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Checking in on the Vatanen-Henrique Trade

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Today, the Devils will look to make sure that the Anaheim Ducks do not move into a wild card position in the Western Conference. Given what happened on November 30, 2017, however, it is also a matchup that brings back talk of the Henrique-Vatanen trade, and I will do some of that here.

Anaheim Ducks v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In a couple of hours, the New Jersey Devils will skate at home against the Anaheim Ducks. The latter is in a tight playoff race in the Western Conference, playing at basically a point per game at 49 points in 48 games and sitting one point out of a wild card position. The Devils of course, are nowhere close, but the game today is worth watching given that it is only the second time that Adam Henrique will be in Newark since the trade that sent him across the country for defenseman Sami Vatanen.

The trade has been an interesting one because Henrique always has been a fan favorite, and there is zero doubt in my mind that just like the last time Anaheim came to New Jersey, Adam will receive a very warm welcome by the fans. And in my opinion, he deserves it. From a Calder Trophy candidate to a team leader and middle-6 contributor, Henrique was the type of Devil that you want to see in others.

However, like was discussed at the time of the trade, it does not mean that Ray Shero and the Devils brass made a mistake either. NJ is very shallow on the blue line, and adding a middle-pairing guy in his mid-20s with some offensive capabilities was a strong decision, one that at the time seemingly had to be made to make that run to the postseason.

At times, Vatanen has been panned by the fan base, but one of the main reasons is that because of the team’s lack of options on defense, Sami has been asked to play against top pairing competition with top pairing minutes despite not really being the guy for that. If the Devils have had a stronger top pairing since he arrived, he could have been playing this entire time in situations more suited to his abilities, and as a middle pairing guy, he has value.

Of course, when you bring that to Henrique on the forward side of things, it sounds similar. Henrique was not really a top line guy either, instead thriving more on second line duty, and even on the third line. Anaheim has utilized him as such, as he has spent the majority of the season centering Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase on their second line.

In terms of that similarity between the usage of the two players in the deal, as much similarity as can be had between a forward and defenseman, check out some of their numbers too since the trade occurred back at the end of November in 2017, thanks to NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick. Numbers include all of their games played for their new team.

Even given the fact that one plays center and the other plays defense, their numbers since the trade are strikingly similar. Henrique has more goals, of course, as he should, given his position on the team. He was on fire last year, with 20 goals for the Ducks in 57 games after the trade thanks to a 19.2% shooting percentage. This year he only has 9 in 48 games with a more subdued 12.3% shooting percentage. He also has a much stronger relative high danger Corsi percentage than Vatanen does, but besides that, their numbers look almost interchangeable. Similar assist numbers. Near identical Corsi and relative Corsi. And Vatanen has been stuck with some worse luck and less offensive zone starts, which is not abnormal for a defenseman asked to play first/second pairing minutes.

What does that all mean? Well to me, I would say that despite some of the grumblings about Vatanen since his arrival, the trade has still been decidedly fair and balanced. Given their roles, strengths and weaknesses, both players have contributed as you might expect for their respective clubs. Devils fans and even the organization at times have wanted Vatanen to be a top pairing guy, but if you take him for what he is, he has done his job below the top pairing. Anaheim has used Henrique where his talents demand, and he has been a solid role player for them. I hope he continues to do well.

In yesterday’s post, Mike made a suggestion that the Devils should become sellers before the trade deadline given their record, and one player he suggested could be moved for a strong return would be Vatanen. While I am not entirely sure Shero would go this route, given the dearth of talent depth on the defensive side of things, I agree that he could bring back some quality assets should he be put on the trading block.

But while he is still in New Jersey, I do have to think that despite the love that we all have for Henrique, and the disappointment that many have felt at Vatanen’s lack to be more than he is, the trade has been a dead even, fair trade both ways. You may think that having Henrique’s leadership in the locker room, as well as the added secondary scoring on offense he would bring would be better for this team right now than Vatanen, and that is certainly a debate that could be had. But I also think that given the lack of depth talent on the defensive side of things, having Vatanen in there to be a top 4 defenseman has been a good thing as well, even with some frustration at times.

So while you watch the Devils-Ducks game today, I hope you also raise a cheer to Henrique, as he was a great Devil, and one that should be celebrated. However, when you think about him in terms of the trade that sent him to Anaheim and brought Vatanen here, you can still see it as a pretty even trade over 100 games in.