Another NHL Trade Deadline day is in the books. Once again, most of the day’s activities were filled with waiting, rumors, complaints about said waiting and rumors, and a handful of trades. That is until the deadline actually took place. Mark Stone was finally dealt minutes before the 3 PM deadline. And after 3 PM hit, loads of deals were reported on, confirmed, and/or announced. All the more reason to relax until the afternoon on deadline day. After all, deadlines have a way of forcing negotiations to end right up to them.
For the New Jersey Devils, the expectation was that they would be sellers for the NHL Trader Deadline. The 2018-19 Devils have nothing to play for except lottery balls and to evaluate what they have for next season. Oh, and professional pride, I guess. General Manager Ray Shero met that expectation. The team made the following four trades in February:
- Brian Boyle to Nashville for a 2019 second round draft pick on February 6.
- Ben Lovejoy to Dallas for Connor Carrick and a 2019 third round draft pick on February 23.
- Keith Kinkaid to Columbus for a 2022 (yes, 2022) fifth round pick in the morning of the NHL Trade Deadline.
- Marcus Johansson to Boston for a 2019 second round draft pick and a 2020 fourth round draft pick. The Devils retained 40% of salary and this was announced after 3 PM.
All four players were pending unrestricted free agents. They were on expiring contracts serving different roles on the team. Boyle was a bottom-six center that did some work on the power play, penalty kill, and occasionally the shootout. Lovejoy was an effective, one-dimensional third-pairing defenseman who excelled on the penalty kill. Kinkaid was the team’s #1 goalie for much of the season and received many opportunities to play only to open the door for others. Johansson was a top-six forward who only recently showed what he could really do with this team as his time in New Jersey was beset by injuries and trying to best use his talents. While useful in their own ways to varying degrees, none of these players factored into the future of the team. Further, based on this Tweet by Corey Masisak of The Athletic, the ones who were signed beyond 2018-19 were not up to be moved. So for those reasons it made sense for Shero to deal away the ones who were not signed for next season.
It also made sense based on the returns. The Devils now have ten draft picks for the 2019 NHL Draft, with three second round and two third round selections. These are picks that could be used to add to an improving pipeline of prospects. They could be packaged in a deal to move up or bring in another NHL player. Shero has given himself more options for the 2019 NHL Draft and that is a good thing. The Devils also acquired an under-25 right-shooting defenseman in Connor Carrick. While this is his fourth team, he has been sticking around in the NHL. There is no downside to giving him chances to see what he could do given how Steve Santini has not secured a roster spot and guys like Eric Gryba and Egor Yakovlev have only been used here and there. Despite getting next to nothing, moving Kinkaid allows for Mackenzie Blackwood to be on the New Jersey roster. That was the actual point of the trade. It could be a big one if Blackwood continues to play as well as he did in his time earlier this season. Essentially, Shero flipped four players on expiring contracts and more draft picks for the future, a defenseman, and a spot for Blackwood. That’s a good bit of business for the situation that the team is in.
At the risk of seeming somewhat negative, I would like to point out three of the players traded today were among the most significant moves by Shero in his time as a GM. Shero has not spent a lot in free agency with the Devils; the Boyle and Lovejoy signings were the largest UFA signings he has had. While definitely not as significant as the Palmieri and Hall trades, the trade for Johansson was expected to help the Devils get to the next level. All three were traded away in this past month. These moves make further clear to me that the Devils are back to re-building. The 2018-19 season confirmed that the talent level on the ice (and perhaps elsewhere) has not been good enough. There are significant issues with the team from the goaltending to the defense to depth scoring to the general run of play in 5-on-5. The goaltending may possibly sort itself out if Schneider is truly back and Blackwood is truly good. But Shero will need to do more in free agency and in trades in this coming offseason to build up the roster, if only to replace what Boyle, Lovejoy, and Johansson did and/or intended to do in New Jersey. Prospect development is important, but that alone cannot take the Devils to where they want to be in the future. Hopefully Shero’s next set of signings have more of a lasting impact.
Speaking of the draft, these moves also make the Devils weaker in the short term. Corey Masisak of The Athletic asked Shero about tanking. His response is somewhat dismissive of that. He is not wrong given that top three picks are determined by a lottery drawing. However, let’s be real. The Devils are playing Montreal as I’m writing this and between the trades and injuries, there are seven players active tonight who spent significant time in the AHL this season plus waiver-wire pick-up Agostino and marginal players such as Kevin Rooney and Steve Santini. The roster will get stronger as played become healthy enough to play, but it’s a squad that is not going to hang with a lot of teams most night. Even though the defense is the most healthy position, they’ve been bleeding shots all season long. The Devils may not say they are tanking, but this is a squad on paper that has a real good chance to finish in the bottom five in the league standings. Especially with another long road trip coming up next month.
However, I am pleased with most of the other transactions the Devils made in the past 24 to 48 hours. Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian were called up and will get more than just one appearance to be evaluated. I am especially interested in McLeod as he was the 2016 first round draft pick and how he does in the next few weeks can go a long way to determine where he is in 2019-20. I like Yakovlev replacing Gryba if only because I think Yakovlev is a bit better. John Quenneville getting another run is probably more fruitful than another call up for (even) lower-potential players like Nick Lappin or Blake Pietila. Signing goaltender Evan Cormier to an entry level contract helps shore up the goaltending depth in the system, which was needed with Blackwood now up in New Jersey and effectively competing for a job there for the next season. With nothing much else to play for and plenty of regulars healing up, I’d rather see some B-Devils called up to be evaluated rather than have vets and tweeners take up spots. I’d also rather see Kurtis Gabriel sent back down, but maybe that will happen as guys get healthier in the near future.
Overall, I’m pleased with what Shero did in the past few weeks up until today’s NHL Trade Deadline with the situation the team is in. Fighting for 29th or 30th is probably not where Shero expected the team to be in this season. However, rather than trying to hold onto his guys, he was proactive in moving four of his expiring contracts. The moves helped keep the team from being too good down the stretch of 2018-19, added five more draft picks in the next two years with three of them being within the top-93 picks in 2019, a roster player in Carrick, and opened up a spot for Blackwood to play in the NHL. These are good, sensible returns for a team who needs to build further for the future. I don’t think Shero really could have done a lot better. Maybe the Johansson trade could have yielded more, but he got what he wanted in that deal so I understand it. I think Shero did a good job this month selling players up until the NHL Trade Deadline.
Let us now hope the picks turn into real good assets for the Devils in the future, that Shero does more than just sign two Devils to extensions in free agency, and the Devils are active to continue to re-build for a better tomorrow.
What do you think of Shero’s trades in February? Are you pleased with his run of trades up until the deadline? Do you think he received good returns for the players he effectively sold? Or do you think he could/should have received more? Please leave your answers and thoughts about the deals and how Shero has done by the deadline in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along and commented in the open post for this year’s deadline. Thank you for reading.