Today at All About the Jersey, I will attempt to provide a 6th modest trade target that the New Jersey Devils could look to acquire this offseason. Four of the five writers before me targeted defensemen, and for those of you who were looking for a different approach today, you’re sadly going to be disappointed. I agree with the other writers that if a trade is going to be made, going for a defender is the way to go. The Devils will undoubtedly be using their own first round pick on a forward, and there is a pretty good chance that they take forwards with the other first round picks they might get from Arizona and Vancouver. In that case, I think a defender has to be a target, given that the blue line is also a huge area of need on this team both in the short and long term.
While the other writers all had some pretty good options for decent trade targets for defenders from cap-strapped teams, I did some digging and found one more, although arguably this would be the one of the five that would cost the most to acquire.
The Target: Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott
Suggested Modest Trade Proposal: Defenseman Travis Dermott for forward Michael McLeod, NJ’s 2020 4th rounder, and a 2021 2nd rounder
Why Toronto Should Consider Such a Deal: Toronto has three of its top 6 defenders from this season on expiring contracts. While Dermott looks to have a quality future ahead of him, he is still the low man on that totem pole. The other two are Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie. Ceci is coming off a one year deal where he made $4.5 million, and at 26 years old, can still develop more. He only had 8 points on the season, but had a positive Corsi (if a negative relative one), and was leaned on heavily on the penalty kill. I would bet Toronto wants to keep him. I would also bet that for Barrie, and in fact, am even more confident they keep the former Colorado defender. The man had 39 points in 70 games this year, and teams do not just regularly let defenders who can produce that much offense just walk, almost regardless of any more advanced numbers.
That leaves Dermott. While Toronto would surely want to keep all three, their cap situation probably does not allow it. I linked to the team’s page at Cap Friendly up in the last paragraph, and they have the Leafs projected for only $4.5 million in cap space next year. As I just said, Ceci is coming off a season with a $4.5 million cap hit by himself and isn’t looking at a pay decrease. Barrie, at 29 years old, is coming off a season with a $5.5 million cap hit and probably will get a similar AAV in his next deal. I already wonder how the team plans to keep both of those defenders with their cap situation, nevermind also bringing back Dermott who is coming off his ELC and is due for a surefire pay raise. In my mind, they cannot. Something has to give. And in this scenario, the give is that they decide to trade Dermott to the Devils.
Why Toronto May Consider Moving Dermott: I think the most persuasive argument is the one I just made in the last section. Of the three defenders on expiring deals, Dermott is the least important. That is not to say he is bad; if he were, I would not look to trade for him as an armchair GM. He just is not the other two, who are truly established d-men. Barrie is the offensive threat, and one that Dermott will most likely never duplicate. He did very well this season with 14 points in 56 games, but it doesn’t compare to Barrie’s 39. Barrie is also Toronto’s power play quarterback, with over 190 PP minutes in the regular season, while Dermott had only 3 minutes and 45 seconds of PP time. You might think it impressive that Dermott got 14 points despite not playing on the PP. So do I. But his usage let’s you know who Toronto values more, and that is most certainly Barrie. It also helps Barrie that his 5v5 relative Corsi is positive, while Dermott’s is not.
Similarly, usage also tells you that the Leafs value Ceci more than Dermott too. Instead of looking at the PP, however, this time we look at the PK, the stats for which I linked to above. Ceci had 160 minutes on the PK, more than any defender, while Dermott was at 65 minutes. Toronto obviously trusted Dermott way more on the PK than PP, but still, Dermott had the 5th most PK minutes among the Toronto defense during the regular season, nothing to write home about. Now, Dermott’s relative Corsi at 5v5 was better than Ceci’s, but Dermott was more sheltered in his offensive zone faceoff and start percentages. Meanwhile, Ceci averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per game, while Dermott was at only 17 minutes. That tells you that when it comes down to it, Ceci should be the target for a new contract before Dermott. Of course, this is all not to even mention that Toronto traded for Ceci only an offseason ago. Teams regularly do not trade for someone then let them walk a year later unless they were on a rental deal, which Ceci was not.
Why NJ May Want Dermott: The Devils need everything. Forwards, defense, a backup goaltender. Yet in the upcoming draft, namely the first round, it is likely they will be targeting forwards much more than defense, taking one with their own first rounder, and perhaps with the other two picks they may end up with (they’re getting at least one now for sure as of when I am writing this). That will mean way more offense in the pipeline. At this point, Ty Smith will be in the NHL soon. Behind him, however, there isn’t much to make you crazy excited. This means that adding more defense through trades is a good decision.
This is doubly true if they can add a 23 year old coming off an ELC with upside. That is who Dermott is. He has over 150 games of regular season experience under his belt now, plus some playoff experience too, at least 17 games worth. That is nothing to scoff at, certainly given that the Devils could really use that. This is a team looking to build a strong core with young talent that could keep NJ competitive for a decade. Dermott could be a part of that. He is young, can be around a while, but also has some quality experience to impart on the team. He puts up some offense, plays some on the PK, and had a perfectly neutral 50% Corsi this season. It was negative relative to his team, but put anyone at 50% on New Jersey and they are definitely helping the team’s possession game. He would instantly slot in as a second pairing defender next season.
On a quick note, he produced the least CF on the Toronto blue line, but given who they have, it isn’t a major knock against him. He was solid defensively, better at preventing attempts against than most of his defensive teammates. I would definitely accept him with open arms in NJ. Check out the chart from Sean Tierney:
Why NJ May Be Willing to Part With McLeod and picks for Dermott: There have been high hopes around Michael McLeod ever since he was drafted 12th overall in 2016. But sadly, he has not shown the growth we all expected and hoped to see. Four seasons after he was drafted, he has still not earned regular playing time in the NHL despite his high draft position. He has 33 NHL games under his belt across two seasons, with 0 goals and 5 assists to show for it. His transition from the OHL to the AHL was not terrible, putting up 33 points in 55 games for Binghamton last season, but again, only 6 of those were goals. And he really did not grow this year either, at least in terms of offense, with 23 points in 47 AHL games this year. From a former first rounder, at 22 years old, that just isn’t cutting it. Perhaps he needs a change of scenery, new coaches to get more out of him and develop him into the NHL talent that NJ scouts saw when drafting him in 2016.
Further, the Devils have two fourth rounders this year, so giving away one isn’t the worst. And to get someone of Dermott’s caliber, a 2nd has to be in the cards. Fitzgerald has to do that.
Why Toronto Would Consider This Return: First, it provides just compensation for a player they are going to have some real difficulty keeping given their cap situation. This alone makes it worth it for them to consider.
Beyond that, however, it works for their current needs. They cannot bring on a contract that would eat into their cap space for next year. With McLeod being on his ELC through the end of next year, and being waivers exempt, they could keep him in the AHL for the season and not have him eat into their cap. Beyond that, they have to like the prospect of getting their hands on a former top 12 draft pick who is younger than the player they are giving up. Dermott was a second rounder, and in that sense, they are trading up a little bit by getting a first rounder in return. If the coaching staff sees potential in McLeod still, and they feel they could draw it out better than the NJ coaches have been able to do, then they should salivate over this. They could get someone with first round talent, along with draft picks, while at the same time giving away the worst of the 3 defenders they need to sign despite having minimal cap space. It checks a lot of boxes in that sense.
Of course, that all relies on the belief that the coaching staff in Toronto sees something in McLeod that they can develop. Of course, they might not. You might want to insert Nathan Bastian instead of McLeod if you think Toronto would prefer him. Or maybe they want a defender in the system instead, and the Devils offer up Nikita Okhotyuk or Kevin Bahl. I feel any of those guys are interchangeable with McLeod. I just went with him because he is a former first rounder, and in that sense could be more appealing to a Toronto coaching staff that believes they could develop his game better.
Then, they are also getting two picks in the deal, one they could use immediately this year, and an even better one next year. For them, they could end up giving away a player in Dermott that they would have real difficulty retaining anyway for 3 players who could make an impact in the future. Or, they could then turn around and deal those two picks, or one of them, for something else. It gives Toronto a lot more flexibility than they currently have, and for that alone, they should consider the deal.
Ramifications of This Deal: For Toronto, it gives them the ability to focus solely on re-signing Ceci and Barrie. They still might have some trouble with that given the projected cap space they have, but it makes it more manageable now rather than having to also worry about Dermott’s new deal. It does weaken their blue line for next year, and for a team looking to win now that is not ideal, but perhaps they have someone in the wings they believe can plug in there. Even without Dermott, I see a blue line in 2020-2021 consisting of Ceci, Barrie, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, Justin Holl and Rasmus Sandin. That is nothing to scoff at, at all. They will compete next year, and most likely for years to come.
For the Devils, it provides the team with a second pairing guy with upside, and gives the blue line some desperately needed depth. They would need to sign him, but that would be no problem given the team’s cap space. Will Butcher netted a contract with a $3.73 AAV last offseason, and while Dermott might not get that much, the team should look to give him a solid RFA deal that would keep him around a little while. Since we’ve talked about him a bunch, Barrie got two years at $2.6 AAV after his ELC expired in Colorado. That would be good for Dermott too, especially if Fitzgerald wants him to remain a RFA after this deal. Otherwise, go 5 years and lock up some of his UFA seasons.
If that happens, then you are looking at a blue line in 2020-21 consisting of Damon Severson, P.K. Subban, Butcher, Dermott, Ty Smith, and then a smattering of Connor Carrick, perhaps Mirco Mueller, or whoever else. Not nearly as bad as before the deal.
Your Thoughts: Now that you’ve heard my modest proposal, what do you think of the idea of trying to bring in Travis Dermott? Does he seem like the type of player the Devils should be looking to trade for in the offseason, or are you looking for someone else? What do you think about Dermott as a player and as a potential fit in New Jersey? What do you think about the offer I propose for Dermott? Is it too much? Not enough? What would you offer Toronto for him? In the end, do you see this as a modest trade proposal, or unreasonable? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading!