Last year, I put together my trade value rankings for the 2018-19 New Jersey Devils during their designated bye week. One year later, the situation is still similar. This is the Devils’ designated bye week. The 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on February 24 is just over a month away. The Devils would need a miracle to get close to the playoff picture given that Moneypuck lists a 0.4% chance for the Devils to take a playoff spot, which is the second lowest in the NHL. They should be sellers once again, right?
Well, maybe. Last Sunday, the Devils fired general manager Ray Shero. Tom Fitzgerald is now the team’s interim general manager among other management changes. Owner Josh Harris wants a new direction and is clearly not happy with the team’s lack of results, per this article about the post-Shero press conference by Chris Ryan. If Harris wants the team to step forward in 2020-21 and beyond, then we may not see as much selling off as we did last season. Of course, Harris said to the media that “we haven’t been winning;” who knows what he has instructed Fitzgerald - if he has given him any instructions at all. As ever with this organization, we will find out what they will do when it actually happens.
It is still a good time as any to list how I see the trade values of the current roster of New Jersey Devils players. After all, nothing may happen during this bye week. No one may be truly untouchable in a sport where The Great One was dealt away, but some Devils are much more valuable than others.
I am not suggesting, arguing, proclaiming or demanding that Fitzgerald and management trades everyone, no one, or any specific one player in this post. I am not suggesting, arguing, proclaiming or demanding that the team trade the players with more value than others. I will also argue that the deal has to make some sense for the Devils. Whether that is obtaining draft picks, prospects, or even players to help the team for 2020-21 and beyond. This is an exercise in how I think each player’s trade value may be perceived.
This is a ranked list. The higher the rank, the more I think it would take for a team to pry them away from New Jersey. This is not a list of players who I think are the best on the team. You and I can argue over whether Blake Coleman is having a better season than Nico Hischier. Even if we agree that he is right now (this may change by March), this does not mean that Coleman is going to have more trade value than Hischier. A lot more factors go into perceived value than just how they are performing right now. Their age, their cap hit, their salary structure on their contract, their position, their past, their current role in New Jersey, and even their skill set can all drive a player’s value up or down. Again, this is not a list saying that Player X is necessarily better than Player Y. It is about perceived value.
Which brings me to my regular reminder that I am not a NHL general manager, an insider like Elliotte Friedman, or a fake insider like all of those Twitter accounts that get people going with no reason to believe them. I am a hockey blogger. This is all how I see it. I am willing and likely to be wrong. To that end, I encourage you to disagree and explain how you see players as more or less valuable than I do.
As with last year’s post, I am limiting this post to all of the Devils who have played at least five games with the team this season. This means I am ranking 25 players in this post. This means Ben Street, Brett Seney, and Gilles Senn are not on this list. I do not think Street (3 games), Seney (2 games), and Senn (2 games) have much value at all on their own for any trades anyway. Prospects and picks are just that - prospects and picks.
Let’s get into it in reverse order. I did change up the tiers with one divisive one past the halfway mark. All contract information is from CapFriendly.
Tier 1: Low Trade Value - “Him? Sure. Let’s talk.”
#25 - Cory Schneider - Goaltender - 2019-20 Salary: $6 million
Cory Schneider is dead last on this list again for much of the same reasons as he was last year. Schneider will be payed a flat $6 million for each season until it ends after 2021-22, and it has a no trade clause. That contract alone is a difficult one for most teams to want to pick up. What sends him back to the bottom of this list is that his performances have really stunk this season. He was given opportunities at the beginning of the season but he did not perform anywhere close to even below-average. It was so bad that the Devils actually demoted him to Binghamton. Schneider passed through waivers and he is only back with New Jersey in 2020 due to injuries. Given that no one took a flyer on him when he was on waivers earlier this season, I cannot forsee any team trading anything of value for him.
#24 - Matt Tennyson - Right Defenseman - 2019-20 Salary: $700,000 ($350,000 in AHL)
Matt Tennyson was a late cut from the Devils prior to their season opener. Due to injuries, he was recalled in mid-October and made spot appearances. Specifically, 19 of them. His last game in New Jersey was the first for interim head coach Alain Nasreddine. Since then, the 29-year old defenseman was returned to Binghamton and has been there ever since. Tennyson’s 5-on-5 numbers were not the very worst on the team among defensemen, per Natural Stat Trick. However, he contributed very little in a limited role. He was not exceptional at defending. He was not bringing anything on offense. He was just a guy for the blueline if they needed a guy. As with Schneider, Tennyson has passed through waivers. Since no one picked him up then, I do not think anyone is going to be calling up the Devils to inquire for him. If they do, it will not be for much of anything.
#23 - Louis Domingue - Goaltender - 2019-20 Salary: $1.15 million
The Devils traded a 2021 conditional seventh round draft pick to take Louis Domingue from Tampa Bay. They did not include Domingue in their plans for this season so they were clearly happy for New Jersey to take him off their hands. The seventh round is the last one in the NHL draft and it is not even for this year’s draft. It is not quite as meaningless as future considerations but it is close. Anyway, Domingue has not been good for New Jersey outside of his first start as a Devils (November 23 against the NHL’s worst team this season, Detroit) and last weekend’s amazing back-to-back set of wins. He’s 27 so what you see out of Domingue is what you are going to get. Given that it took the Devils very little to get him, it would not take much at all for the Devils to move him. Unless management is fine with Schnedier being a #2 goalie to Blackwood or they get someone else, he’ll stay as the backup for this season. He has a little more value for that reason.
#22 - John Hayden - Right Winger - 2019-20 Salary: $750,000
The Devils acquired John Hayden in a one-for-one deal with NHL/AHL tweener John Quenneville on the second day of the 2019 NHL Draft back in June. Unlike Quenneville, Hayden has remained with the NHL team. This does not mean he is good. The 24-year old winger has only been on the fourth line when he is not being scratched. When he is on the ice, opponents love playing against him. His 5-on-5 numbers at Natural Stat Trick justify the thinking that he is the team’s worst forward. His production is minimal. When he gets pinned back on defense, he is usually lost. He can throw down and he is big but he is soft when it comes to playing the game of hockey. Hayden is a pending RFA and based on his time in New Jersey, I do not think he should be qualified. If a team is interested in him, then it would be fine if the Devils just accept whatever for him. Even if it is John Quenneville.
#21 - Connor Carrick - Right Defenseman - 2019-20 Salary: $1.5 million
Connor Carrick came to New Jersey in the return from Dallas in the Ben Lovejoy trade last season. I thought it made the deal more of a win for New Jersey as the Devils got a player, albeit a depth defenseman, in a selling maneuver. I liked his extension or at least I did not hate it at all. However, Carrick has taken a real step back in 2019-20. He did suffer a broken finger, which caused him to be unavailable for many games. In the ten games he did appear in, he has been statistically the worst defenseman on the team. Seriously, look at the numbers at Natural Stat Trick. For example, the current members of the blueline all have an expected goals for percentage below 50% and Carrick, somehow, is the only one below 40%. I do think the Devils’ defense has been undercut by the coaching staff’s decisions and tactics, but even with better coaches, I do not know how they would salvage Carrick’s performances. Because he is a right-handed defenseman and he’s 25, I think he has a little more value than the ones below him. But he definitely does not have a lot of it.
#20 - Michael McLeod - Center - 2019-20 Salary: $832,500 ($70,000 in AHL)
Michael McLeod is just above the minimum games requirement to make this list. He was all set in Binghamton until the team’s road trip in December. McLeod did pick up two assists in his second game: the 2-1 win in Arizona on December 14. However, McLeod has been kept to very limited ice time when he is active in the New Jersey lineup. As a result, his 5-on-5 stats at Natural Stat Trick are a mixed bag with a really poor CF% and a surprisingly decent xGF% and SF%. It is just five appearances with less than 8:30 of ice time; I would take it with a grain of salt. The 2016 first rounder is just 21 and there is a case to be made that he is very much still in development. However, McLeod has not been productive enough with Binghamton - 5 goals, 18 points in 32 games per the AHL’s website - to make anyone think he is a burgeoning scorer. He did perform better in the second quarter of the season based on Jeff and his panel’s recent rating of him. If McLeod was crushing it in the AHL, then he would have been up with New Jersey sooner and perhaps in a larger role - which would serve to increase his value in a NHL trade. As it stands, he does not have much of it now. At least he has plenty of potential, unlike the players beneath him.
#19 - Kevin Rooney - Center - 2019-20 Salary: $700,000
Kevin Rooney is the second pending UFA on this list - Domingue is the first - and I think he has a little more value than the ones beneath him as he does a little more than play 5-on-5 hockey. Rooney is on the secondary or tertiary penalty killing unit when he is active. The team’s on-ice rates with Rooney in shorthanded situations have been good. Rooney can at least serve the role of a fourth liner that can do some penalty killing, which is a larger role than just being a fourth line. That said, players like Rooney are not hard to find on the open market. Rooney himself has not been good at even strength. His 5-on-5 on-ice rates at Natural Stat Trick are really bad. Rooney’s one goal and one assist in 27 games per NHL.com means he is not really going to chip in much of anything in a depth role. He is not fast. He is not notably skilled or seemingly better at one aspect in the game compared to most of his teammates. A team who would want him will likely be able to sign him in July without much of an issue. Rooney is really just a guy that does a little more than most nondescript depth forwards do in this league.
#18 - Mirco Mueller - Left Defenseman - 2019-20 Salary: $1.4 million
The last player in this low tier is Mirco Mueller. He is 24 and can skate decently, so why is he so low? Mostly because at his best he is anonymous and at his worst, he is a costly frustration. Mueller has been more of the latter with multiple on-ice percentages in 5-on-5 hovering around 45% per Natural Stat Trick. Mueller does not handle pucks or play them particularly well. He certainly does not fire them away given he has just 19 shots in 30 games this season. While his performances on the penalty kill have been good, he has been kept to a secondary unit and P.K. Subban has been out-performing him in similar usage. As with Rooney, Mueller is just a guy who does a little more than most nondescript depth defensemen. I think the Devils understood this as they re-signed Mueller last summer for only one season. They even gave more term to Carrick. Whereas Mueller was OK last season, he has not been OK this season. I do not think he is essential to the team’s future and I do not see other teams really desiring his services.
Tier 2: Medium Trade Value - “They can be available, but I need a fair return or you’re wasting my time”
#17 - Jesper Boqvist - Left Winger - 2019-20 Salary: $925,000
The Devils signed Jesper Boqvist to an entry level contract last season which contained a European assignment clause. That meant either Boqvist would play in New Jersey or he would go back to Brynäs in the Swedish Hockey League. (Aside: That clause expired on December 1 per Devils Insiders. Hence, he could be assigned to the AHL during the season as he just was.) Through training camp, the decision was made to keep him here. I was excited for his arrival. However, his acclimation to the North American game has been rough. Boqvist has primarily been used as a fourth liner in his 33 games, averaging fewer than ten minutes per game. His 5-on-5 on-ice rates at Natural Stat Trick represent his struggles in both playing a lot with Rooney and Hayden as well as tailoring his developing game to the NHL. I think the Devils still believe in his potential as they did give him a game or two alongside Nico Hischier on a top line. Boqvist is still quite quick and he can handle a puck well. But he is still adjusting as he is growing as a player. He is in this tier primarily because he really has not done much of anything to justify a significant return in any trade. However, he is still just 21, this is his first season in North American hockey, and there are flashes of a useful forward. Like McLeod, the value is really in his potential and needs time and guidance to reach that level. Unlike McLeod, Boqvist has been on the ice more often than he has been scratched at the NHL level. We may see him in Binghamton more next season but he should have some interest.
#16 - Andy Greene - Left Defenseman - 2019-20 Salary: $5 million
We may be seeing an end to Andy Greene’s time as a New Jersey Devil soon. He is on an expiring contract so you may think he could be dealt. Whereas teams did take Lovejoy last season, Andy Greene is the Devils’ captain, he still plays a significant amount of minutes for the Devils (over 20 per game per NHL.com), and he has a no-trade clause so he has control over whether he wants to go. Also: He’s 37 and the Devils get rocked in 5-on-5 when he’s out there, which is the majority of his ice time. And it has been happening in past seasons too. Sure, he plays a lot on the PK but his on-ice rates there are not nearly the best among Devils defensemen. I do not think he wants to leave. I do not think the Devils will want to move their captain this season. I do not think many teams would be contacting the Devils about Greene’s availability, much less offer a significant return.
#15 - Wayne Simmonds - Right Winger - 2019-20 Salary: $5 million
The Devils are paying Simmonds quite a bit to be a bottom-six winger, but the larger sum made it so that he would sign for only this season. I expected Simmonds to chip in quite a bit on offense, especially on the power play. Simmonds has made a career out of playing as a pivot on the right post. However, the coaching staff has not consistently given him that role on the power play for some reason. He has been horribly snake-bitten when it comes to scoring goals; he only recently snapped a 27-game goal drought. While I do not think many were expecting a lot of production, I think it is fair that it was going to be more than five goals and 19 points in 47 games. In more positive news, he’s drawn one more call than he’s taken this season in 5-on-5 and his on-ice rates are closer to the median among the forwards. Simmonds has no clause in his contract so it is up to the Devils and whether they get a good offer for Simmonds if he is dealt. If so, I hope for his sake it is to a playoff team so he can be their Grant Marshall / Patrick Maroon / physical third-line winger that has a chance to become well regarded down the stretch to the playoffs.
#14 - Miles Wood - Left Winger - 2019-20 Salary: $2.5 million
Miles Wood is fast when he is chasing a puck. Sometimes he will backcheck. Sometimes he will lead a rush himself and pull back for help instead of firing away from anywhere. Sometimes he will go to the net and every once in a while, the puck will end up in there too. Wood is strange player because there are parts of his game that are favorable. Then there are the other things that just frustrate fans to no end. While he has drawn more penalties than he took as per NHL.com, several of Wood’s penalties are stupid ones taken in the offensive zone. While he can demonstrate his strength and nastiness, the Devils are a weaker team in 5-on-5 when he is on the ice as per Natural Stat Trick. And Wood pretty much only plays in 5-on-5 situations. While he can win races to the puck, often times they do not lead to anything if he does win it. I can see another team with a different coaching staff molding Wood into something more than he currently is, but Wood is 24 and I am not sure how much he is going to change in the future. He could be far more useful with just some adjustments (and better luck than his shooting percentage of 7.5% would suggest). His contract is far from heavy; a $2.5 million cap hit is not going to break too many team’s books. However, he is pretty much a bottom-six winger. One with exceptional speed but limited in his role all the same. Back in August, I questioned how long he will remain as a Devil. It may not last to 2021-22, the final season of his contract. We shall see.
#13- Travis Zajac - Center - 2019-20 Salary: $5.75 million
Travis Zajac is set to be a legend of sorts in the history of the Devils franchise. Provided he does not suffer a significant injury this season, he could become just the third skater in franchise history to play in 1,000 season games with the Devils as per Hockey-Reference. Zajac’s production has taken a step back but the 34-year old remains useful to the current roster. He is the center of the team’s most effective line over the past two months. Zajac continues to play a significant role on the penalty kill as well as at even strength based on his ice time at NHL.com. If need be, he can take draws for a power play too although that has been reduced in 2019-20. He is currently one of three regular forwards who has an expected goals for percentage above 50% as per Natural Stat Trick. The point is that Zajac is still contributing to the team. I think his value as a trade asset is a bit limited, though. He is an older player, he has another season on his contract at $5.75 million, he is not much of a scorer anymore (just six goals, 19 points, and 50 shots in 47 games per NHL.com), and the Devils still need him to serve multiple roles. Also, he has a no trade clause so even if New Jersey wanted to move him, Zajac has some control there - which may turn some suitors off. This may change next season but we shall see.
#12 - Sami Vatanen - Right Defenseman - 2019-20 Salary: $4.5 million
I do not agree that the Devils lost the Sami Vatanen-Adam Henrique trade, but I do agree with CJ that Vatanen is set to be dealt. His value would be a little higher but he is on an expiring contract and so asking a lot for him will just mean a team will wait until July to try and sign him as a free agent. Still, he is 28, he is a right-sided defenseman, and he has taken the primary defenseman role on the power play ahead of P.K. Subban and Will Butcher. Granted, the Devils’ power play is not much to celebrate this season. But when they did convert, Vatanen was often involved. Due in part to that he has a healthy amount production; 22 points in 44 games with 90 shots as per NHL.com. Should he remain in New Jersey, he should break his previous season high as a Devil of 28 points. Vatanen has also done well on the penalty kill this season, which is another plus. The big negative is that Vatanen in 5-on-5 play this season has not been good. His line at Natural Stat Trick is just not good. I want to believe that coaching has played a large role in that (this applies to Severson, Butcher, and Subban) and so with a different system, he could prove to be much better than this. However, it is a risk and it may lower his value among the statistically-savvier teams in the NHL. Still, I do not expect Vatanen to be a Devil by February 25 and I do expect a better return than just a late round pick.
#11 - Pavel Zacha - Center/Left Winger - 2019-20 Salary: $1.75 million
Pavel Zacha has been a source of contention on this blog and among the Devils fans for five years now. Not only were there multiple players selected after him in the 2015 NHL Draft that went on to be far better players, Zacha has yet to put it all together consistently. Zacha can move well, he can make some really good reads, and his shot is pretty good. He has a large frame and he can play well with skilled players. Yet, he just does not play with enough initiative or, for lack of a better term, aggression. It is as if he is still unsure of his skillset. One thing is clear: he is a fantastic penalty killer. He was elite last season and his on-ice rates in shorthanded situations this season are great per Natural Stat Trick. The only reason why he is not on the primary unit is because of Zajac and Blake Coleman. Zacha is 22 years old so there is some reason to think he can improve. There is also some reason to think a change of scenery with a different coaching staff to guide and utilize him could help Zacha reach a higher level in his game. At a minimum, he can be a middle-six forward and can help lead a PK for a cap hit of only $2.25 million and a salary that will top out at $3 million in the third and final year of his contract. That has to be worth something.
#10 - Damon Severson - Right Defenseman - 2019-20 Salary: $4.65 million
Damon Severson is a talented right sided defenseman who has been asked to play on his off-hand and have multiple partners as needed this season. It can be argued that Severson has been the team’s best defenseman in 5-on-5 situations as per Natural Stat Trick. He is the only one with a expected goals for percentage above 50%. He rates well in other against rate stats and the percentages too. In shorthanded situations, Severson has proven himself to be a solid player on the PK. And he has an offensive game; he is on pace to crack the 20-point mark for his fifth full season and has a shot of surpassing 30 points. However, he is also catastrophic. Players make mistakes. But with Severson, a lot of them are visible and costly. When Andy Greene, for example, coughs up the puck, perhaps the goalie or another skater bails him out. His 5-on-5 on-ice save percentage of 92.18% suggests this. For Severson, it is a goal against (his on-ice save percentage: 89.64%, lowest among the current blueliners) or a penalty. Severson is not small but he does not handle himself well in physical situations either, which adds to the frustration. I get it to a point. Severson is 25 and should know better. I think Severson would have thrived more without Alain Nasreddine and John Hynes being his coaches in his formative seasons. But when he is good, he is better than I think people give him credit for. Severson’s got plenty of time left on his current contract, but if he is available, then do not be surprised if he is in demand.
#9 - Jesper Bratt - Left/Right Winger - 2019-20 Salary: $785,000
Jesper Bratt is one of the hardest players to rate on a list like this. On the one hand, would a team really desire a winger with just eight goals, sixteen points, and 58 shots in 40 games? A winger who has never scored more than 35 points in a season? A forward with not-so-impressive 5-on-5 on-ice rate stats? On the other hand, Bratt is just 21. He has plenty of room to grow as a player and when he breaks out, it could be glorious. Bratt has also demonstrated that when his line is flying, he is often involved and adding to the skill level. It is not an accident that he has played quite a bit with Nico Hischier, which has gone well for the Devils this season. His 5-on-5 on-ice rate stats are above the team median, too, so he is not at all a detriment in that regard. Bratt will get a significant raise this summer as his entry-level contract will end. I would love to see more from Bratt this season as to have more confidence that he could be a legitimate top-six winger instead of one playing above his level. But that time may yet to come and when it does, we may be pleased that the Devils kept giving him the chances to shine in a significant role.
#8 - Will Butcher - Left Defenseman - 2019-20 Salary: $3.5 million
Will Butcher is having a really rough season. Butcher’s 5-on-5 on-ice rates at Natural Stat Trick have not been good as he has been demoted to a third-pairing. It is one thing to not have him on the primary power play unit, but there were multiple games where he was not on any of them. Butcher was not given a shot to be a regular on the penalty kill and nothing he has done this season suggests he should be. So why is he so high on this list? For one, he has managed to keep up his rate of shots and put up 17 points in 45 games despite his utilization. For another, while he has struggled, the Devils’ left side of the defense would be worse off without him if he is made available. At a minimum, the Devils would need to ask for something comparable to fill in the void. For third and more important point, Butcher was really good in his first two NHL seasons. He was the team’s best defenseman from a statistical standpoint. He was leading the team’s top power play unit right when he entered the NHL. He showed that he can be a big producer with 74 points in his first two seasons. He helped salvage two seasons of Ben Lovejoy as a Devil. I do not think Butcher forgot how to play hockey, be the back one in a 1-3-1 power play unit, or do his job as a defenseman. This season is a set-back, but with a new coaching staff and a fresh start, I think he can return to be more like the player he was in his previous two seasons. Then there will be little question about how valuable he would be.
Tier 3: Above Medium Trade Value - “Now? No. Unless you’re willing to give up a lot.”
#7 - P.K. Subban - Right Defenseman - 2019-20 Salary: $10 million
Speaking of defenseman who have had better seasons in the past and likely have not forgotten most of it, I give you P.K. Subban. He is 30 and so expecting him to return to his former ways that led him to win a Norris Trophy is foolish. But he is also a victim of some bad luck and arguably a bad fit in New Jersey. For the luck, Subban had a really long pointless streak and went a long time between his first and second goals. He also has the lowest 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage among Devils defensemen at 6.34%. For the bad fit, his most common partner is the aging and non-offensive Andy Greene, which does not appear to be a good pairing; Rick Kowalsky deferred to Vatanen for the primary power play unit early in the season; and how the team breaks out means Subban does not often carry the puck out - which is something he can do quite well. Despite all of this, he is far from the team’s worst defenseman in 5-on-5 play (beware of any analytics person who tells you otherwise). There are signs in his on-ice rates that suggest that he is indeed an offensive player trying to make offense happen (e.g. his 2.39 xGF/60 is the highest among regulars). And Subban absolutely puts in the effort himself as he has 120 shots on net - the second most on the entire roster. Yes, Subban is not this shut-it-down defenseman but that is not what he’s known for. He is an offensive machine from the back. This season, the production is not nearly up to his past seasons and how he has been used is not really in alignment to what he is really good at. I can see other organizations, who may need an offensive force from the back, be quite interested if he is available. A change of scenery may do him some good, especially as he is still quite quick, confident, and skilled on the puck. However, as the Devils gave up a package to get him, they would be right in asking for similar in return.
Because of his large cap hit ($9 million) and salary ($10 million, even pro-rated, it’s still around $3.5 million) for this season, I doubt it will happen this season. The next two seasons make a Subban move much more possible though. For 2020-21 and 2021-22, Subban’s salary breaks down to a $6 million signing bonus and a $2 million base salary per CapFriendly. Teams that who may need cap value without having to pay as much in salary will also be interested in someone like Subban. Since Subban’s no-movement clause was waived back in 2019, CapFriendly does not have it listed anymore so another potential road block is gone. What that means is that if Subban is to be dealt, it may not be this season but in the next two seasons. Hence, this tier begins with “Now? No.”
#6 - Nikita Gusev - Left Winger - 2019-20 Salary: $5 million ($4.3 million signing bonus)
The Goose cost the Devils their 2020 second round pick and their 2021 third round pick plus a two-season, $9 million contract. The start of his 2019-20 campaign was rough. He looked absolutely lost without the puck and he was not doing much with it. But it was all a case of acclimation. As he started playing regularly with Zajac and Coleman, Gusev became much more effective. Much better in 5-on-5, much better on and off the puck, and much more productive. While I would not trust Gusev on a penalty kill, he has adjusted to the speed and nature of the NHL and the North American rink. Therefore, he is now third in the team in points (8 goals, 20 assists, 102 shots) and his distribution is a big reason why Coleman leads the team in shots with 147. He’s one of the better 5-on-5 performers at forward on the team per Natural Stat Trick. The Goose has arrived and it has been fun to watch. So much so that it would take quite a bit for another team to pry him from New Jersey at the moment. It would have to be at least for those two picks the team gave up to get him in negotiations to begin with.
We must face some harder facts though. Gusev is 27 and the signing was very much a move towards playoff contention. That is not happening this season and I have doubts if it will happen next season. I hope it does but I doubt it at the moment. To that end, Gusev may become an attractive target in a trade. He is definitely a viable secondary scorer who can add quite a bit of offense to a team, provided he is matched with a shooter and someone who can make up some of his defensive game. His contract for this season is really cheap in base salary. Next season is the last one on his deal at a flat $4 million base salary with an 8-team no-trade list that he can submit. He has no clause now. So if the Devils want to go off the board and try to move Gusev now, it would be easier to do so now. I would not like it and it would make things harder for the offense next season. But it is possible.
#5 - Kyle Palmieri - Right Winger - 2019-20 Salary: $5 million
Palmieri is a scoring winger and those kinds of players are always going to be sought after. Especially by playoff-bound teams looking for that little extra something to put them over the top. The Pride of Montvale, New Jersey was the first big move made by Ray Shero back in 2015 and he should be worth more than a second rounder now. He has been 20-30 goal scorer in New Jersey and with 16 goals (8 on the power play) in 44 games, he is on pace to be in that range again. Palmieri has been among the best Devils forwards in 5-on-5 play, as he leads them in expected goals for percentage with 52.8% per Natural Stat Trick. His on-ice against rates are surprisingly good; he is underrated as a defensive player. But the offense is what he brings to the table. Palmieri’s a good passer with an even better shot. That shot has also been successful compared to his peers as his 15.5% overall shooting percentage is the highest on the Devils this season. The Devils have got away from this on the power play but they have had past success with Palmieri in the Ovechkin Zone zinging one-timers. He has been very good for the Devils and he can be good for many other teams.
The possibility of Palmieri being dealt is growing for a number of reasons. For one, Palmieri will turn 29 at the start of February. Since plenty of players fall off in their 30s, there is a reason to think that the time to move Palmieri is before he seriously declines. For another, Palmieri’s contract is quite manageable. He is being paid $5 million for this season but if he is dealt, the team receiving him would only be on the hook for less than $3 million. Next season, Palmieri’s salary drops to $4.25 million, which is reasonable for a player of his stature. He would also be another player that could be valued for a higher cap hit than his salary. For a third point, if the Devils really are not going to contend, then they would get very good value now than he would be if he is extended and the Devils are out of the mix in the future. I do not like any of it because Palmieri has understandably become a fan favorite in New Jersey. He is not just a local player but a very good right winger on a team that has lacked in them for several seasons. And should Palmieri be moved now, the team will be quite weak at that position. It may be more of a possibility that if Palmieri is dealt, it will be next season. I will still probably not like that possibility then too - which speaks of how I value the player.
Tier 4: High Trade Value - “Absolutely not. I will get in trouble if the public finds out about this, so goodbye.”
#4 - Blake Coleman - Left/Right Winger - 2019-20 Salary: $1.8 million
Is there a better contract in the NHL than Blake Coleman’s three-season, $5 million deal? Last season was the first season on his deal and he emerged as a penalty killing monster who put up over 200 shots and 20 goals for the first time in his short NHL career so far. In last year’s post, I questioned if he could follow that up. This season, he is absolutely following that up. In 48 games, Coleman has 147 shots on net, 19 goals (3 shorthanded, tying last year’s number), and 27 points per NHL.com. He is the team’s current leader in goals and shots; and he is on pace to smash his previous season high from last season. All while still killing it on the primary unit in shorthanded situations and being one of the team’s best forwards in 5-on-5 play along with Gusev and Palmieri, as per Natural Stat Trick. Coleman’s partnership with Gusev has been great and Zajac has been an fine pivot between the two of them. But Coleman going off really helped make that line successful in the run of play and on the scoreboard more often than not this season. Coleman has been a joy to watch on the ice and the Pickle Maverick has become a fan favorite as well. All of this is for less than $2 million.
Coleman has played so well that there could be an argument made that the time to move him is now. He is 28 and this may be his peak season. But doing so would cause the Devils to lose a lot. Not just a forward who can play at either wing, but a forward who has been playing significant minutes. It would cause the Devils to lose out on a very good penalty killer. It would cause the Devils to become a weaker team in their depth. By no means is Coleman a sure-fire first-line talent on any team in the league, but he is a second line winger on plenty of teams like New Jersey and he is appropriately being used as such this season. Again, he is a reason why the line of Gusev-Zajac-Coleman works. Moving him breaks up that line and throws into doubt what those two can do. Should Coleman become less productive or not as effective, it is simple that he can be moved down a line. I have a lot more time for Coleman serving as a useful third-liner in place of Simmonds or Wood, for example. And the team would be giving up a fan favorite, which is something that can really ill-afford to do as the 2019-20 season and its turnover has done a lot to repel fans. I think the Devils would lose quite a bit by moving Coleman. The only way to make it right is if the return is significant as well. So, for right now, I think he deserves to be in this high tier.
#3 - Mackenzie Blackwood - Goaltender - 2019-20 Salary: $700,000
The New Jersey Devils effectively put all of their goaltending eggs in the basket of rookie Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood went from not impressing in the AHL to having an impressive 23 games last season to being the team’s #1 goalie by default. Blackwood is 23 and he already has 58 NHL appearances under his belt with 35 of them this season. It has helped that both Schneider and Domingue have been very bad over this season. So much so that there is little harm to keep giving games to the young guy. The plan has worked as Blackwood has been playing quite well. As of right now at Natural Stat Trick, Blackwood is just outside of the top 20 goalies (1,000 minute minimum) in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage at 92.1% with a positive 1.97 goals saved above average (15th best in this data set). His high-danger save percentage in 5-on-5 play of 85.6% is the fifth highest in this data set as well. While his penalty kill save percentage is not as good, such percentages are subject to a lot of variation. The results in 5-on-5 are more telling of whether or not Blackwood is good and that is the main question the Devils want to find out this season. Is Blackwood a legitimately good enough goaltender to be a NHL starter? If yes, then the Devils do not need to spend a lot to acquire a starter. They can focus on a back-up or a 1A/1B type goalie. This is why Blackwood has played a heavy workload. So far, it is looking like the answer will be yes.
As a result, the Devils would need a lot to come back to move him at all. Without Blackwood, the Devils are lacking in goaltending talent. It would be a huge setback to whatever the team is aiming to do for next season and for several seasons to come. It would be one thing if the Devils had some NHL ready prospective goaltenders. But they do not at the moment, much less to make the Devils want to move a 23-year old goalie playing as well as he has been. To echo Will Scouch’s thinking about goalies, a true #1 goalie is worth their weight in gold. And Blackwood is set to be able to buy quite a bit of gold in the near future as his entry-level contract ends this season. Should Blackwood keep proving himself, he will be basically untouchable for several years for a trade just based on his role on the team.
#2 - Jack Hughes - Center - 2019-20 Salary: $832,500 ($92,500 signing bonus)
When the New Jersey Devils won the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery, the question immediately became: Jack Hughes of Kaapo Kakko. As the time moved on towards the actual 2019 NHL Draft, the consensus was that it should be Jack Hughes. It was Jack Hughes at the 2019 NHL Draft. And so Jack Hughes jumped right into the NHL as an 18-year old previously of the United States National Team Development Program. It has been a season of struggles for Hughes. I think fans were expecting more than six goals, seventeen points, and 83 shots in 40 games. I think fans also realized that he really does need to get stronger. However, there is a ton of potential on display. Hughes is very quick on and off the puck. He has made some incredible passes and his confidence in trying to make a move has not wavered very much. His shot is quick. Yes, he does need to get stronger. He also needs to not be saddled with Wood at even strength. Hughes is still brave, like Nico Hischier, to go into those “dirty areas” and muck it up. As a result, he leads the team in penalty differential with +9 (12 drawn, 3 taken). Hughes is still very much a work-in-progress but when he flashes his skill, it grabs your attention and deservedly so. He is very much a special player who will only get better as he plays more, adds some muscle, and recognizes what he can/should do and not do at this level of play. If the coaches can find him more suitable linemates, then I think more will realize how special he is as a player.
Hughes was just drafted by the Devils as the “reward” for that crummy 2018-19 season and luck in the draft lottery. Giving up on him now would be utterly preposterous. Even if the return is seemingly massive. If a new general manager cannot see how they can build a team around Hughes and the last man on this list, then they are not fit to be a general manager. By the way, the next GM would be wise to figure it out before Hughes’ ELC ends. He will not be this cheap on the books afterward.
#1 - Nico Hischier - Center - 2019-20 Salary: $832,500 ($92,500 signing bonus)
The Devils have a lot of needs going forward. A top center is not one of them thanks to Nico Hischier. After a slow start to this season, Hischier has flexed his talent on opponents more and more. He is not just going to the net and surviving, he is going to the net to finish plays and battle through fouls. Hischier continues to draw calls while avoiding them himself. Hischier continues be among the better Devils forwards in 5-on-5 as per Natural Stat Trick while drawing difficult matchups and seeing different linemates - especially after Taylor Hall was dealt. Hischier has started to receive more penalty kill time and to the surprise of few, he has been good in those spots too as per Natural Stat Trick. And even with going goalless in his first nine games, he is third on the team in goal scoring with 12 and his 29 points in 43 games is second only to Palmieri as per NHL.com. He is on pace to once again crack the 50-point margin and he will do so again without Hall for much of the season. Hischier has accomplished this while displaying his skill night-in and night-out. He is very much the team’s #1 center, he has been since he jumped into the NHL at age 18, and he just turned 21 earlier this month so he can and will get even better as a player. This is the kind of player that a team does what they can to hold onto him and build the roster around him as a foundation.
The Devils have been doing just that. In advance of his entry level contract ending this season, the Devils signed Hischier to a seven-season extension worth less than $51 million in total. I thought it was a great contract extension back in October and I still think that way now (it also goes into more detail of how good Hischier has been for the Devils). He will be a Devil through what should be the best seasons of his career. The Devils management and future coaching staff will need to figure out how to get the most out of him in both how he is utilized on the ice and who he plays with in varying situations. That is what they should consider. Trading Hischier should be out of the question for several years unless the other team is willing to provide one of the few players in the NHL who are under the age of 23 and better than Hischier. Even then, I would probably not recommend it. As such, he is #1 on my list of Devils by trade value.
I hope you appreciated my perceived trade value rankings of 25 New Jersey Devils players who have played at least five games with the team in 2019-20. As ever, I could be quite wrong in how I perceive their value and in what I think the Devils could do by the trade deadline. It is not clear that the Devils will be complete sellers or not by February 24. They have nothing much to play for this season, but ownership has made it clear that they do not want to keep being bad for much longer.
In the meantime, I want your take. How would you rank the Devils by trade value? Do you agree that Hischier has the most trade value? How would you rate Vatanen, Simmonds, and Greene from a trade perspective? Who did I rank too low? Who did I rank too high? Why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the trade value of the current Devils players in the comments. Thanks again to Bill Simmons for the inspiration and thank you for reading.