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What Should the Devils Do With Marcus Johansson?

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The Devils will have to make some potentially difficult decisions as they head toward the trade deadline in a lost season. One of them is whether to try to move Marcus Johansson, the talented veteran winger scheduled to become a UFA this offseason.

Vegas Golden Knights v New Jersey Devils Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

When John put together his trade value rankings post last week on who could fetch the biggest return on the Devils, one player that was suggested by many (including me) should be on the block generated some pushback. That player was veteran soon-to-be-UFA winger, Marcus Johansson. So the Devils pretty much have two options at this point: trade him as a rental and try to get more picks or other future building blocks for the team, or hang onto him for the rest of the season and then try to get him signed in the offseason to be part of the solution here in New Jersey. I definitely see the merits on both sides of that coin so let’s run through the reasoning behind each argument.

Team Keep Him

Johansson has had a tough couple years in New Jersey, but that’s not necessarily a situation of his own making. In his time in New Jersey, when he’s been on the ice he’s actually been a decently productive player and decently close to his career production rates. He’s up to just a shade under a half point per game in his time in New Jersey. But between his injuries last season and the underperformance of the team as a whole this season, that production has mostly flown under the radar.

Given the amount of time he’s missed and the perceived lack of performance in his time with the Devils, it’s possible that Johansson may not fetch a lot of assets for New Jersey in a trade. If Shero floats him and no teams are willing to give him a significant return, would it make sense for the Devils to hang on to him and try to get him re-signed in the offseason? It does carry some risk that you end up losing out on the player for no return, certainly a worst case scenario. If no team is willing to give you any more than, say, a third-round pick for #90’s services, perhaps that risk becomes worth taking.

Add in the fact that Johansson’s down couple of seasons in New Jersey could make him more of a bargain on his next contract and he could potentially fit well into the Devils short-to-medium-term plans. The argument has also been made that trading Johansson might send a bad signal to Taylor Hall that the team is not serious about winning in the short-term. I tend to be skeptical of that view, but it does at least factor into the calculus of trading him on some level.

Team Trade Him

The thing with Johansson in this particular Devils season is that he is almost certainly the most valuable rental player they have in a season where they should really be offloading pretty much any rental they can. With the 2018-19 campaign very obviously being a lost one at this point, Shero’s focus should be on positioning the team as strongly as possible for the future. Maybe a second-round pick doesn’t help the Devils right away, but the Devils don’t just want to be good the next couple seasons, they should be aiming to be a strong team for the next five years or more and stockpiling draft picks is a good way to make that happen.

Plus, even if a mid-round pick doesn’t necessarily help the Devils right away, it definitely holds value right away. Johansson was brought to the Devils in the first place with a second and third round pick and the Devils’ current leader in points and goals, Kyle Palmieri, was brought in for the same return. Stockpiling picks, even if not every one of them is going to be a home run, is a great way to strengthen the team’s trading position over the summer or, alternatively, give the team more swings at finding a future impact player on draft day.

It’s obviously hard to have a final call on whether a trade involving Johansson would be worth it without seeing the final return, but out of any of the Devils’ “rental” players, Johnasson seems to be the one most likely to fetch a substantial return. If a package that includes Johansson can yield the Devils a late first rounder, a good prospect, or multiple early-to-mid round picks, that seems like a move the Devils should be making rather than rolling the dice on being able to bring Johansson back to a situation where he has not had a ton of success.

What to Do?

Ultimately, Ray Shero is going to have the best handle on what teams are actually willing to offer in return for a couple months of Marcus Johansson’s services (as well as if Johansson is interested in re-signing in NJ in the first place) and I think the return is ultimately what is going to dictate whether moving him is worth it or not. For instance, a couple of seasons ago when the Devils moved Kyle Quincey as a rental but only got back Dalton Prout, a known quantity and a 7th/8th defenseman on most rosters, they might as well have just hung on to Quincey at that point. But if the Devils can recoup the level of picks they traded for Johansson in the first place or get a similar quality return, I think the trade is definitely one worth making.

It’s not that I don’t think Johansson could be a part of a good Devils team if he gets re-signed, I just think any pending UFA carries the risk that you lose them in exchange for nothing and the Devils should be looking to add value in any way they can as they try to work through this rebuild. So, unless Shero is positive he can get Johansson re-signed, I think he should be actively looking to move #90 before the deadline.