term gain may be worth it. In my view, the Devils could use someone to shore up the top-six until they know for sure what they have in Bratt, McLeod, and Zacha among other prospects (Joey Anderson comes to mind), the Devils can do a lot worse. If nothing else, Shero should kick the tires on him.

Alex Galchenyuk - It’s not often to see an under-25 forward be on the trade market and that same forward be someone good. Alex Galchenyuk does not have an impressive resume like Pacioretty. And he has struggled this season given a 48% CF% on a 51% CF team. But he’s been better in the past - both in production and in 5 on 5 hockey. It could be that he really could just use a change in scenery. Galchenyuk can also play all three forward positions, so the Devils can find a spot in their lineup for him. He would come with another two years on his deal. Should he return to his form from 2014-15 or 2015-16, then he would be worth his salary of $4.9 million. As with Pacioretty, Shero should kick the tires on him to see how much it would take. If it’s too much, then obviously don’t do it; but he and Pacioretty aren’t in the Metropolitan so the risk of a deal haunting Shero would be reduced. If he believes both could thrive in Newark, then it would be something to pursue.

Wishful Thinking: Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Ottawa would probably freak out on another level if Karlsson is dealt and Arizona shut down Ekman-Larsson trade rumors earlier this season. But Ottawa is still owned by a cheap owner and Karlsson will want to get paid in 2019. Ditto Ekman-Larsson, who has endured nothing but bad seasons (with one exception) in his careeer. Both under 30, both are first-pairing caliber defensemen, and both are left-handed.

Avoid: Jack Johnson, Dion Phaneuf, and Right-Handed Defensemen - If you thought John Moore was an issue on defense, I give you Jack Johnson. He’s been and still is a black hole for possession throughout his career; he is not at all a defenseman who should play significant minutes. Sure, he’s physically impressive but he’s a player who does not meet the hype he somehow has received in his career. The Devils should stay away. Dion Phaneuf has a modified no-trade clause, a huge contract, and he’s not the imposing defensive force he once was. The Devils do need a future beyond Greene and Moore on the left side. He’ll turn 33 in April and he has three more seasons where he’ll make at least $5 million. Sure, Ottawa will want to unload his huge contract, but they do not have too much of a say as Phaneuf has to submit a 12-team trade list. If New Jersey isn’t on it, then it’s moot. Still, the Devils should stay away from these two. As for right-handed defensemen, the Devils have four plus Mueller who can play on the right side. They don’t need anymore.

What to Really Expect

I would advise to be patient. A lot of the deadline deals happen right at the deadline. And a good number of them are minor trades or deals mostly for the team’s AHL affiliates. It is possible that Shero just sticks to those kinds of moves than anything big. Given that it isn’t clear whether New Jersey should be buyers or sellers and that they already used up their extra picks in earlier trades, that may be the prudent move.

The important thing to consider with any trade is that there is another team and their needs have to be met. It’s easy to say that the Devils should trade an undesirable player for a more significant player. But trades like Cam Janssen for Bryce Salvador are just not common. Teams aren’t that unaware.

There’s a lot of hockey coming up: 14 games between now and the NHL Trade Deadline. These will go a long way as to guiding Shero as far as what he can do.If the team gets out of their slump, New Jersey may become buyers. If the slump continues, we could see selling. This sort of thinking applies to the player level too. For example: If Drew Stafford gets hot, then it could make him a trade asset - or prevent him from being one because it may be seen that he’s a contributor who has to stay. A lot can change fairly quickly. This is a tough time to be a GM. Good luck to Ray Shero and his staff. And please don’t give away the first round draft pick unless it’s a massive trade that will help out the Devils immensely.

Your Take

There is a lot to take in and I recommend that you go through it all anyway. The NHL Trade Deadline isn’t simple and a lot has to be taken into consideration. To that end, please let me know in the comments what you want the Devils to do and what you think what they should do. Let me know if you want to know how others may view other Devils players as an asset. Or provide some suggested players the Devils should or should not target. Please let me know what you think of all of this. Thank you for reading.