Tonight’s recap of a disappointing 2-4 loss by the New Jersey Devils to the Minnesota Wild will be delayed for some massive news. General Manager Ray Shero has done something Bill MacMillan, Max McNab, and Lou Lamoriello never did. He made a trade with the New York Rangers. For the first time in Devils history, the Devils made a deal with Our Hated Rivals. And it is not a minor one at all.
As initially reported on Twitter by Darren Dreger and confirmed by Bob McKenzie, the New Jersey Devils acquired Michael Grabner for the Devils’ second round pick in 2018 and prospect defenseman, Yegor Rykov. The team has confirmed this transaction. Let’s go into some detail about this trade.
Who the Devils Obtained: Michael Grabner
First: Who is he? Grabner is a 30 year old Austrian winger who shoots left, skaters really fast, and has bunches of goals. He leaves Manhattan as the team’s leading goal scorer this season with 25. Sure, 7 of them are empty net goals but I like ENGs in that they tend to seal wins. Like Eric Staal did tonight to the Devils. Anyway, going to New York after a horrid 2015-16 season with Toronto has revitilized his career. He put up 27 in 2016-17, finishing second on the Rangers in goals scored to go with 40 points and 162 shots.
The other main thing to know about Grabner is that he is very, very fast. As in, he is as fast as Miles Wood. Shero has made a point of it to improve the team’s skating and make them a generally faster team. John Hynes and his staff has tried to utilize that speed when they could. It’s partially why Shero made a move for Mirco Mueller, possibly why they went with Nico (who has been very good so far this season) over Nolan, partially why Nico has been riding with Taylor Hall (who was acquired one-for-one for only Adam Larsson), partially why Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen, and Brian Gibbons were given opportunities to own the bottom six, how they gave Jesper Bratt a chance and ran with it, partially why Shero acquired Sami Vatanen, and given plenty of minutes to Miles Wood after he demonstrated some smarts away from the puck. That Grabner was acquired is completely in line with several of Shero’s decisions as Devils GM.
As this is a sort-of quick reaction, I will defer to Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) from Twitter who had these two Tweets showcasing Grabner’s value a little bit more than goal totals. It’s good stuff.
Grabner to the Devils. Pure shot-volume player and is also decent in the neutral zone. Didn't have a huge role there this year but NYR's stats across the boards are kind of weird. Should be a nice fit with NJ. pic.twitter.com/cGUgdGH30x— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) February 23, 2018
Grabner's also been one of NYR's top players at finishing off high danger passing plays (royal road + behind the net passes) the past two seasons. NJ's ranked better in terms of Expected Goals this year, so I can see why they would want him. pic.twitter.com/bPD9v6yM3M— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) February 23, 2018
One other thing to note: This is very much a rental as Grabner is a pending unrestricted free agent this Summer per Cap Friendly. He will command much more than the $1.65 million he is making this season. The Devils have loads of cap space so keeping Grabner is entirely possible depending on how he likes in New Jersey and how much he wants.
Rental or not, the Rangers will arguably miss him. Mike Murphy at Blueshirt Banter wrote back in January that Grabner was the best Rangers free agent signing in years. The reaction to this trade by Shayna Goldman notes that he provided a lot of help on defense and to the Rangers penalty kill. It coincides with the thought that Grabner has been very good for the Rangers. The Rangers have been good for Grabner. Now we’ll see if the Devils and Grabner will continue the good times.
Who the Devils Gave Up: A 2018 2nd Rounder and Yegor Rykov
If there’s a concern, it is that the Devils have helped out the Rangers by giving them some potential. It’s unclear how late a second rounder will be for the Devils, but now the team only has a first rounder in the first three rounds of the 2018 NHL Draft. I would have preferred moving a 2019 pick, but I understand that getting a team’s top goal scorer isn’t going to come cheap.
I’m actually more fine with sending the Rangers the rights to Rykov. It is true that the Devils have been lacking in defensemen prospects. But it’s an honest question as to whether Rykov was going to come over in the near future. Rykov has grown as a defensemen in Russia as he has primarily played for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. It’s definitely impressive for a 20-year old defenseman to play regularly in that league. However, it also makes it a bit trickier to get him away. Rykov is not only signed until 2018-19 but he’s also signed with the richest team in Russia. They can definitely afford to keep him and pay him handsomely to remain in the KHL.
Unless Rykov has serious designs on the NHL - and he might after 2018-19 - the Rangers are going to have to make a hard sell to bring him over. They can promise him minutes but if they’re re-building, they won’t be able to promise any success. It can be done, but they just may need to wait. Better to send a prospect like this in a trade than someone who can potentially step into the lineup next season and make an impact.
Quick Thoughts About the Deal & an Initial Judgment
I was surprised to see this news. Trading within the division, much less to a hated rival, is a big risk. Should that pick and/or Rykov become solid NHL players, then the Devils would have helped a direct opponent at possibly their own expense. That’s the concern.
I am just as surprised that Shero made a significant trade like this too. The Devils have exceeded expectations this season and largely with the roster that they have. While it isn’t 100% healthy, most of the main players have been present and mostly contributing. I didn’t think the Devils had the assets or the need to make such a move. But they did.
Adding Grabner, even as only a rental, should be seen as a sign of confidence by Shero. It’s very much a “go for it” move for a team who is on the playoff bubble (and in it as of this writing). The Devils have another winger to add to the second or third line. They have someone new to add on the penalty kill. This is somebody who can lead to more limited minutes for some players who have struggled a bit, like Bratt in the past few weeks, and players who should be playing limited minutes anyway, like Drew Stafford or Jimmy Hayes. Most of all, the hope is that Grabner can add to the offense beyond the Taylor Hall line. Should Grabner keep on shooting, flying down the wing, and scoring, then that means less pressure on the top line to have to keep producing. It can help with matchups. And in a pinch, throw one of them on an off-wing and scare a slower team with Wood and Grabner on the wings. The larger point is that adding Grabner adds to this team.
The cost of doing that business is a non-first round pick and not the team’s top prospect; which can be rationalized and will pay off should Grabner fit in New Jersey. And especially if he re-signs and gives a couple more years of good hockey.
Ultimately, I have a favorable opinion of the trade as shocking as it is that the Devils made a trade with the New York Rangers. And now the door is open for future deals just like trading Jamie Langenbrunner back in 2011 meant NTCs became fair game to deal with. I appreciate Shero saying “let’s go for it” and getting a player that should fit in what Shero wants to do with this roster. I think he’ll be an asset for now. And a great way to get started is for Grabner to make his former team, the Islanders, suffer on Saturday. (Yes, Grabner joins the small group of players who have played for all three teams in this area.)
The Devils made a significant trade today. They acquired Michael Grabner for a 2018 second round pick and prospect defenseman Yegor Rykov. You know what I think. I hope you’ve had some time to take it in. What do you think of this trade? Do you like it, do you dislike it, and do you think this move was the right move for the Devils to make? Please leave your thoughts about this trade in the comments. Thank you for reading. A recap of the Devils loss to Minnesota will come later tonight.