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A 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Primer for the New Jersey Devils

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The 2020 NHL Trade Deadline is on February 24, 2020, which is now a week away. Get ready for this year’s trade deadline with this primer about the New Jersey Devils’ current situation, who they could move, what they need, and what could happen by 3 PM next Monday.

Dallas Stars v New Jersey Devils
Get well soon, Sami. There may be other teams also wishing you well with your ankle injury.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The 2020 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 everyone in the National Hockey League, and plenty of significant moves will be made up until the mid-afternoon on February 24, 2020. This is your primer for the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline for the New Jersey Devils. A team who has clearly not waited until February 24 to make some big moves.

What Was Done So Far

Let us go in chronological order. The Devils have made four moves by the end of their 4-3 shootout win over Columbus, their first such win over Columbus since December 2017.

First, the Devils traded for Tampa Bay goaltender Louis Domingue on November 2, 2019. The poor performance of Cory Schneider forced then-general manager Ray Shero’s hand to acquire a backup goalie for Mackenzie Blackwood. The cost was a conditional seventh round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Per CapFriendly, the condition was that the pick would be given to Tampa Bay if Domingue would appear in at least seven games for the Devils. He did. Domingue has made 15 appearances so far. So enjoy that extra seventh rounder next year, Bolts.

Second was something few expected would happen in the Summer of 2019. The Devils went into last offseason with what was effectively an edict from Taylor Hall to add talent to the roster. If the team was going to be more competitive, then Hall would presumably open to an extension. This led to Shero making moves to add P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and Wayne Simmonds after drafting Jack Hughes first overall in 2019. All that plus a healthy Hall and fans, like myself, thought they could compete for the playoffs. We know now that did not happen as the team face-planted from the get-go and entrenched themselves towards the bottom of the league standings.

Not long after general manager Ray Shero fired head coach John Hynes and named assistant coach Alain Nasreddine as the interim head coach, rumors of Hall being dealt picked up. After two healthy scratches in the following week, the deal was made on December 16, 2019. Hall (with 50% retained salary) and Blake Speers were traded to Arizona for Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr, Kevin Bahl, a lottery-protected first round pick in 2020, and a conditional third round pick in 2021 which can upgrade to a first rounder if Arizona wins a playoff series in 2020 and Hall re-signs with Arizona (if only one happens, it becomes a second rounder). Our original thoughts about the deal were here. It remains to be seen what the Devils will get out of this deal from Hall.

Shero would not find out. At least not as a member of the New Jersey Devils organization. Shero was fired hours before the Devils hosted Tampa Bay on January 12, 2020. Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald was named as interim general manager. It is not known how much or how little control has in this position. At the time when Shero was fired, Josh Harris made it clear that they were sick of losing. However, Fitzgerald and whoever else is helping to call the shots from Newark went in a different direction.

On February 16, the Devils made two significant trades that indicate that the team is rebuilding again. Hours before the team would play Columbus, the Devils sent defenseman and team captain Andy Greene to the New York Islanders in exchange for a second round pick in 2021 and minor league defenseman David Quenneville. Greene waived his no trade clause and the Devils picked up a future pick in the top-60 of 2021’s draft for a 37-year old with an expiring contract. It is a good return and far more than I expected. Quenneville, who has split time between Bridgeport in the AHL and Worcester of the ECHL was thrown in to help keep the Isles below the 50-contract limit. Greene was one of two players who have played through the entire 2010s with New Jersey. At least his season could have one more appearance in the postseason and he will not be going far to have it. May he have a fine reception at the Rock when he plays the Devils on March 21.

Right before the Devils-Columbus game, winger, shot-machine and pickle-juice salesman Blake Coleman was announced to be held out of the game for “precautionary reasons.” After some confusion as to whether he was going to Colorado, a move was indeed made for Coleman. New Jersey traded Coleman to Tampa Bay for Nolan Foote and Vancouver’s conditional first rounder in 2020. I will miss Coleman because he was a joy to watch, very useful in both ends of the rink for the Devils, and an elite penalty killer who has become one of the most prolific shooters in the NHL this season. He may not get the prime minutes in Tampa Bay that he did receive in New Jersey but he has an opportunity to do great things on a loaded team. A penalty kill with Anthony Cirelli and Coleman up front is likely to be dangerous to levels we have not seen in the NHL. As for the return, the Devils did quite well here too. Foote is a big 19-year old left winger with a great shot, solid hands, and improving skating. He was one of Tampa Bay’s better prospects. Vancouver’s conditional first adds to the Devils’ potential pool of picks in 2020. If you want it to be a 2020 first rounder, then you want Vancouver to make the playoffs. That is the condition. If Vancouver misses, then the first rounder moves to 2021. Depending on where that pick is, who is picked there, and how that player and Foote develops, it is possible that Coleman’s trade could yield more than Hall’s trade in the future. That is int he future. In the short term, I hope he does not torch the Devils too badly on March 15, when the Devils visit the Lightning.

The Coleman trade definitely represents a team that is looking to rebuild. The following comments from interim GM Tom Fitzgerald confirm this, as tweeted by Abbey Mastracco of The Record:

From that standpoint, the Devils turned Hall, Greene, and Coleman into two additional conditional first round picks in 2020, a conditional third rounder in 2021, a second rounder in 2021, Kevin Bahl, Nolan Foote, Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr, and David Quenneville. These are trades that rebuilding teams make. They turn known assets that they may not be able to keep for long or will not be valuable players in the future into future assets such as prospects and picks. In addition to what was exchanged, the Devils have established a direction for this trade deadline. They will be sellers.

The Salary Cap Situation

According to CapFriendly, the New Jersey Devils have 44 contracts on the books for a cap hit of roughly $73.5 million. This means they have about $7.96 million in cap space, which is the second most in the NHL. Even with Cory Schneider’s contract buried in the AHL, P.K. Subban’s exorbitant $9 million cap hit, and Travis Zajac’s $5.75 million cap hit, the Devils still have an incredible amount of cap space available for this season. The same applies for the 2020 offseason; while they have a lot of spaces to fill in their roster, they will have at least $28.1 million to play with. They can absolutely utilize their cap space to their advantage if they are shrewd enough. They will need to just to fill in the new holes on the roster made by these deals and future ones over the next week. But if they want to “weaponize” their cap space and get an additional asset or two by eating a bad contract, then that is an option as well.

The team is also owned by very rich owners. If the Devils need to retain salary to make a trade possible, then they can do so. They have retained 50% of Hall’s salary so I do not think the Devils will be so eager to add to that. But it is another arrow in their proverbial quiver for this upcoming trade deadline.

To paraphrase a legend, don’t worry about New Jersey’s cap.

The Draft Pick Situation

What the Devils cannot really afford to move are draft picks in the short term. They have their first rounder for this year. That should be just about untouchable since it is very likely to be at top-ten pick and quite possibly a top-five pick. If there are any first round picks to move, then it is more likely to be the conditional firsts from Arizona and Vancouver that the team acquired this season. I think they would be moved right before or even during the 2020 NHL Draft since it remains to be seen where those picks will even end up in the draft order and what the Devils plan to obtain in this year’s draft. They can be packaged to move up into what could be a tantalizing top-ten. They can be moved down for additional picks in the second round, something the Devils do not currently have for 2020. They can be dealt for a player to help right away in 2020-21. There are a lot of options. But I do not think they will come into play by next week due to their conditional nature.

The conditions are important. Vancouver’s condition is that they make the playoffs. If they do, then it is a 2020 first rounder. If they do not, then it becomes a 2021 first rounder. Arizona’s condition is simply lottery protection. The Devils will get Arizona’s first round pick in 2020 unless they win one of the three lotteries. If they do, then the pick becomes an unprotected first rounder in 2021. If you want the Devils to have three first round picks this year, then you should hope for Arizona to either make the playoffs or not win a lottery and Vancouver to barely make the playoffs and get bounced in the first round. That would be the best case scenario. Should Arizona win a lottery and/or Vancouver miss the postseason, then that leaves the Devils with just their own first rounder. Without knowing where they will end up, it is best for New Jersey to wait.

Beyond the first round, the Devils have filled in a couple of the gaps in their draft order for the next two years with their moves so far. The Greene trade gives the Devils a 2021 second round pick. They traded their own last Summer in the deal that brought Nikita Gusev to New Jersey. There could be another pick to add to that. The conditional third round pick from Arizona for 2021 could be upgraded to a second round pick if Arizona wins a playoff series or Hall re-signs with Arizona. (If both happens, it becomes a first rounder.) We shall see if the Devils are able to add a second rounder for 2020 or a third rounder in 2020 to offset those gaps. They are not priorities since the Devils do have potentially three first round picks in 2020. But they would be nice assets to have in addition to New Jersey’s, Arizona’s, and Vancouver’s first round picks.

The Team’s Needs

The Devils currently need a general manager and a head coach, ideally with their own coaching staff. The Devils cannot get either at the trade deadline.

In terms of talent, the only position that seems really set is half of the goaltending tandem (MacKenzie Blackwood) and center. Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Pavel Zacha are a young trio that anchors the middle of the team. Any GM worth their salt should be able to build a forward group based around Hischier and Hughes. Travis Zajac is your helpful veteran to help make it work. He will stay for now. Fitzgerald made it clear after the Columbus game that Zajac will not be traded, as tweeted here by Amanda Stein. From the player’s side, Mastracco tweeted that Zajac stated he wants to stay and will not waive his no-trade clause. So center is not an issue.

Outside of that, there are a lot of holes to fill. The team needs to find a very talented left winger to make up for some of the gap formed by Hall being traded. With Coleman now a member of the Lightning, the Devils need a second-line caliber winger as well as someone who can kill penalties well. The latter may be addressed from within. The former, not so much at the moment. While the Devils still have Kyle Palmieri, Jesper Bratt, and Nikita Gusev, the wings get thin in terms of quality and production after them. Whatever you get is based on whatever you are getting that night out of Miles Wood, Wayne Simmonds, and the fourths - who have all been routinely picked on this season with the exception of Joey Anderson and Nick Merkley.

The defensemen could definitely use an upgrade, especially on the left side since they literally have no answer for how to fill Greene’s minutes. The coaching staff does not seem to want to give more minutes to Will Butcher as their initial response to the deal was to move Mirco Mueller up on the depth chart. Mueller is definitely not able to be an effective defenseman for significant minutes. It is a question whether he is with third-pairing minutes. Regardless, the Devils have a big hole on the left side of their defense. If (or when) Vatanen gets dealt, then some depth on the right side becomes more important since Connor Carrick or Mirco Mueller playing on his off-hand are definitely not answers there. At least the power play can continue to feature Damon Severson and P.K. Subban without Vatanen around, for better or worse.

The horrid goaltending play by goalies not named Blackwood means that the Devils need a #1A/#2 goaltender. This may be something to address in the offseason but it is a need that is glaring right now.

The Devils are like a lot of bad teams in recent memory. They have some players worth keeping onto for a while, but there is a ton of room for improvement. I know the fans are tired of rebuilding. I am. However, the Devils are currently 28th in a 31-team league. Few players are truly untouchable and there are plenty of needs. With the Greene and Coleman trades made yesterday, it appears part of the answer to those needs are picks and prospects. That is possibly good for the long-term future. Less so for the near-future.

The Players with Expiring Contracts Who Are Pending UFAs

With Hall traded, the Devils’ list of pending unrestricted free agents lost plenty of luster. Defenseman Sami Vatanen has been talked up as a potentially popular player to be moved by February 24. He is 28, he is a right-handed defenseman, and he has a two-way skillset. He may not be the one to lead a team’s defense, but he can fit into a lot of top-fours on several team’s bluelines. Unfortunately, he has been injured weeks ago. A blocked shot led to an right leg injury and Vatanen was placed on injured reserve retroactive to February 1. While he can be activated at any time, not being able to show he is 100% on the ice and can play a game may crater his value. I do not want the Devils to rush Vatanen back. If he is not able to play, then he should not. But if he can, then the Devils will have another notable trade chip in their pile.

I ranked all of the Devils’ players by how I saw their trade value last month. I am not going to re-rank all of them. And I do recognize that my rankings are just my opinion. How much a player is traded for and how much interest a player draws is all up to the other 30 franchises in the NHL. They set the cost of doing business and whether business is even possible. Just because you and I see value in, say, Wayne Simmonds being moved, it really only matters if the general managers of other teams want him and the Devils are willing to move him for what they are offered. That stated, even with the lack of clear direction for the Devils, the players who have expiring contracts and will become unrestricted free agents this summer are more likely to be moved than others on the team (even though most do not have much value). Here is a list of who they are and how their recent play has helped or hurt their cause. Age, position, 2019-20 salary and trade clause information comes from CapFriendly.

  • Sami Vatanen - RHD - Age: 28 - 2019-20 Salary: $4.5 million - Vatanen has been injured since the beginning of the month. A closer look at his numbers this season show a player who has not been all that and a bag of chips. Even if you agree that the Devils’ systems have made every defenseman worse than they are, Vatanen has never been a particularly great defender or attacker. It is all moot if he is not able to take to the ice in this coming week. If he can, he will benefit from being a RHD who is under 30 and available. Trade value has not changed assuming he gets activated this week. If he is not activated, the value drops like an anchor in the ocean.
  • Wayne Simmonds - RW - Age: 31 - 2019-20 Salary: $5 million - This has been a rough trip for the Wayne Train. Simmonds has had an awfully long goalless streak in a campaign that has seen him score just seven goals and contribute 16 assists. The big winger has made his money on the power play and he has just four PPGs and eight power play points on a team that really could use a power play contributor. In the run of play, the Devils have been decisively out-performed in 5-on-5, as per Natural Stat Trick, when Simmonds is on the ice this season. That all stated, one could believe that Simmonds was just not a good fit for the Devils. For his power play prowess as a pivot at the right point, the brilliant minds on the Devils coaching staff have moved him around and away from there multiple times. The lack of goals did include a long slump and, hey, Simmonds had two goals and four points in his last four games so he could be burgeoning. For someone who needs/wants a strong right winger for their third line, he is at least an option. I think Simmonds has increased his value a little bit in recent weeks given the recent production. But I do not think he would garner much.
  • Kevin Rooney - C - Age: 26 - 2019-20 Salary: $700,000 - I am not sure who would want Kevin Rooney. He has been one of the Devils’ worst in 5-on-5 this season on a Devils team who has been beaten a lot in 5-on-5 this season. Sure, he can help kill penalties but I would think most teams have a fourth-line caliber center making less than six figures that can do what Rooney does. He has been surprisingly productive since the All-Star Weekend with three goals and four assists, and he legitimately played well in his last two games. I struggle to think it will be enough to make teams want to offer much of anything for him. That said, he has been playing better recently, so any value Rooney may have in a trade was increased a little bit in recent weeks. I still do not think it is much of anything.
  • Louis Domingue - G - Age: 27 - 2019-20 Salary: $1.15 million - According to NHL.com, Domingue has made four appearances and posted up an overall save percentage of 86.9% since the All-Star Weekend. That percentage breaks down to 86.1% at even strength and 85.7% on penalty kills. At least he gave up no shorthanded goals. Still, that is terrible. Enough to decrease whatever little trade value Domingue may have. Which may be none since he was acquired by New Jersey for a conditional seventh rounder in next year’s draft.
  • Ben Street - C - Age: 33 - 2019-20 Salary: $750,000 (NHL), $425,000 (AHL) - Street is a minor league player. He was called up in early January, played in three games, got hurt, and then returned to Binghamton after he was cleared to play. There was and is next to no value for NJ here.

The only other UFA is Brian Strait. As he was placed on season opening injured reserve, he is not an option to be dealt.

Out of this group, only Vatanen and Simmonds are players I can see other teams wanting to make a deal for their services. Rooney, Domingue, and Street have little value. Since Vatanen is currently on IR, it is possible that the only pending UFA who will be moved is Simmonds. I understand that he may not want to be dealt but this is not up to him. This also may mean the trade deadline may not be so active for the Devils. And before you gripe about that, consider that for the Devils to be more active, they may need to move someone you may not want them to move.

The Words on the Street So Far

Before jumping into what has been rumored so far for the Devils, here is an annual reminder to be careful about hockey news and rumors online. Rumors are just that: rumors. They are not a guarantee that something is or is not happening. Try not to get too excited and/or worked up because a Devils scout is at a game somewhere or chatter picks up about a player. Most of all, do not waste your time with people who are not actually insiders or act as if they have inside information when they do not. Do not give them the attention they seek. Stick to people who know things like Bob McKenzie, Pierre LeBrun, Darren Dreger, Renaud Lavoie, Elliotte Friedman, David Pagnotta, Corey Masisak, Craig Custance, beat writers on other teams, and even the local beat writers Abbey Mastracco and Chris Ryan. When the news happens, then it will happen.

Here are the notable news and rumors to know so far:

  • Wayne Simmonds apparently has interest from Vancouver. Pierre LeBrun reported that in The Athletic and Chris Ryan at NJ.com reported on it back on February 7. This has been brought up again a few days ago in TSN’s recent Insider Trading segment with Dreger and McKenzie. If it was just the initial report in early February, then one could just wave it away. That it was revived recently suggests to me that there could be a fire to this smoke. We shall see.
  • Speaking of that Insider Trading segment, Dreger specifically mentioned Kyle Palmieri and Blake Coleman as Devils who are drawing a lot of interest. Dreger highlighted Coleman’s extremely favorable contract and the fact he could fit on any team. Clearly, that did happen as Tampa Bay made a deal that the Devils management were willing to accept. Palmieri’s name is still out there though.
  • Ryan reported on another report from LeBrun two days ago involving a former Devil. Ryan reported from LeBrun that Arizona has no intention on dealing Taylor Hall. The interesting bit is that apparently Hall and Arizona will not discuss a contract extension until after the season. One of the 2021 pick’s condition is whether Hall re-signs with Arizona. The other is whether they win a playoff round in 2020. Those conditions are still in play regardless of whether Hall is a Coyote or not. But I see that the lack of discussion about a new deal means I am not holding my breath about the 2021 pick meeting the re-signing condition.
  • According to Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column at Sportsnet from February 12, the Devils are still interested in making “hockey trades.” This suggests that the Devils are not just going to sell players for future assets. Friedman thinks they will go for younger players. While the Devils did get Nolan Foote as part of the return for Blake Coleman, both of their deals made yesterday were selling maneuvers. Not really “hockey trades.” Are those yet to come?
  • Again, after yesterday’s win over Columbus, Tom Fitzgerald stated that Zajac is not going anywhere as per this tweet by Stein.
  • Additionally, as per Stein, the team confirmed before the game that the team will not name a new captain for the remainder of 2019-20. That makes sense as the new head coach and new GM may have a say in who gets the ‘C.’

What Do You Think Will Happen by February 24?

When I first wrote this around noon yesterday, I did not know. Two trades later and I know better now. I expect more selling.

With Greene traded, I figure it is only a matter of time before Simmonds and Vatanen are moved. For Vatanen, he needs to get healthy enough to play so teams would actually offer something for him. For Simmonds, I think it depends on which teams need a veteran right winger who can chip in goals and help on the power play. Vancouver being linked to him in two separate reports makes me think it is possible. I think both will be gone by next Monday evening.

With Coleman traded, players with contracts going beyond 2019-20 are absolutely on the table. We already know Zajac is not going anywhere. Since Fitzgerald specifically named Blackwood, Hischier, and Hughes as players to build around, you can consider them to be untouchable. Everyone else may have a price. If Coleman was moved for a (very good) return, then who can really be called untouchable? I already called out the possibility that Miles Wood will not end his current contract as a Devil back when we all expected 2019-20 to be a good season. Maybe that is on the table. Of course, I think it is more likely that Palmieri’s name garners a lot more interest and I do not quite know how to feel about it.

Personally, I do not really want Palmieri traded. The team would become super weak at right wing. They would lose a shooter - a kind of player they do not have enough of, now that Coleman is now a Bolt. Palmieri is very much a contributor and definitely has plenty in the tank. It also helps that he is popular and the Devils kind of need to be kind to the fans after they got dealt a raw deal with the 2019-20 season. That all stated, if a team comes and offers something like what Pittsburgh sent to Minnesota last week to acquire Jason Zucker or what Tampa Bay gave for Coleman, then the Devils need to at least consider the deal. That Zucker deal may be a good template. Pittsburgh sent Minnesota a NHL player (Alex Galchenyuk), one of their better prospects (Calen Addison), and a conditional first round pick in 2020. As Todd Cordell noted a few days ago on Twitter, Coleman and Palmieri compare well to Zucker. My own reaction is that it seems like a lot for Zucker, but the Pens did get the better player in the deal and he is locked up for another three seasons. While I may not personally like it, it would be more in line with the rebuilding that Fitzgerald as already embarked on for the next GM (or himself if he gets the job). But that would require a team to be willing to make that offer.

The team is on pace to finish in the bottom five for a second straight season, and they have an interim GM and an interim head coach. Despite Harris’ past statement about being tired about losing after Shero was fired, I do not see how the Devils can get that much better from where they are in a short amount of time. As much as I believe the coaching staff has undercut the talent and capabilities of the 2019-20 Devils, I do not think a quality coaching staff would guarantee a playoff spot. If this was another team that I did not follow closely or love like the Devils, then I would agree with a rebuilding effort. But a part of me questions if this is the right path before they get new people in management. Tom Fitzgerald may have good ideas that I may even like. However, if he is not in ownership’s plans for the future, then does it really make sense for him to make any moves that could impact the team? Much less just selling players for mostly future assets? I am not sure.

But we cannot un-spill the milk. Hall was traded by Shero already. Greene was dealt. Coleman was dealt. We know Zajac was at least approached and will not be dealt. But most of the Devils organization is a possibility to be moved. I now expect more moves to be made by next Monday. I would not expect Simmonds or Vatanen (if healthy) to be on the team’s road trip next week. We can only wait and see as to what the moves will actually be. Gerard boldly made some predictions last Thursday. I do not think he even saw this coming. I know I did not.

Your Take

The 2020 NHL Trade Deadline is a week away from today. What would you do if you were involved in these decisions? Who do you think will be dealt now that Greene and Coleman have been dealt? What do you think the pending UFAs may get in a trade? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the upcoming 2020 NHL Trade Deadline and what the Devils may and/or should do in the comments. Thank you for reading.