This Devils season has been a tough ride for everyone involved, including the players, the coaches, the fans, and management. After the high of returning to the playoffs a season ago, the team has staggered through this season, lurching from losing streak to losing streak most of the way. The team currently sits 25th in the overall standings and after dropping last night’s game to the Islanders, they are 13 points behind the Penguins for the final wild card in the East. It wasn’t supposed to go this way in 2018-19, but regardless of what everyone’s hopes were for this season, it’s time to accept the reality staring everyone in the face: this season is finished. The Devils may have 35 games remaining, but none of them will include meaningful playoff implications for the team from New Jersey.
Now, how you would like the Devils to approach the remainder of the season may vary. Some may be all in on Team Tank, with management angling for the highest pick possible through the team sinking to the bottom of the standings (they don’t exactly have far to go). Others may want the team to try to build momentum for next season with a stronger second half. Maybe you want the team to focus on player development down the stretch and get a few more young players some experience. Wherever you land among those options, though, one thing should be clear: Ray Shero should be moving whatever players he can before the trade deadline arrives a little over a month from now.
There should be no shortage of sellers at this year’s deadline, between the number of teams who appear to be done at this stage of the season and the chance of landing a top-two spot in this summer’s NHL Draft and selecting Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. The issue facing Ray Shero is that he doesn’t really have a game-changing rental piece to recoup major assets, so he will have to get some good value at the margins or think of trading players under contract beyond this season if he wants an upper tier prospect or picks high in this year’s draft.
The players with expiring contracts have been a topic of trade conversation among Devils fans for weeks now, but let’s run through the list of potential tradeable rental pieces.
Marcus Johansson: Johansson strikes me as the potential rental piece with the most value to a contending team. He’s had dreadful injury luck in New Jersey and he’s never really been able to settle in in his two seasons in Newark, but teams know that he’s a player who can play effectively in a second-line role when he’s on the ice.
Ben Lovejoy: Lovejoy is not a guy who can fix a big issue for a team, but a contender in need of a steady third-pairing presence with loads of postseason experience could be interested in a player like Lovejoy’s services. Many people soured on Lovejoy in his first season in New Jersey when he was handed a first-pairing role he was in no way equipped for, but since being shifted to the third pairing last season, he has been quite good in that spot. He can stabilize the bottom of a good team’s defense and he can play solid minutes on a penalty kill unit. That should garner at least some decent return from teams in the hunt.
Keith Kinkaid: Unfortunately, Kinkaid’s recent run of play over the past couple months, in addition to helping bury the Devils in the standings, has likely greatly depressed his value on the trade market. With Schneider’s contract being an albatross and Blackwood making a good first impression in New Jersey, Kinkaid looks like he could be the odd-man out this summer anyway. He has slumped badly this year, but I still think he can be a solid backup for a team looking for some insurance in goal. How much he can actually retrieve on the market at this point is hard to say, but I think a team with a major issue in net could be talked into parting with some picks to bring him in.
Brian Boyle: The one is tough because of the obvious factors beyond the ice for Boyle and his family, but if Shero talks to Boyle and he’s receptive to a move to a contender, he would make a pretty ideal deadline depth pickup for a lot of teams. Would a former team like the Lightning be interested in his services? Or perhaps another team who could use some forward depth like a Nashville or Columbus? If Boyle is okay with a move, I think he could have pretty good value as a versatile bottom-six guy and well-regarded locker room presence.
Drew Stafford: A month or so ago, Stafford would have had close to zero value on the market given the amount of ice he had seen, but he’s actually played decently since getting on the ice in the past few weeks and could potentially be an enticing enough veteran option at this point for a team to spend a mid-to-late round pick on bringing him in for the stretch run.
RFAs and Players Under Contract
So those are the UFAs the Devils could look at dealing, what about players who are either RFA or under contract beyond this season? Could any of them move?
Damon Severson or Sami Vatanen: This is a much tougher call than any of the potential UFAs but it’s something that might be worth considering for Ray Shero. If he wants to secure a second first-round pick this year or make a larger move for a solid young player coming back the other way, one of these two might be his best option. Severson is locked up long-term and is clearly a skilled defenseman, but things haven’t always clicked between him and this coaching staff and the defensive gaffes are still prone to pop up for him.
Vatanen, meanwhile, is a proven middle-pairing guy and could have strong value for a team in need of help on defense down the stretch (Montreal, perhaps?). He’s been a frustrating piece in New Jersey, but partially because they’ve leaned on him (out of necessity, at times) to be a top-pairing type for a lot of his time here, which is probably over his head as a player. He’s a solid enough player to likely pry some significant assets away from a team in the event Shero went this route.
Mirco Mueller: With Ty Smith and potentially Jeremy Davies waiting in the wings on the left side, Mueller would seem to one of the obvious odd men out heading into 2019-20 for the Devils. If he doesn’t fit into the Devils plans, though, maybe its worth seeing if teams will flip something for his services the rest of the way this year. He’s still just 23, and has at least shown some stretches of decent play in New Jersey. I doubt the Devils would be able to recoup the second-rounder they spent to bring him in initially, but if you can get a third or a fourth, it might be a move worth making rather than just not qualifying him in the off-season.
Stefan Noesen: I doubt there’s much of any market at this point but maybe if he returns from injury after the bye and plays decently for a couple weeks he could be moved.
Andy Greene: This one hurts to say a bit and I have no idea if the team would actually be willing to trade its captain in the middle of a season, but the left side does have the potential to get crowded for the Devils very soon and Greene is probably best suited as a #4 or #5 defender plus top PKer at this point in his career. I think there’s at least a chance there would be a market for a player like Greene’s services the next year and a half, particularly if the Devils retained a good chunk of his salary. Greene has an NTC and it would be hard to part with a NJD lifer like him, but it seems like an option at least worth exploring if you’re trying to set this team up for the next 5 years.
Overall, you obviously wouldn't expect Shero to move all of these players (you would barely be able to ice a roster the rest of the season, for one thing) but I think he should be exploring options to move every player that potentially doesn’t figure prominently into the next three to five years. That could include making some tough decisions, but this team is out of it for this season, and making hard decisions is sometimes the reality of building a winning roster.
So what do you think of the deadline options for the Devils? Are there other players you thing Shero should explore moving? Does anyone disagree that its time to sell and sell fairly aggressively? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading.