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A Review of the 2017-18 In-Season Transactions by the New Jersey Devils

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New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero made seven trades and signed four players during the 2017-18 season. These deals added to the list of players that will become free agents in this offseason. So this post looks back at what happened with these deals and whether these were good deals for the Devils.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils
Sami Vatanen was involved in the biggest in-season transaction by the Devils in this past season.
Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Now that the New Jersey Devils are in the offseason, preparations must be made for the following season. Typically, this week will feature the team breaking down. Players will unpack their lockers and players, coaches, and management will all field questions from the media. It is common that we will learn about any injuries that players played through recently. We may get some hints for the near future. Until then, we can take stock in what we observed and speculate, argue, and hope for general manager Ray Shero and his staff to make good roster moves to keep the team making progress for 2018-19.

In this past season, Shero was quite active with transactions during the regular season. I do not mean call-ups and demotions. The Devils made seven trades in addition to a few signings. As Chris suggested on Twitter on Sunday, here’s a quick summary and review of these deals. They will definitely impact what Shero will do in this offseason.

The 2017-18 In-Season Transactions

Transaction #1: October 28, 2017 - Devils traded Scott Wedgewood to Arizona for Calgary’s 2018 fifth-round pick. Nick had this post about it when it happened.

The Impact: Wedgewood was dealt in part because the Devils thought more of Ken Appleby and MacKenzie Blackwood in Binghamton. If he wanted to play, he needed a change of scenery. In Arizona, Wedgewood would make 20 appearances for the Coyotes. It did not go so well. He finished 2017-18 with a 90.2% even strength save percentage and a low 82.4% save percentage on penalty killing situations as per NHL.com. According to Corsica, Wedgewood had a 5-on-5 Goals Saved Above Average of -1.67, which is indicative of Wedgewood being a below-average goalie. He got his chance, at least.

As for the Devils, Calgary’s pick that Arizona had gives the Devils an extra pick in that round for this year’s draft. A fifth round is just another dart for the dartboard, but it’s nice to have all the same. We’ll see what the Devils do with it in June. While Wedgewood did have some games, it’s hard to say that the Devils really lost this trade. Even with the Devils goaltending issues at times in 2017-18, I don’t think anyone was looking at what Wedgewood was doing with Arizona and felt that they missed that.

Transaction #2: November 30, 2017 - Devils traded Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi, and their 2018 third-round pick to Anaheim for Sami Vatanen and a conditional third-round pick. This was a major deal, easily the biggest of the season. When it happened, Nick had this post for the news and I had this longer-form reaction, calling it an “even trade.”

The Impact: Let’s go with Anaheim first. Henrique ended up being an all-situations player for the Ducks, based on his ice time at NHL.com. In 57 games, Henrique put up 20 goals, 16 assists, and 102 shots on net. 8 of those goals ended up being game-winning goals too. In 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick’s stats for Anaheim forwards, Henrique could have been a little bit better but he was not at all an anchor in the run of play as he was just below the break-even mark in CF%, SF%, and SCF%. But he was a producer, he was useful, and he helped shore up Anaheim’s forward group. Blandisi made three appearances for Anaheim and registered no points, four shots on net, and one minor penalty. Shortly after the trade, he was injured so he did not get his shot immediately; but he was sent to San Diego (their AHL team) before Christmas and remained there. As for the third-rounder, we’ll see what Anaheim does with it - it does mean New Jersey does not have one at all for 2018 right now.

As for the Devils, Vatanen ended up being a big-minute defender. While his skill-set did not always get featured or properly used on the power play, Vatanen ended up replacing Steve Santini as the right-sided defenseman alongside Andy Greene. While the 5-on-5 numbers at Natural Stat Trick do not seem all that impressive, the run of play was much better for the team than when Greene-Santini was the top pairing. That helped Vatanen ended up being named by us writers as the team’s top defenseman of 2017-18. While other cases could be made, it is clear that he has solidified the right-side of the blueline. He was sorely missed in Game 4 and Game 5 of the Devils’ recent five-game series loss to the Lightning, too. The conditional third-round pick is for the future and it is contingent on Henrique re-signing with Anaheim. We will have to wait on that as Henrique cannot begin to talk about an extension until next season. If he doesn’t sign an extension at all, then the Devils get nothing else other than Vatanen. Provided that Henrique does enough good things for the Ducks, I would think they would want to retain him before he hits the free agent market on July 1, 2019.

While the Devils gave up more assets, this trade remains as a fair and even one in my view. Henrique was a positive contributor at forward for Anaheim. Vatanen helped the blueline in New Jersey. While both could be described as “good but not supremely great” at what they do, each side benefited from it. With Blandisi being relegated to AHL duty again, it helps the notion that this was an even trade.

Transaction #3: December 14, 2017 - Devils trade Ryan Kujawinski to Arizona for Michael Latta.

The Impact: This was a minor-league deal for players on NHL contracts. Kujawinski was not able to play much prior to this trade as he was stuck on injured reserve at the start of the AHL season. He only played in five games for Binghamton prior to the trade. Even before then, he was not nearly making enough noise in minor league hockey or in training camps to warrant a closer look by the NHL team. Michael Latta was similarly stuck on Arizona’s AHL team too. So this was a deal made for the AHL side of things.

Kujawinski would end up suiting up for Tucson for 19 games and put up only two assists before he was dealt to Columbus in another AHL deal in February. He would play in 17 games for Cleveland and put up more production with four goals and an assist. As for Latta, I will defer to the recent grade he received in the fourth quarter grades for the Binghamton Devils, compiled by Jeff Ulmer from him and his panel:

(39 gms, 5g 14a) Latta arrived in Q2 after a trade that made an enormous difference for the flailing young BDevils. Going into the second half of the season. Mike brought a sense of leadership and unity to the group that was sorely needed. Fans love him, The Panel loves him, and most importantly his teammates love him. Mike and his feisty temper need a contract extension ASAP. @crazybazookajoe (85, 84, 85)

Jeff and his panel follow the B-Devils more closely than I do, so I will take this to mean that this was a good deal for Binghamton - which means it was a good deal by New Jersey.

Transaction #4: December 30, 2017 - The Devils trade Dalton Prout to Calgary for Eddie Lack.

The Impact: This did not turn out to be a straight-up minor league move, but a switching of assets that were not contributing. Prout was the odd man out on the Devils’ blueline. He was slow, he was ineffective, and he was waived two days prior to this trade. Lack was traded to Calgary in June 2017 (salary was retained, I think) and he was heinous in four appearances for the Flames in 2017-18. An 87.7% even strength save percentage and a 58.3% PK save percentage gets you nowhere.

At the time of the deal, both Ken Appleby and MacKenzie Blackwood were struggling in Binghamton. Keith Kinkaid was doing poorly at the time as well. There was a need for a goalie with experience at the NHL and AHL levels to help stabilize things. Due to an injury to Cory Schneider and, later, Keith Kinkaid, Lack would have to suit up for New Jersey for four appearances. It would appear it went well overall as he compiled a 92.6% even strength save percentage and an 88% PK save percentage. Those percentages were boosted by an amazing 51-save performance against the Lightning on February 17. They were sandwiched between giving up 4 out of 30 shots against Boston and 3 out of 27 against Minnesota based on his game log at NHL.com. Lack would return to the minors when Schneider and Kinkaid were both ready to go.

In Binghamton, Lack made 16 appearances with a total save percentage of 88.9%. Not exactly the best until one realizes that Appleby just surpassed him with a 90.1%. Going back to Jeff and his panel’s grades, they liked him in their second quarter grades but noted that he was inconsistent to close out the season prior to his call-up at season’s end.

As Lack will be an unrestricted free agent, it remains to be seen whether the Devils would want to re-sign him or whether Lack would want to stay. The Devils signed Cam Johnson right out of college plus Appleby is a restricted free agent and Blackwood is still on his ELC. Both Kinkaid and Schneider are signed through next season. And this assumes prospects Evan Cormier and Gilles Senn are not signed. I’m not sure whether there is room on the roster for Lack unless some moves are made. But was he really good enough to warrant moves to be made for him? It does not look like it.

As for Prout, Calgary sent him right to their AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, after the trade. He played in 34 games and put up two goals and seven assists per the AHL’s website. Since the Devils picked up Vatanen and have used Mirco Mueller on the right-side, the Devils have had plenty of depth on the right-side. Prout was not missed in New Jersey and it appears he was not really considered an option in Calgary either. For that alone, the Devils got the better of this deal - even if it ends up being a rental.

Transaction #5: February 8, 2018 - The Devils traded Victor Loov to Minnesota for Christoph Bertschy and Mario Lucia. Here is Nick’s post about the news.

The Impact: This was another AHL deal for players on NHL contracts. Loov never got an opportunity nor did play well enough to command one in his time with the Devils organization. Bertschy and Lucia were largely held with the AHL affiliate, Iowa. Although Bertschy did get a handful of appearances in Minnesota. Both teams thought the others could use the depth each provided - Loov is a defenseman, Lucia and Bertschy are forwards - and made the deal.

For Minnesota, Loov stayed in Iowa, played in 24 games, and put up 7 assists. The production he had from Binghamton - five goals, nine assists in 36 games - did not carry over.

As for Binghamton, Bertschy made a more instant impact with six goals and twelve assists in 26 games. He had eight goals and nine assists in 45 games with Iowa prior to the trade, just to provide some perspective. His point-per-game rate jumped from 0.38 with Iowa to 0.69 with Binghamton. He certainly helped the larger cause. Per Jeff and his panels’ grades for the fourth quarter, Bertschy received a similar recommendation to Latta to be re-signed.

(26 gms, 6g 12a) He has been a breathe of fresh air on the power play. Not afraid to shoot the puck which this team desperately needed. I hope New Jersey re-signs him. He ended the year at 14 goals and 21 assists with 6 goals and 12 assists coming with the Devils. @KeithAHopkins (90, 84)

As he’s 24 and has shown he can contribute at the AHL level, I would be fine with a NHL deal to do just that provided it helps Binghamton. It should be easy to do so as he’s a pending restricted free agent this summer.

Lucia did not make as big of an impact. His point-per-game rate with Iowa was 0.38 and it dipped to 0.30. According to the fourth quarter grades by Jeff and his panel, Lucia struggled somewhat:

(23 gms, 3g 4a) Came on late to the team, but was most effective with his size and grit while his offensive touch was somewhat stymied with a recent injury. Bounced back and was in the line-up for a handful of games that, however, seemed to set him back a bit in the quarter. @Ski931 (82, 82)

Like Bertschy, Lucia is fairly young and a pending restricted free agent. If the Devils scouts and coaches see something in him, then I think he will get another deal. Otherwise, they may let him go. I can understand that a few things went wrong for him so a new contract with the team to keep him in Binghamton would not be the worst thing in the world.

As the Devils seemed to get somebody to help Binghamton out well and received two assets for one, I’m inclined to think the Devils got the better of this deal.

Transaction #6: February 22, 2018 - The Devils traded Yegor Rykov and their 2018 second-round draft pick to the New York Rangers for Michael Grabner. Here is my post about the deal, which occurred after the Devils lost to Minnesota that night.

The Impact - On February 22, 2018, the Devils made history by making their first ever trade with Our Hated Rivals. This was definitely a rental. The Rangers were blowing up their season and the Devils were looking to boost their roster ahead of a playoff run. Obtaining one of their rivals’ top scorers in exchange for a defenseman prospect in the KHL and a second-round pick was what Shero thought was best.

As the assets the Rangers received are for the future, it is unknown how they benefit. The extra second round pick is always a plus. The Devils do not have any second round picks for the 2018 draft either. So that’s already a win provided the Rangers do not have that pick bust. Rykov is signed with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL and Elite Prospects lists his contract running through 2018-19. The Rangers do have a few Russian players that could help negotiate him coming over after that contract. Then again, if SKA wants to keep him, then SKA absolutely can make that happen as they are one of, if not the richest teams in the KHL. If the Rangers can convince him to come over and he takes to the North American game, then they could easily claim victory in this trade.

They might be able to already as Grabner was underwhelming in New Jersey, to say the least. Speed? Oh, he showed it. Scoring? Not really. Grabner played in 21 games with the Devils and scored two goals out of 36 shots on net. He contributed three assists to make that point total just five. He could and did bust out moves to get one-on-one with goalies, only to fail to finish those plays more often than not. Grabner received penalty killing time in addition to somewhat favorable 5-on-5 situations. However, the 5-on-5 stat rates at Natural Stat Trick shows that when Grabner was on the ice, the Devils were often on defense as they were giving up a high rate of attempts, shots, and chances. They did not generate nearly enough in response. As for the PK, his rate stats compared with other Devils do not really suggest he was all that effective on defense. However, those stats are based on only 40 minutes of PK time, so it’s possible that he is better than that does suggest.

Ultimately, Grabner received a lot of chances to make an impact. He did not. He ended up being a scratch in the playoffs. I know I do not speak for every fan on most things related to the Devils. I think most fans have very little confidence in Grabner now. His speed did not yield much production or even a benefit to the run of play. He did not provide the expected boost in scoring that would come with this sort of deal. Grabner is a pending unrestricted free agent. I do not see the Devils re-signing him before July 1, 2018 or signing him afterwards. I do not think the Devils fans would want that. Unfortunately, it looks like the Rangers may end up winning this rental.

Transaction #7: February 26, 2018 - The Devils traded J.D. Dudek and their 2019 third-round draft pick to the Edmonton Oilers for Patrick Maroon. Here is Nick’s post about the one NHL Trade Deadline move the Devils made.

The Impact: Like with the Grabner deal, this was a rental. The Devils moved a prospect and pick to get a player to help them in the short-term. Only this time, the Devils moved a prospect that was not considered to be a top-level or even a mid-level prospect. Dudek was drafted in the sixth round in 2014 and has went on to produce not a whole lot in three years with Boston College. The third rounder is a 2019 pick, which may be effectively replaced by that conditional pick from Anaheim if Henrique signs a contract extension with the Ducks before the 2019 NHL Draft. So it is less likely that these future assets will come back to haunt the Devils. That makes it unlike the Grabner deal.

Also unlike the Grabner deal, Maroon contributed more on the ice. While he is not fast, he was able to succeed in spots when he does get in. While he was pinned back quite often in the playoffs (a 41.18% CF% is hideous), Maroon was not that bad relative to the other Devils forwards in 5-on-5 play according to Natural Stat Trick’s rate stats. While he does not shoot the puck a lot with just 20 shots in 17 regular season games, Maroon put up three goals and ten assists in 17 games with the Devils per NHL.com. While they do not show up on the scoresheet, Maroon’s screens have been used quite a bit on scoring plays. He showed that screening a goalie involves a bit more than just being big and in front of him; and Maroon is quite good at that.

Less than a month after the deal, I was impressed enough with his initial impact on the team to write this post. Plenty of what I saw he excelled at continued after I wrote that post. Yes, the playoffs were bad for him. The playoffs were bad for a lot of Devils. I don’t think those five games should outweigh the other 17 with New Jersey or the many other games that management saw to be convinced that they had to get him to The Rock. Like Grabner, Maroon is a pending unrestricted free agent. Unlike Grabner, I think the Devils should try to sign him before July 1 - and I think that is what many fans would think as well. Once that contract is signed, I think it’s more apparent that the Devils got more - and will get more if that 2019 third rounder or Dudek does not amount to much at the NHL level - out of this deal than Edmonton.

The 2017-18 In-Season Signings

Signings? Yes, the Devils started off some professional careers in 2017-18 and they deserve some notice that I will give here:

First, Brett Seney was signed on March 16, 2018. After Merrimack’s 2017-18 season ended, the senior forward put pen to paper for a two-year Entry Level Contract (ELC) that will start next season, signed an Amateur Try Out agreement, and went to Binghamton to play. The 2015 sixth-round draft pick put up 115 points in 139 games for Merrimack per Elite Prospects. In twelve games with Binghamton, he put up three goals and five assists for eight points. That’s a good start to a professional career in hockey. As he played in 12 games, he was graded in Jeff and his panel’s fourth quarter grades for the Binghamton players. This was Seney’s entry:

(12 gms, 3g, 5a) The speedy Seney has such good ice vision, I see him in a playmaker role in the near future. Fluid skater and quick passing, as he plays big for a small guy. Impressive start to his pro debut and should be an important cog next season in Binghamton. This is one player to watch. @Ski931 (84)

Jeff wrote this entry and he’s right. The fact that he produced and displayed some desirable skills right after going to the B-Devils means he’s one to keep an eye out for in prospect development camp and training camp later this year.

Second, goaltender Cam Johnson signed a one-year ELC with the Devils on March 24, 2018. The 23-year old Johnson had a strong four-year run with the University of North Dakota. Given that the Devils’ goaltenders in the pipeline have not impressed, they went out and decided to give him a chance. Like Seney, he took an ATO to join the B-Devils right away. He appeared in three games and they did not really go well. He gave up twelve goals with a posted save percentage of 87.6% per the AHL’s website. Still, it’s three games and far too early to make a judgment for the future. He’ll be with Binghamton next season and definitely give some competition to Blackwood and Appleby (if he returns).

Third, the Devils signed 2017 fifth-round draft pick Marian Studenic to a three-year ELC on April 2, 2018. Studenic improved on his draft year’s production with Hamilton per Elite Prospects. Goals increased from 18 to 20. Assists jumped from 12 to 28. In the playoffs, he put up two goals and eight assists in twelve playoff games for the Bulldogs. These playoffs are on-going for Hamilton; they’re on the cusp of making the finals in the OHL Playoffs. So Studenic will have more minutes and games to do even more. Studenic did not need to be signed in this year to keep his rights, so that the Devils were willing to give him an ELC now means that the staff likes what they have seen from him.

Fourth and lastly, the Devils signed 2016 third-round draft pick Joey Anderson to a three-year ELC on April 15, 2018. This one was a bit weird in that his ELC started right away due to his age. Anderson skated with New Jersey but he did not play in the playoffs. So, in effect, he has a two-year ELC. Regardless, the Devils signed him after his junior sophomore year with the University of Minnesota-Duluth after the Bulldogs won the NCAA Championship. While his production dipped in his sophomore year, his 2017-18 was highlighted by that NCAA Championship on top of captaining the United States team at the World Junior Championships, where he put up three goals and four assists in seven games. The big win was signing him before he got to his senior year, where if he kept up his production, he could have had a lot of suitors. The Devils ensured he’ll be with their organization first. He should be able to join Binghamton next season.

Concluding Thoughts

Out of the seven trades the Devils made during this season, the only one that ended up being a poor one in retrospect is the Grabner deal. Grabner did not work out with the team at all. I don’t want him to be retained by the Devils and I don’t think they will. The Rangers now have a defenseman prospect - something the Devils do not have many of - that could be somebody if he comes over. This is in addition to obtaining a second round draft pick, which usually yields a good prospect. This was the only one that looks like a loss now.

That said, Shero made the most out of what he had. Binghamton certainly benefited from the additions of Latta, Bertschy, and (sometimes) Lack. The costs to get those players were minimal. Wedgewood yielded a pick for what is now a thin group of picks for the 2018 NHL Draft. The biggest trade benefited both sides as Vatanen is now a key member of this defense. The biggest win would be with the Maroon deal. Maroon made an impact while the Devils gave up not a whole lot. I think it would be good if the Devils could extend him instead of letting him hit the free market in July. That would further secure that deal being a victory for Shero (Thanks again, Peter Chiarelli). Throw in four ELCs for the future and the active Shero was largely successful during this season.

What does this mean for the offseason coming up? According to CapFriendly, these deals added to some of the decisions Shero will have to make. The biggest ones are pending unrestricted free agents Grabner and Maroon. Others have to be made with Binghamton in mind. For Latta, Lucia, and Bertschy, it will be whether they really will need NHL contracts to keep them in Binghamton. For Lack, it will be whether the Devils really want him to shore up the goaltending depth after he did not really do so in Binghamton. Shero and his staff will have time to make these decisions on top of some other big ones.

In the meantime, what do you think of the Devils’ in-season transactions during the 2017-18 season? In your view, which ones were successes? In your view, which ones were failures? Among the four ELCs, who are you the most excited about? Based on who the Devils acquired, how should Shero handle the pending free agents he acquired (not the Devils who were on the team at the start of the season that will be free agents) with respect to free agency? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the team’s 2017-18 transactions in the comments. Thanks to Chris for the idea and thank you for reading.