The New Jersey Devils need improvement by any means necessary this summer, especially if they want to retain Taylor Hall beyond this season. With only one playoff appearance in the past seven years, Jersey’s Team is attempting to right the ship and return to being true playoff contenders. Today we look at another way to improve a team over the summer: pilfering players from teams struggling to stay under the salary cap!
For this article, I started out at CapFriendly to see which teams are either pressed up against, or fairly close to the salary cap. Immediately, some of the same old names jump out: the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins seem to have been dealing with this for at least the past few seasons. The other three names in the Top 5 may surprise some: the Nashville Predators, Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights all find themselves with less than $10 million in cap space.
The next endeavor was to see who might need to part with a player due to other contracts needing renewal that would put them over the cap. Tampa is the prime example here, as almost everyone anticipates Brayden Point’s new deal to take up most of the team’s roughly $8.5 million in remaining cap space. If Point did sign for around $8.5, the Lightning would not even be able to ice a full team, as he would be only the 11th forward under contract; the team would also be a defender short of a full set. They’re absolutely going to be looking to move at least one player, if not more.
This is where the Coyotes will part way from this list, as the free agents they will be looking to re-sign should only receive modest raises at best, leaving them with probably around $5-6 million in cap space still. Additionally, a few players counting against their cap will probably start next season in the minors, resulting in the removal of their cap hits from the overall amount. If the Coyotes needed to part with a player to make a splash in free agency, it more than likely wouldn’t be one of consequence, or one that could help the Devils improve, so off the list they go.
Vegas is similar to Arizona but with one key difference: they need money to sign some of their own players that they absolutely want to keep. Nikita Gusev and William Karlsson are both RFAs that I’m sure Vegas wants to keep, while they may also still want UFAs Brandon Pirri and Deryk Engelland back. They have a few contracts that can be sent to the minors to remove them from the cap (similar to the Coyotes) but it won’t be enough space even for their RFAs. Much like the Coyotes as well, I don’t really see the Devils wanting anyone who Vegas will likely be looking to part with; however, if Vegas were willing to deal Colin Miller, there could be a conversation to have.
Nashville could be a possibility, but only if they want to shake things up. They have a good bunch of their players under contract, and unless they decide that they want Brian Boyle or Wayne Simmonds back, their RFAs shouldn’t eat up a ton of their cap space. Unlike Arizona, if they want to make a deal with a free agent, they will definitely need to move someone. There have been rumblings of a P.K. Subban trade, but it’s questionable as to if the Devils have the assets or would want a defender over 30.
Pittsburgh may be the oddest duck on this list, as they’re in a tough situation; they have five skaters all making $6 million per season or more and goalie Matt Murray will be due for a new deal next offseason. While their roster still appears strong on paper, they were easily disposed of in the first round of the playoffs this year. The Pens also have a number of other players also making multiple millions of dollars per season; they’re prime for a shake-up if they want to continue to compete with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (if he wants to stay) in the fold.
New Jersey’s Trade-able Assets
Before listing these briefly, realize that I’m not compiling a list of spare parts here, nor am I stating that the team can survive without everyone/everything listed. This is simply to say that if a realistic hockey trade were to be made, SOME of these pieces would have to be going in the opposite direction. Additionally, a player like Will Butcher should only be available for a strict upgrade on the back end; this list is not suggesting we just give him (or any asset) away.
- 2019 Second Round Picks (#34, #55 and #61/62)
- 2019 Third Round Picks (#70 and #80)
- Pavel Zacha
- Michael McLeod
- John Quenneville
- Miles Wood
- Sami Vatanen
- Will Butcher
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning will be in a bit of a bind, as many of the players they might be looking to move all have some form of a No Trade/No Movement Clause, which they would need to waive. Ryan Callahan, J.T. Miller, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson and possibly even Yanni Gourde could also be targets. Tampa needs money now for Point, and next year for goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, so they’re not exactly dealing from a strong position here either.
Many Devils fans in the past have spoken of wanting Palat or Johnson or, even to a lesser extent, Killorn. I think all of those ships may have sailed, as those players have all see their production start to dip as they have each exited the prime of their careers. I would have more interest in Gourde (even though he had a down year) or Miller, as they’re a bit younger and a bit more productive, but I wouldn’t be willing to part with a lot for helping the Lightning clear cap space. I’d offer a second and third here at most for either player (excluding #34) as that’s roughly the same trade that landed a more productive player in Kyle Palmieri and he was younger at the time to boot.
If the Lightning wanted the Devils to take on Callahan’s contract, even for just one year, I’d be asking for Anthony Cirelli or Mathieu Joseph along with him. The return for Tampa could be a bit better here due to them parting with a young player and Callahan having one year left, as opposed to the multiple remaining years for all the other mentioned players. I’d offer one of the young forwards (Zacha/McLeod/JQ) along with the aforementioned picks again AT MOST. If the Lightning don’t like it, they can shop elsewhere to alleviate their cap crunch.
Vegas Golden Knights
As mentioned above, Colin Miller is the big name here, though if Jonathan Marchessault or Alex Tuch were mentioned as available, Ray Shero should be looking into that pair as well. This could be a situation where it would be more palatable to see a defender go out, but if Butcher winds up costing more than Miller, then neither he nor Vatanen is a fit to go the other way. If there needs to be more cap coming to New Jersey, it could be smart to eat the cap of Erik Haula, Ryan Reeves, or Cody Eakin for one season, along with the player the Devils desire.
So let’s say the team can get Miller along with one of Haula/Reeves/Eakin attached; I think sending Sami Vatanen (with salary retention) and a pick or two could make sense, especially if Vegas wants to make moves elsewhere. Vatanen at 50% (which the Devils could afford for one season) could see the Knights gain roughly $5 million in cap space (if Eakin goes to NJ) while still having someone to fill in for Miller. The Devils would get the better defender (imo) and also have Eakin to put at 4C for one season.
If they were to pursue one of the forwards, I think the cost could be a bit higher, but still at different prices. I could see Miles Wood and a 3rd (or lesser pick) swapped for Tuch (though I’m not sure I’d pull the trigger on it) and one of the trio of remaining forwards plus a pick for Marchessault. Again, perhaps these deals favor the Devils, but teams against the cap usually have to part with assets for less to improve their situation.
This seems to be the “Subban or Nothing” area of the article, but the pipe dream here would be to somehow pry Viktor Arvidsson out of Nashville, which would cost most of the above assets (if not something better) so we’re not going to be seeing that. For Subban, I could see Nashville asking for Damon Severson rather than Butcher or Vatanen, but if he’s the starter, I’m not sold on that switch. Butcher could certainly be a possibility if the Preds wanted to strengthen their left side, and depending on what else they wanted, I think the Devils would ponder this one, especially with Ty Smith seeming ready this season and possibly Jeremy Davies soon. If Jersey’s management isn’t sold on Davies for a few years yet though, I think both Butcher and Sevs are non-starters.
Again, the Devils are trying to exit their rebuild, so just absorbing cap (even the cap hit of a talented player) shouldn’t be done just for the sake of doing it. If they’re adding $9 million in Subban, yes they need to send back some talent/picks for the talent they’re acquiring, but the fact that Nashville needs that space to sign players both now and more importantly next offseason shouldn’t be discredited. Any team acquiring P.K. (if dealt) should be getting him for somewhat of a discount, more so if Nashville is looking to re-tool after another disappointing postseason exit.
When it comes to Pittsburgh, there’s only one name that realistically stands out to me and that’s Justin Schultz; Phil Kessel isn’t coming here, and I want nothing to do with Patrick Hornqvist and Nick Bjugstad. Schultz has one year left and with the Pens needing space both this year and next, he could be deemed expendable due to possibly pricing himself out of their affordability. The problem with kicking the tires on Schultz is his modified NTC, as Jersey could easily be one of the 10 teams he would not accept a trade to.
As is the recurring theme of this article, I’m not looking to do any cap-strapped team any favors, and this is a rival team now as well. Schultz for a 2nd? I’d probably do it, but again I would prefer it to be one of the later ones. Schultz for a young, cost-controlled player? Depends on the name, but if it’s McLeod or JQ, I’d pull the trigger; I’d think long and hard if they asked for Zacha, but probably say yes as well. With Hischier and (more than likely) Hughes, Zacha could shift to LW, but if the intent is to keep Taylor Hall, we need to swing a few pieces to make the team more competitive.
The thing here is that Schultz may be the only player from Pittsburgh desires, but he honestly isn’t much of an upgrade over what the Devils have. If this was the ONLY trade available, I’d say to pursue it, but in general, I think the Devils and Pens are bad trade partners, and this route is pretty much the most unrealistic. I decided to explore it only because the Pens need cap space and this is the only player I could see of interest to NJ.
Today was a bit less of a stats and numbers piece and more of a production, contracts and perceived value piece for this offseason, and so I would like to hear your thoughts on trade targets the Devils could look into. Do you like any of the above targets and/or possible deals that could be seen? What would you offer for some of the above mentioned players? Is there anyone not listed that you’re interested in? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!