Improving the state of the defense is starting to beaten to death here at All About the Jersey, but the fact remains that the depth of the New Jersey Devils’ blue line is not good enough to even be true Stanley Cup contenders, let alone to win another Cup. While the 2018 free agency class has options, the 2019 class will be headlines by two perennial Norris Trophy candidates: Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty.
Karlsson and Doughty are something that New Jersey has lacked for quite some time now: a true #1 defenseman. Both players are good (or better) in their own end, they know how to get the puck up the ice, and they contribute points in the offensive zone as well. Getting either one would go a long way towards improving the overall state of Jersey’s back end, even though they would both slot into the same side (right) where the Devils have some strength.
Ray Shero could inquire about the availability of one (or both) this summer, though it’s unlikely that the Los Angeles Kings will part with Doughty since they’re in a similar spot as the Devils in trying to compete. Karlsson is a bit more interesting, as the Ottawa Senators seem to be entering a rebuild (or a cost cutting spree if rumors about ownership spending are true) and as he is still in his prime, he could fetch them a nice number of pieces to facilitate a rebuild while leaving the team a good amount of cap space. It’s more likely though that the Sens head into the season looking to see what they have and hoping they don’t nosedive as they did in 2017-18.
If Shero wanted one of these players this summer, and either team was ready to part, it might cost more than he would want to part with. Dougie Hamilton of the Calgary Flames has better advanced stats than either player (not that those are the only stats to put stock in) and he went for a 1st and a pair of 2nds in the 2015 draft; it’s not an exact comparison as Hamilton was a RFA, but it enables one to extrapolate a possible price.
The Devils also have a (somewhat) comparable price in the package that they sent to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Sami Vatanen; again, slightly different circumstances, as Vatanen is not the level of the above pair, but he also had more term remaining on his contract. With the possibility that Karlsson or Doughty would just be a rental (be it full season or at the trade deadline) it seems logical that they garner a return somewhere in that neighborhood.
The Devils would probably need to part with their 1st round pick, Pavel Zacha and another piece at the very least to at least have those teams consider their offer. With where New Jersey is at right now, they shouldn’t mortgage the future for multiple pieces. Stay the course, pray one or both make it to free agency, and hope they see the coming bright future and want to be part of it for nothing more than cash.
Next year’s free agency crop sees a couple of other promising names available as well, including Ryan McDonough, Jake Gardiner, and Ryan Ellis among others. While new deals could still be worked out for any of the players involved, the salary cap is coming to crunch some of the teams these men play for, and they could be available to help the Devils. It would still be over a year away, and many things can change in that time, but the Devils could have some options next offseason, meaning that they probably shouldn’t throw away what they’re building for just one player.
What do you think of the prospect of Karlsson or Doughty on the Devils? Should New Jersey try to trade for one before they hit free agency? Should they wait until it costs no more than cash? Should they attempt to sign one of the more “under the radar” names instead while everyone else chases the big two? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!