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A 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Primer for the New Jersey Devils

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The 2019 NHL Trade Deadline is on February 25, 2019, which is now a week away. Get ready for the deadline with this primer about the New Jersey Devils’ current situation and what could happen by 3 PM next Monday.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens
Marcus Johansson looks on prior to a game. He may soon be wearing another uniform.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NHL Trade Deadline is just one week from this day. By 3:00 PM ET, all trades must be submitted to the league’s offices. After then, the 23-man active roster limit will be raised, teams are limited to four non-emergency recalls from their AHL affiliate, and deals are effectively over until the offseason. It is a major day for all 31 franchises in the National Hockey League, and plenty of significant moves will be made up until the mid-afternoon on February 25, 2019. This is your primer for the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline for the New Jersey Devils.

What Was Done So Far, or The Selling Has Begun

While we do not know what the New Jersey Devils will do exactly before the deadline, we do know that they are sellers. As they should be. The Devils are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Their playoff odds are close to zero already, at least according to Moneypuck. Even the broadcasts are hyping up how the Devils can spoil their opponents instead of trying to convince the viewer of any kind of turn around. The fate of the 2018-19 Devils season is already sealed.

Most of all, they have already begun selling. General Manager Ray Shero has made two trades in 2019 so far:

  1. A minor league deal where the Devils sent left-handed defenseman Michael Kapla to Minnesota for right-handed defenseman Ryan Murphy.
  2. The Devils sent Brian Boyle to Nashville for a 2019 second-round draft pick.

You should expect (hope?) for more deals like the second one. Boyle was a bottom-six mainstay who contributed plenty in his role in all situations. He was a well-liked teammate and fans enjoyed his work. He was also a pending unrestricted free agent, 34 years old, and probably does not fit into the long-term plans of the organization. The Devils moved him for a draft pick and a fairly high one for someone who was largely on New Jersey’s fourth line. Not that it is a guarantee but a second round pick could yield a very good player in the future. For someone that could be signed by anyone this summer, moving an expiring contract for a future asset was a good move and typical of what a “selling” team does.

The Devils have multiple players that could be moved in deals similar to the one Shero made with Nashville for Boyle. Let’s go over their current cap and roster situation.

Devils Assets That Could Be Sold & The Current Cap Situation

According to CapFriendly as of February 15, the New Jersey Devils have over $64 million in deadline cap space. In other words, they can add anyone. They likely will not add a lot of cap space unless they either take on a huge contract for an asset or make a significant hockey deal. In any case, the salary cap is not a concern for New Jersey.

The Devils have eight picks for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Given how bad the Devils have been this season, their first rounder should be a near-lock for a top-ten selection. It should be seen as untouchable. The Devils have two second-round picks, Anaheim’s third round pick, and their own picks from rounds four through seven. The Devils’ original third rounder is owned by Edmonton from the Maroon deal last season. With the Devils being sellers, do not be surprised if the Devils opt to add more picks for this year’s draft.

In terms of the roster, the Devils have 47 standard player contracts. While the active roster limit will go away after the deadline, teams are still limited to 50. The Devils can add up to three contracts without having to move anyone for space. Currently, the Devils can also retain salary for up to three contracts. I would not anticipate the Devils doing that unless they really want someone to go and the other side cannot make the money work normally. The Devils have fourteen forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies on the active roster with four players on injured reserve as of February 15: Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Blake Coleman, and Stefan Noesen. I would not expect the Devils to consider moving any of them, but their current presence on IR would make a deal involving them an almost-total non-starter.

Expiring Contracts or Players Likely to be Moved

The Devils have six players who are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Back in January, I made a list of trade value rankings by the Devils. That was just a list of my thoughts. In reality, the cost doing business is set by what other teams do. Nashville really wanted Boyle, so Shero was able to get their second round pick. Other teams maybe would not make that deal. Likewise, other teams may not see, say, Marcus Johansson and be willing to give up a first rounder for him on the basis that Boyle was moved for a second rounder. With all that said, I would expect a couple of the pending UFAs to be moved by this year’s deadline. Here is who they are and how their recent play may impact their trade value. Age, position, and trade clause information comes from CapFriendly.

  • Marcus Johansson - C/LW/RW, 28 years old, no-trade clause for five teams of his choosing - He’s healthy, he has surpassed his January production (2 goals, 2 assists) in eight February games (does not include the Minnesota game) already, and he can play any forward position. He has ten points in his last eleven games. The Devils have utilized him on the power play and kept him on a “top two” line. I think he has increased his trade value, if only by not being hurt.
  • Drew Stafford - LW/RW, 33 years old - Stafford has become a regular given multiple injuries at forward over the last two months. Stafford has provided two goals and six assists in his last 27 appearances. When he has been on the ice in 5-on-5 play in 2019, the Devils have taken 42.59% of the attempts and 41.85% of the shots according to Natural Stat Trick. In other words, Stafford has been just a guy. His trade value remains minimal at best.
  • Kenny Agostino - RW, 26 years old - The Devils just picked up New Jersey native Kenny Agostino off waivers earlier last week. Ergo, he has next to no trade value. Moving on.
  • Ben Lovejoy - RHD, 34 years old - Lovejoy is not fast, he does not contribute much on offense (although he has 63 shots in 48 games per NHL.com), he is not good on the puck in general, and he is somewhat prone to taking calls (he’s fifth on the Devils with 33 PIM per NHL.com). He has been quite good on the penalty kill and, despite some real poor games in recent memory, he has done relatively well in 2019 per Natural Stat Trick. The key is to limit him to a third pairing and pair him with someone who can handle the puck decently. Throw in some experience and teams may want him. If he played well in the last couple games, then I could see it increase. Instead, I see his value as holding steady for a guy of his caliber.
  • Eric Gryba - RHD, 30 years old - He has shown why he was starting and mostly playing in Binghamton this season. He is not a NHL defenseman. Value: nope.
  • Keith Kinkaid - G, 29 years old - At the start of this season, Keith Kinkaid was looking great and it seemed he would do at least a decent job as the Devils’ starting goaltender. It is now mid-February and Kinkaid has a real chance of having worse numbers than Cory Schneider. Don’t laugh. In 2019, Kinkaid has the worst save percentages of all three Devils goalies so far. Kinkaid has been abysmal handling the puck, his skillset is a jack-of-all-fundamentals-master-of-none, and he’s old and experienced enough such that what you see from him is what you get. He has been especially awful in his most recent starts too. I’m not sure any team would look at Kinkaid’s body of work and be willing to offer anything for his services. Kinkaid’s value has obviously declined. Almost to a point where if he has an offer, then Shero may just want to take it and go.
  • Nick Lappin and Kurtis Gabriel are Group VI UFAs. That means if they do not play a certain number of games with New Jersey, they’ll become unrestricted free agents. Lappin is a AHL/NHL tweener and Gabriel is a plug. Like with Gryba, I give their trade values as respective nope as well.

I do not see the value of the Devils bringing most of these players back. Maybe Agostino plays well enough to earn another contract. Stefan Noesen did so in 2016-17 after the Devils claimed him off the waiver wire. Maybe Kinkaid returns as goaltending depth although the potential and hopeful emergence of Mackenzie Blackwood may make re-signing Kinkaid unnecessary. While Johansson easily has the most talent among this bunch, I’m not seeing Johansson being a significant part of the team as they rebuild for a brighter tomorrow. I’m not confident in his health given his concussions and other injuries with New Jersey; and he has not exactly taken over the offense in the absence of Hall over the past month and a half. Therefore, I think a team that is back on a rebuild would be wise to get picks and future assets for players who may be heading out the door anyway.

Could the Devils Trade a Player Who Does Not have an Expiring Contract?

It would not be the worst idea for Shero to dangle some people who are not set to be free agents this summer. Let’s be real: the Devils are near the very bottom of the NHL right now. I do not think there are many untouchable players on this team. There are two, at most. If the team is truly lacking in talent, then some guys need to be moved to get said talent. Rebuilding requires building a roster and if it takes moving, say, Miles Wood to get a player to help build the roster, then it needs to at least be considered. (No, I do not think Wood is on the trading block. I just mentioned him as an example.)

To answer the question, sure, they could. But unless the organization determines that someone does not fit into the team’s future plans, I doubt anyone already signed for 2019-20 will be moved by the deadline. I’m not sure the team has made those evaluations yet. They may want to see how they close out the season and work from there. A deal like that may be more likely to occur closer or at the 2019 NHL Draft - if at all.

But What About Taylor Hall? Could He Be Traded This Month? I Mean, Maybe the Devils Can’t Extend Him and So I Want to Explain to You It May Be Better in the Long-Term an-

Let me cut you off, bold headline text. According to this post by Mike Johnston at Sportsnet on February 3, that is not happening.

What Do You Think Will Happen by February 25?

Just as a total guess, I would expect Johansson and Lovejoy to with another organization by February 25. Already, Pierre LeBrun has reported on Twitter that teams are interested in the forward. It was not long after word got out about Boyle’s limited no-trade clause that he was dealt to Nashville.

One thing I appreciate about Shero is that he does not let a lot of his thinking hit the public unless he feels it is necessary (see: Hall). I would not spend the days until the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline and the Deadline Day itself looking for rumors and sources. I would hold off on speculating on potential partners in a deal based on where the Devils’ scouts may be on a given night. If there’s a deal, it will happen.

To Close: A Reminder about News & Rumors

This is a good place as any for me to remind you to be careful on hockey news for the next week or so. As with July 1, there is a lot of misinformation and “news” shared by fake insiders and people pretending to be legitimate reporters. Do not pay attention to them. Stick to people who know things like Bob McKenzie, LeBrun, Darren Dreger, Elliotte Friedman, David Pagnotta, and even your local beat writers Abbey Mastracco and Chris Ryan. These days, the teams themselves quickly report when they make a transaction through their own sites and social media channels. You do not need to wait long for confirmation of an actual transaction. So leave the phonies behind as if they are nobodies.

Your Take

The 2019 NHL Trade Deadline is a week away from today. What would you do if you were General Manager Ray Shero? Who do you think will be dealt first? What do you think the pending UFAs may get in a trade. If there was a Devil not named Hall and is signed through next season that you want to see traded, who would it be and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the upcoming NHL trade deadline and what the Devils may and/or should do in the comments. Thank you for reading.