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NHL Trade Deadline Aftermath: Devils Aiming for Playoffs with Grabner & Maroon Rentals

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The 2018 NHL Trade Deadline has passed earlier today. In the days up until the deadline, the New Jersey Devils acquired Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon. These rentals for the Devils point to one thing: the Devils are going for the playoffs in 2018.

New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils
Michael Grabner: Acquired days before the deadline, a rental to help the Devils “go for it” in 2018.
Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Back towards the end of January, I wrote up a primer about the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline for the New Jersey Devils. Regarding whether they would be buyers, this is what I thought at the time:

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.

Less than a month later, Shero did just that. The Devils were buyers in February. Shero made a historic deal with the New York Rangers. That is, there was a trade between the two teams. The Devils acquired winger Michael Grabner for the Devils’ second round pick in 2018 and prospect defenseman Yegor Rykov. Today, right at the end of the deadline, the Devils added winger Patrick Maroon from Edmonton at the cost of a third round pick in 2019 and prospect forward J.D. Dudek.

Thoughts on the Devils’ Dealings in February

This brings the number of trades by Shero to seven since July 1, 2017. Say what you want about Shero, but he has been active at further transforming the Devils roster. The Devils added Marcus Johansson for picks, made a significant deal to bring Sami Vatanen in at the cost of a package led by fan-favorite Adam Henrique, turned Dalton Prout into Eddie Lack, and now have two NHL wingers at the cost of no current NHL players. The message is clear: the Devils are going for it. Especially since the Grabner and Maroon deals are rentals. Both players are free agents as of July 1, 2018.

And why not? The 2017-18 exceeded preseason expectations of being the best last-place-in-the-division and have good odds of making the postseason. The Devils have missed the postseason since their Cup run in 2012. As the season went on, it’s been clear that the Devils aren’t going to fade so quickly. After being at The Rock for Elias’ Retirement night and hearing the roars of jubilation after Palmieri’s deflection putting the team up 2-1, I want the playoffs even more. I want to experience that atmosphere. I want to be in that crowd. I want more than just meaningful games in March, I want them in mid-April too. Management clearly does as well; why else would they spend future assets on two players on expiring contracts?

Did the Devils address their needs? While the team still has a need on defense, they bolstered their winger play. The very fast Grabner adds to an already speedy team. That alone makes for a good fit. Should he go on a goal scoring tear, it’s going to be apparent why the Devils made a deal with their rivals for them. Maroon may be more a depth player. Knowing his most common teammates in Edmonton were Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl gives me pause as to whether he’ll continue his level of production (25 points in 5-on-5 play, 16 while McDavid and Maroon were together) and on-ice play (Maroon is just below 50% CF% away from McDavid and Draisaitl) - which both have been quite good in Edmonton. Maroon hasn’t been that half-bad of a play driver either in terms of on-ice rates and relative stats per Natural Stat Trick. Still, Maroon and Grabner are immediate upgrades over a bunch of wingers. Such as Drew Stafford, Jimmy Hayes, a slumping Jesper Bratt, Stefan Noesen. For what its worth, I think Bratt and Noesen are safer than Stafford and Hayes. Once Bratt gets out of whatever he’s in (or if Johansson makes a return), the Devils are three-deep with significant talent on both wings. If nothing else, the Devils are a better roster on paper after the deadline.

To that end, I am pleased with both deals. How can I not? The Devils moved potential, a prospective defenseman that might come to America at some point, and a college prospect that currently has 17 points in 33 games as a junior. I also get enjoyment out of the fact that Edmonton lowered their price for Maroon per this tweet by Andrew Gross. Ray Shero, never stop calling Peter Chiarelli.

However, I have a larger concern with the deals Shero has made not just in the past few days.

It is not so much with the picks they dealt since the Johansson trade. Knowing that the Devils’ prospect pool is still short on defensemen and apparently goaltenders, having fewer picks is not ideal. Especially in what could be a deep 2018 draft. However, third round picks are not significant picks. The second rounder hurts a bit more; but it was the cost of doing business and generally superior to giving up a current player or a first round pick. I’m fine with that. After all, Shero could make some deals before or during the 2018 NHL Draft and recoup some of those third or even second round picks.

The concern that I have is that by “going for it” and getting two rentals, I am worried that management and ownership think the Devils are done restructuring. That re-building is in the past and the team should be playoff regulars once again. I really hope that is not the case. I understand that the Devils need to make some serious progress happen while Cory Schneider can perform, while Taylor Hall is on fire, while Andy Greene can still hold on in his defensive role, and so forth. I want progress too. What I do not want is for the Devils to follow the path that Ottawa did last year: put a team together that exceeded expectations, went deep in the postseason, bought into their team being legit, and finding out the hard way that when everything isn’t so perfectly aligned, the team really cannot repeat what happened in the past season. Ottawa’s issues run deeper than that, but the point remains. I don’t want Shero or the owners to fall so much in love with this roster that they do not try to make improvements in 2018 and beyond. Even if this crew makes the playoffs and wins a round (which I would love), I think the team will need to continue to take a hard look at what it takes to really improve. These deals suggest that perhaps Shero and his team thinks the Devils have turned the proverbial corner. I’m not so convinced that they can repeat all of the good fortune from the 2017 portion of the season that helped put the Devils in the favorable position they are now in. I’m hoping Shero is also not so convinced.

Again, I’m not hating on the deals. I liked them. I like them now. In the past few days, the Devils got two NHL wingers at the cost of no current NHL players. These two players can contribute to some degree. On paper, they are a better team. And if Shero can keep Grabner or Maroon around for another year or so, then the deals are more than the short-term rentals that they are now.

Now all the Devils need to do is make the playoffs. That is now the goal.

Elsewhere in the Division

Related to the Devils making the playoffs, it is important be aware of what the other seven Metropolitan Division teams did today and in the few days before then. Not a whole lot of activity among them.

  • The Rangers really did blow it up. Grabner, gone. Nash, gone. Holden, gone. McDonagh and Miller, gone. They now have seven picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 NHL Draft. Provided the Rangers keep on losing - enjoy it, Lundqvist - their own picks will be high ones. The others will give them options. They’re a younger and cheaper team now; but their re-build is beginning.
  • Carolina was mostly quiet, swapping Josh Jooris for Greg McKegg with Pittsburgh. Carolina really needs some solid goaltending and a respectable shooting percentage more than any players.
  • The Islanders moved a third round pick for defenseman Brandon Davidson and traded Jason Chimera to Anaheim for Chris Wagner. I think the Isles could have sought to have done more to keep their hopes alive. Alas, they didn’t.
  • Columbus picked up Mark Letestu for a pick. That has paid off as Letestu scored a goal in Columbus’ 5-1 win over Washington tonight. Yes, 5-1 to Washington. Columbus also acquired Tomas Vanek and defenseman Ian Cole. Depth moves to strengthen an already talented team. Can they get it together now is the real question?
  • Philadelphia did nothing today. They got their goalie a few days ago in Petr Mrazek. That’s all they needed. They also won in a shootout tonight if you want to be more annoyed at them.
  • Washington did not do much either. They did nothing today and acquired depth defensemen Michael Kempny and Jakub Jerabek in minor deals earlier in this month.
  • Pittsburgh made one of the most significant deals in before the deadline: obtaining Derick Brassard in a three-team trade with Ottawa and Vegas that saw the Pens drop Ryan Reeves and Ian Cole. It was a big deal and now the Pens boast Crosby, Malkin, and Brassard down the middle. By the way, the Devils play them tomorrow. Yaaaay.

New York was the most active with their fire sale. Pittsburgh made the biggest deal among the seven non-selling squad. Columbus made smaller deals. Philly addressed their need a couple of days before the deadline. The rest of the division didn’t do much. New Jersey was one of the more active teams out of the Metropolitan with their two trades. The goal remains: Devils need to stay ahead of Columbus, Carolina, and the Isles while trying to chase Philly, Washington, and Pittsburgh.

One Last Thought

Shero apparently did consider a defenseman. According to this tweet by Gross, there wasn’t a cost that Shero was willing to pay for one. Between that and knowing Edmonton lowered their demands for Maroon late, I’m quite fine with what went down today for New Jersey.

Your Take & the Stretch Run

The Devils did not do nothing. They took a chance on two wingers with expiring contracts to help the team right now to get to where they want to be. I personally like that they took the chances. I really hope it works out and the Devils make the playoffs. Now I want to know what you think:

  • How do you think the additions of Grabner and Maroon will help the Devils?
  • What has to happen for these deals to be considered successful deals for the Devils?
  • How will the Metropolitan Division look after the deals that were made?
  • Will the Devils make the playoffs?

Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline in the comments. Thank you for reading.