Happy Thanksgiving. If you have been connected to the world of the New Jersey Devils today, then you already know this. If not, then this is news. Nathan Bastian is back. Bastian was placed on waivers by Seattle on Wednesday. After many of the People Who Matter clamored, hoped, wished, prayed, and wanted to see a return, it happened. The Devils claimed Bastian from waivers. What is more is that he will be available as early as tomorrow for the game in Nashville. To make roster space for the move, Jesper Boqvist was placed on injured reserve retroactive to November 18 (last week).
Is this a good move? Yes. It is a very good move by GM Tom Fitzgerald, in my opinion. The Devils have tried a myriad of options among the bottom six forwards at right wing. This has included the then-cold Yegor Sharangovich, the now-promoted Tomas Tatar, the currently-in-Utica Marian Studenic, the also-currently-in-Utica Alexander Holtz (who did get a spell in the top six), the currently-injured Tyce Thompson, the perhaps-soon-to-be-demoted Fabian Zetterlund, and Jimmy Vesey on his offwing. No one has really stuck to make the position their own. Bastian can step right in and fill the role he served last season. By becoming a regular again, that would absolutely justify his waiver claim by the Devils.
This is an especially good move for Michael McLeod. Sure, he has been excellent at faceoffs, but less so at everything else in hockey this season. According to Natural Stat Trick, McLeod’s on-ice rates in 5-on-5 hockey last season were tolerable with Bastian (and Miles Wood). Those on-ice rates became horrendous without Bastian - a drop from ~48% CF% together to ~33%! - which became a reality as Bastian missed significant time in 2021 due to injury. McLeod’s on-ice rates for this season are a bit better in some spots (47.7% CF% compared to 46.5% CF% last season; 50.3% SCF% compared to 49.3% last season) and worse in others (xGF% has dropped from 49.3% to 45.4%). It certainly would not hurt if Bastian also helps set up McLeod here and there as McLeod is sitting on zero goals and two assists for the season. (Aside: His ixG of 1.62 suggests a goal or two is not unreasonable to expect.) In short, it has not been a good season for McLeod outside of faceoffs. Thus, someone to boost him is appreciated. Bastian and McLeod are real-life Super Buddies; and there was a real, positive connection on the ice between the two in 2021’s campaign. If Bastian can help stabilize McLeod’s line and be more positive in the run of play, then both McLeod and the Devils will benefit. I think it can happen. And perhaps soon. I do not think it will take long for Bastian to acclimate since the coaching staff is about the same group he dealt with last season.
Plus, we cannot ignore the large, unproductive in any sense elephant on the roster in Mason Geertsen. Bastian is 6’4” and weighs officially at 205 pounds. He has a reputation of being Tough and Character and Grit and being liked by Ken Daneyko. More seriously, those who want someone on the Devils to be physical has that in Bastian, who can actually play the game of hockey at the NHL level. This claim should keep head coach Lindy Ruff from giving Geertsen future games for the moment. To Ruff’s credit, Geertsen has not seen the ice since his do-little performance against Our Hated Rivals on November 14. Bastian’s addition should really lock Geertsen out. That is another benefit from this claim.
If there is a downside for New Jersey, then it is for those fringe players like Studenic, Zetterlund, and Thompson or burgeoning prospects like Holtz. Bastian should and likely will step into the Devils lineup right away. This means fewer opportunities for forwards deeper on the depth chart. To be fair, several of them did get a chance this season. I do not think Bastian gets claimed if one or two of them performed well enough to stay in the New Jersey lineup. But his addition means fewer shots in the NHL at the moment. That stated, there are worse fates than going to play on a hot Utica team. And the Devils have already shown a willingness to reward good performances as evidenced by their callups of Holtz, Boqvist, Zetterlund, and, most recently, Chase De Leo. There could very well be future opportunities pending any injuries or transactions later in the 2021-22 campaign. However, for now, Bastian should be penciled in to be a regular at forward on this team.
By the way, I also think this is a bad move for Seattle. This is now the third player whom they have taken in the expansion draft that has been picked up by their original team on waivers for the price of nothing to Seattle. I know that Bastian was not expected to be a needle mover on the Kraken. I know he did not make Philipp Grubauer turn into a sieve. Still, this is bad asset management by the Kraken - who are still paying for their lackluster expansion draft choices. To summarize: Seattle passed up on other Devils (e.g. Andreas Johnsson) for Bastian, took a bunch of forwards who played like Bastian, found out that they did not need a bunch of the same kind of player, and then placed Bastian to essentially be free for 31 other teams - only for the Devils to basically re-take their player. Sure, the Kraken may not miss Bastian in particular, but it does highlight the initial shortcomings of how GM Ron Francis and his staff put their first roster together. Oh well. Their loss is New Jersey’s gain.
Many Devils fans online were ecstatic at the announcement of Bastian being claimed on waivers. And I agree with their excitement. It is a smart pick up. It can help the team overall, especially for Michael McLeod. It fills in a gap in the roster that the Devils tried multiple options at and have yet to be satisfied. Bastian can immediately step into the roster and be a regular due to his past experience with the team and his skillset. The Devils have plenty to gain and little to lose with this transaction. I hope it works out for the best for all involved.
What do you think of the Devils claiming Bastian off of waivers? Do you also think it is a great move? Is there any reason to think it was not or it could go awry? Please leave your reactions and other thoughts about Bastian in the comments. Thank you for reading.