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Devils Bye Week Mailbag: Should the Devils Dump Zacha?

This week, we’re taking some reader questions on this Friday afternoon. You asked about if it’s time to give up on Zacha, if Cory Schneider is done, what Brett Seney’s deal is, why John Hynes is still around, and more! Everyone is in a bad mood!

Chicago Blackhawks v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Devils stink and they have on their bye this week so it’s been a bit quiet on the Devils front. With that it mind, it seems like a perfect time for a mailbag. No need to belabor it, you all get the concept. To your questions!


If Zacha isn’t moved by the draft would it be better to not give him a qualifying offer and let him walk as a UFA or give him one more shot even though the Devils have several guys in the system that can do the one thing Zacha does well?

We’re comin’ in hot to start! Pavel Zacha has morphed into the organizational whipping boy for fans, and I have been no stranger to criticism of his play. That he went just about 32 games without an assist to start this season (and 36 before he got an assist on a goal with a goalie in the net) is still utterly mind-boggling, given he was playing a majority of his minutes at second-line center. He’s been one of the Devils’ biggest draft disappointments in a 20-year stretch where there is lots of competition. The first round of the 2015 NHL Draft is jam-packed with stars and very good players and as of right now Zacha is a light year from the former and also a healthy distance from the latter. It can be endlessly frustrating to watch him disappear for long stretches, given what the Devils had the opportunity to draft in their position. (Here comes the “however”)

However! I don’t think it would make much sense for the Devils to just straight up cut bait on Zacha at this point. He’s producing like a 4th-liner at the moment, which is immensely disappointing given the potential he seemed/seems to have and where he was drafted, but it would be malpractice to just let him walk. At the absolute worst, somebody would likely trade something of reasonable value for him given his age and perceived potential as a reclamation project. I don’t think he’s going to exactly be commanding big bucks this offseason with the numbers he’s put up over his ELC, so while he is not what we’ve hoped for so far, I think he’s still a useful piece as a bottom-six C and penalty killer and he’ll likely come cheap.

I think Zacha gets signed to a cheap bridge deal this off-season to have an opportunity to prove he can provide more than he has (and so the Devils don’t have to commit long-term to a guy that may not ultimately fit into the puzzle). And if Ray Shero is really so bothered by Zacha’s presence that he wants to load him into a cannon and blast him into Newark Bay, I think it would be a lot smarter to trade him for something, even if its not a huge return, than it would be to just cut him loose.


With Schneider’s poor play in the minors would the Devils cut bait with him?

Ugh, this situation is a mess.

I am still holding onto a thread of hope that Schneider can work through his issues and return to something resembling NHL form at some point. That said, boy has this gotten sad to watch. This question was clearly in response to Schneider getting absolutely shelled in a 7-5 loss for Binghamton. I think the answer to this question depends heavily on how the rest of this season goes for Schneider.

If he continues to get waxed night after night with save percentages in the mid .800s, the Devils hand may be forced this offseason to just go ahead and buy him out. That is a painful buyout, though as the Devils would be on the hook for a $2M cap hit (not nothing), for six whole years. My view is this unless it is utterly dire, the Devils should hang onto him for at least one more year. Worst case, they can waive him and stash him in the minors and see if he can figure it out once he’s a year removed from his surgery. Nobody is going to touch that contract, so I don’t think they’d have any issue passing him through waivers. If he still looks awful, buy him out in 2020 instead and end up with one less buyout year of dead cap money on the back end.


Besides skating fast, diving and getting crushed in possession, what does Brett Seney even do?

I understand we’re all a little surly about the Devils’ current standings predicament, but this seems a little unfair to Seney, who is a rookie playing with mostly crummy linemates on a team that has looked lost overall for some stretches this season. I don’t know that Seney is ever going to be much of an impact guy, but I think there’s enough there to make him a useful bottom-six winger in the right setup. He’s speedy enough to create some opportunities on the rush and has actually produced at a decent rate in his minutes at evens. He’s not afraid to mix it up at times, but his size does get him tossed around a bit. He’s going to be 23 soon, so I don’t think he has a tremendous amount of development left to go, but I can see him being a half-decent pesky depth scoring piece in a decent bottom-six with a little more experience.


What makes Pavel Zacha such an elite PKer?

A healthy diet of kolaches and sausages. Plus, scoring of all types give him hives, so he is extra motivated to stop opponents on the PK.

Setting aside that this question was almost certainly intended to be rhetorical, the real answer is probably that he is big and athletic and has good enough vision/hockey sense to be able to anticipate opposing passes in a power play setup. Having a 6th overall PK specialist is not really ideal, but at least he does seem quite effective in one area of his game.


Why is Hynes still allowed to coach?

I suspect it’s because he is under contract and has not been dismissed by the team. Probably not the answer you were searching for, though.

I dug into this a few weeks ago when he received his extension, but the short answer is probably along the lines of Shero acknowledges that this roster still needs work and he believes Hynes is a good development coach. I think the implosion of the goaltending situation has also allowed Hynes to get the proverbial mulligan for this season. I think the Devils wanted some stability heading into an important summer for them and so they wouldn’t have to add a coaching search to everything else that needs to happen. If they struggle next year, Hynes’ leash will not be so long, but for now, the organization feels like they can still move forward with him.


Are there any deep sleeper prospects in the A who could warrant a look end of season, like a Colton White, etc?

Wait till you hear about this John Quenneville guy. He’s tearing it up in Binghamton...

I think two guys I’d like to get a look at down the stretch are Marian Studenic and Brandon Gignac. Both have played some solid hockey by most accounts and they might be guys who a little time with the big club could benefit. I don’t know that I have super high expectations for either, but the seem like the types who could become solid additions to a bottom six if they continue to develop. White has taken a significant step forward this year it seems, so he might be worth a look if some space opens up as well, though I’m not sure there are any future NHLers on D in Bingo at the moment.


Taylor Halls next contract will look like what and when will it be signed?

8 Years, $10M AAV. Signed on July 12th. (I’m trying to end the sadbag on a high note here)


Who are your top 5 prospects in this upcoming draft?

Alright, I’m going to close this mailbag out with perhaps a bit of a hot take here but I might be slightly higher on Kaapo Kakko at the moment than Jack Hughes, though the margin is razor thin and I think either could be a total game-changer. I’ve only been perusing draft stuff for about a month now, so my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt, but also they are exactly correct and you deviate from my rankings at your own peril.

  1. Kaapo Kakko
  2. Jack Hughes
  3. Dylan Cozens
  4. Vasili Podkolzin
  5. Bowen Byram

I will have plenty of time to hone my draft opinions over the next 5 months while we are waiting for the 30 or so games that remain on the Devils schedule to come to a close. Either way, I’m hoping that they are picking somewhere in this top 5.