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Modest Trade Proposals for the New Jersey Devils: Targeting Vince Dunn

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Continuing this week’s series, we turn our focus to a cap strapped St. Louis Blues team with our eyes on adding defenseman Vince Dunn to the New Jersey Devils. As Dunn is an RFA, it will be difficult if not impossible for the Blues to keep both him and UFA Alex Pietrangelo. We look today at a deal that could help both teams out.

St Louis Blues v New Jersey Devils
If the Devils do acquire Vince Dunn, either he or MacKenzie Blackwood is getting a new jersey number.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

We continue our week-long look at potential, realistic trade targets here at All About the Jersey today with perhaps a loftier target. I’m going to be looking at Vince Dunn currently of the St. Louis Blues; he falls into some of the same categories that we have already seen with others this week, being an RFA on a team that will be in a cap crunch next season. Additionally, he has found himself already an NHL regular at 23 (24 by the start of next season) and he plays the left side, an area of high need for our New Jersey Devils.

The Target: Vince Dunn, St. Louis LHD

The Suggested Modest Trade Proposal: D Vince Dunn + one of C Tyler Bozak/F Alexander Steen to New Jersey in exchange for a Conditional 2020 1st Round Draft Pick* and LW Mikhail Maltsev

*Conditions:

  • If Vancouver makes the playoffs, the Blues receive their 2020 first round pick
  • If Vancouver’s pick defers until 2021, St. Louis receives the latest of the Devils 2021 first round picks (their own, Vancouver’s, or Arizona’s if it also defers to 2021). All picks in this scenario would be Top-3 protected.

The pick protection for the latter part of the condition would only be included in case New Jersey, Vancouver and Arizona all missed the 2021 playoffs and somehow those three picks won all three lottery slots. In that extremely unlikely situation, St. Louis would receive the Devils’ 2022 unprotected first round choice.

I didn’t want to include a contract coming from St. Louis, but trading just for Dunn does nothing to alleviate the salary cap issues St. Louis faces in an attempt to re-sign their captain Alex Pietrangelo. While the Devils could attempt to offer sheet Dunn, they also could instead simply try to pry him away by helping the Blues clear some cap at the same time. Bozak or Steen would only be on the books for one season in Jersey, but it provides the Blues with more cap space than buying out either player would.

Why the Blues May Consider Moving Dunn

If the Blues convince Dunn to sign a bridge deal, and decide to move on from Pietrangelo, this whole hypothetical trade becomes a moot point, as buying out one of Bozak/Steen gives them enough space for that type of deal. Let’s first assume for this article that St. Louis is intent on bringing their captain back; that allows us to move into why they might move Dunn.

After making worthwhile moves to win the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup, the Blues now face an offseason where Dunn is due for a raise, and Pietrangelo is an unrestricted free agent who will probably be looking for more than the $6.5 million cap hit his current contract carries. Now, these are realistically the only two key pieces that the Blues will need to sign to new contracts this offseason. The only problem is that, according to CapFriendly, they only have only around $2 million to do so.

Let’s assume they choose to not bring back Jacob De La Rose and Troy Brouwer (RFA and UFA respectively); the Blues would have 13 forwards and 2 goalies on their roster, but still find themselves with that same $2 million of cap space needing a sixth defender and two players to serve as healthy scratches. More than likely there would be some paper transactions that could be done to secure enough space on the opening night roster for a cheap seventh D and 14th F, but no matter which of Dunn and Pietrangelo the Blues want to bring back, some salary is going to have to be moved out. Said salary comes in the form of the aforementioned forwards, but as both have NTCs (Bozak’s is modified), it will have to be whichever the Blues can move.

Why the Blues Should Entertain Such a Deal & Why They Would Consider This Return

The Blues will want assets back; offering them a first round choice in either this draft or the next will give them the opportunity to continue building their pipeline. While they do have a few prospects that could one day be in the NHL, they’re pretty bare at LW (more on that a little later) and could use the pick to

I know the condition I put on the pick may seem favorable to the Devils, and I agree it is. The Blues are in a bad crunch here, as they need to bring back at least one of their free agent defenders AND fill a slot or two on their opening night roster. I also don’t think that even a bridge deal sees Dunn sign for only $2 million per season, and the Blues will want to recoup as much value as they can. A pick that could wind up being anywhere from a mid to late first round choice would probably still be a better starting point than many other teams could offer.

The Blues gain more cap flexibility next offseason, but will need to re-sign other player such as Robert Thomas (who has a heck of a season for them) and probably won’t want to let all of their UFAs (particularly Jordan Binnington and Jaden Schwartz) go. The Blues are going to need to move on from someone either this offseason or next; a first and a player for Dunn and a bloated contract will help ease that loss, while also giving them a bit more flexibility a season sooner.

Speaking of the player, I think Mikhail Maltsev could be a useful winger for the Blues. A quick glance at St. Louis’ depth chart shows very few LW players not with the big club, and the AHLers under contract are either getting toward the age of being a career AHL player, have worse stats than Maltsev in more games, or (in one case) are an NCAA player who will be joining the team for the first time next season. Maltsev looked good in his first season adjusting on North American ice, and could be a useful Bottom 6 wing for St. Louis, due to his size and his ability.

It would be a bit of a gamble for St. Louis to get equal or greater value that Dunn brings from Maltsev and the first, but again, don’t forget that they would also be sending $5ish million of salary to New Jersey. While both still have some value (Bozak more so than Steen), said value is lower than their cost, which does help to justify the conditions on the first in terms of balancing the trade.

Why the Devils May Want Dunn

LHD is arguably (definitely?) the weakest spot on the Devils’ roster right now, and Dunn fits the bill of a player who could help to improve it. He is finishing his third NHL campaign and has shown himself to be a reliable defender who also chips in offensively. According to Natural Stat Trick, his SA/60 was better than any player on the Devils by over 3 shots per 60 minutes. Perhaps some of that is due to his teammates, but I would argue that his 55% CF indicates that he’s the one helping to drive play in the correct direction.

While Dunn wasn’t the most used player on the Blues back end (he averaged 14:08 per game), he does play on the same team as Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk (you’re going to use him when you’re paying him as much as the Blues are) and Marco Scandella post trade deadline. The Blues also had Jay Bouwmeester receiving more ice time than Dunn (18:18 per game) prior to the medical issues that have seemingly sadly ended Bouwmeester’s career.

While he fell low on the Blues depth chart, his underlying stats are way better than anything the Devils were trotting out on the ice last season. You can argue that it’s because he plays for a better team, or it’s because he was used in a reduced role. I would argue that it’s because he’s a better hockey player than most of the defensemen currently on New Jersey’s roster.

When you consider the current make-up of the Devils, the only real “lock” for the left side is Will Butcher. A young lefty who happens to fit in with the current Devils core would be the best type of acquisition this offseason. Even if they chose to give Dunn a Damon Severson-esque contract, it would be well worth the money to improve the Devils both next season and beyond.

Why the Devils Would Be Willing to Part With a First and Maltsev

Maltsev gives the Blues a player that aid a weak position in their system. He’s shown some flashes of great play, both in the preseason and in the AHL this season, and he could become a useful hand for a Blues team that is pretty top heavy with talent. The Devils, meanwhile, have Jesper Bratt, Nolan Foote, Miles Wood, Jesper Boqvist, and Janne Kuokkanen all (in my opinion) ahead of Maltsev on the left wing. If they Devils acquire Bozak in this deal, that would also shift Pavel Zacha to LW, putting another body ahead of Maltsev.

The first, again, would be a mid-late round choice with the conditions placed upon it. While not ideal for the Blues, the only other team that has the first round draft capital that the Devils have is Ottawa, who have #3, #5 and the Islanders’ pick, which would be roughly the same spot as the Vancouver pick depending upon how far those teams go in the playoff should they make it. The player selected here would be roughly two years away from the NHL; while that’s not a bad thing for the Devils they can afford to move a later selection if it brings them a proven NHL defender that still falls in the age group of the team’s core.

What Would Happen After This Deal

For St. Louis, they would retain their captain while ridding themselves of a player who is underachieving relative to their contract value; for the sake of this article, we’re going to assume they move Bozak, as his m-NTC is easier to get around than Steen’s full NTC. The Blues would more than likely still need to make a move to afford Pietrangelo, but removing $5 million from their cap would help.

Otherwise, the Blues would look much the same as they do now, just minus Dunn and Bozak; they would still have Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Robert Thomas down the middle, with Pietrangelo, Scandela, Parayko and Faulk comprising their Top 4. If they’re able to move Jake Allen in a separate deal, it gives them the necessary money to finish Pietrangelo’s contract while also filling out the remaining spots with players on ELCs or league minimum deals.

The Devils meanwhile, would be poised to continue making some changes; a $4.5-5 million per year deal for Dunn for 5-6 seasons would be the first step. Add in one season of Bozak ($5 million), and then factor the re-signing of MacKenzie Blackwood ($4 million per), Jesper Bratt ($3 million per season bridge deal) and Joey Anderson ($1 million) the Devils would still have over $7 million in cap space. At this point, they could go out and sign Brenden Dillon on a $5-6 million cap hit (even a bit more if there’s a bidding war for his services) with a slight amount of room to spare. Bozak and Zajac’s contracts would come off the cap next season (plus a Schneider buyout either this offseason or next) which would see the Devils gain back a chunk of cap space while having a much improved roster. The 2020-21 Devils could look something like:

Jesper Boqvist/Nolan Foote - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri

Jesper Bratt - Jack Hughes - Nikita Gusev

Pavel Zacha - Tyler Bozak - Janne Kuokkanen/Jesper Boqvist (if Foote makes the team)

Miles Wood - Travis Zajac - Joey Anderson

Brenden Dillon - Damon Severson

Vince Dunn - P.K. Subban

Will Butcher - Ty Smith

MacKenzie Blackwood

Cory Schneider/Free Agent (If Schneider is bought out)

Scratches: Kuokkannen/Boqvist (again if Foote makes the team), Michael McLeod, Connor Carrick, Dakota Mermis (third scratch if Foote does not make the team)

I don’t know about you, but I think that roster looks a lot better than the 2019-20 Devils did. The trade for Dunn and signing of Dillon could see either of those pairings playing top minutes, while also allowing Butcher and Smith to be played in a more sheltered role. Maybe it’s not a contending team, but it’ll be a heck of a lot more fun to watch.

Your Take

Perhaps Dunn is a lofty ambition as a trade target, but it could be the price the Blues have to pay to free up cap for Pietrangelo. Do you think Dunn is worth the discussed price, taking into consideration the contract acquired by the Devils? Is he a player that you want the Devils to target? Do you think he would be a good fit considering his style of play and his age fitting with New Jersey’s core? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!