Ahead of tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins and on the eve of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, the New Jersey Devils have been active with transactions. Nikita Gusev cleared unconditional waivers and signed with Florida for $1 million earlier today. The Goose is now officially an ex-Devil and a current Panther. Best of luck to him. Around noon, word got out - I saw it from The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun - that defenseman Sami Vatanen was placed on waivers (regular, not unconditional). Vatanen has been rather lackluster to put it kindly in his time in New Jersey. That he was placed on waivers suggests to me that he could not garner any interest from other teams despite a relatively cheap $2 million contract for this season. So he is being put up for availability to the league. Maybe someone will bite without having to give the Devils anything. If not, his time in New Jersey is all but over. But who will fill in on the blueline? Will Butcher? Connor Carrick? Matt Tennyson? Colton White? Josh Jacobs? Kevin Bahl? Nikita Okhotiuk?
The answer may actually be none of the above. The Devils, surprising me at least, acquired a player in a trade today. The Devils sent a conditional 2021 third round pick to the Washington Capitals for Swiss left-shooting defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler. Per the Devils’ news release on the trade, the pick’s condition is dependent on whether the Devils get Arizona’s third round pick from the Taylor Hall trade in 2021. If they do, then it goes to Washington. If they do not, then Washington gets New Jersey’s third rounder. Going back to the Hall trade, the condition was met for the third round pick per CapFriendly. Thus, Washington now owns Arizona’s third rounder for the pick. In other words, the haul from the Hall trade is now Kevin Bahl, Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr, Dawson Mercer (taken with Arizona’s first round pick in 2020), and Siegenthaler.
Siegenthaler was a victim of the numbers game in Washington. He has played limited minutes for them this season with just 10:47 TOI/GP in 5-on-5 play. He has only played in seven games for them this season too. Both are huge drop-offs from last season when he played in 64 regular season games and played in 12:11 TOI/GP in 5-on-5. Both are huge drop-offs from even his rookie season in 2018-19 when he played in 12:55 TOI/GP and 26 season games. He was a third-pairing regular last season. He has been a rarely used third-pairing defender this season. As he was on his second contract and it was expiring, he was someone the Caps would have to decide on protecting in the Seattle draft. Rather than risk losing the 23-year old defenseman for nothing, they snagged a third round pick for the former 2015 second round pick of the Capitals.
Is Siegenthaler any good? It is not clear. This is not someone who has played a whole lot in the NHL and certainly not in this season. His second NHL contract was for one-season at $800,000, so it was not like his ELC seasons impressed the Capitals management to a point where they needed to really lock him down. If you glance at his percentages in 5-on-5 for his seven games with the Capitals at Natural Stat Trick, you may cringe at seeing a 46.2% CF%, a SF% below 45%, an xGF% just above 45%, and SCF% and HDCF% values even lower than those. They do not look amazingly better in 2019-20 or 2018-19. However, a closer look shows the cause for those percentages being low: a total lack of offense. Some of the against rate stats for Siegenthaler actually ranked quite well on the Capitals. For example, the expected goals model at Natural Stat Trick really thought well of what happened to the Capitals when Siegenthaler took a shift. The Swiss defender had an xGA/60 of 1.73 in his rookie season, an xGA/60 of 2.13 last season, and an xGA/60 of 2.21 this season. While Siegenthaler did not play a lot of minutes and did not play a lot all this season, these values point to the reality that the opposition did not wreck the Capitals when he took a shift. The main issue was that the Capitals’ offense cratered when he did so it seemed like they were getting done in at 5-on-5. I do not know how much can or should be blamed on Siegenthaler. But the expected goals model suggests that Siegenthaler has done a good job defensively with his limited usage.
I do know that relying him on offense would be a fool’s game. The young man has 64 shots on net out of 161 shooting attempts in 94 games. To put it another way, he has averaged 1.7 attempts per game and 0.68 shots per game. His combined individual expected goal (how many goals Siegenthaler would have scored based on his own shots’ expected goal value) amount is a combined 2.67. He has 2 actual goals in his whole career and both were scored last season. He has taken 25 non-major penalties in his career and drew 18 total. This is not a defenseman that should be looked at to provide offense. Siegenthaler is only going to provide on defense.
Corroborating that would be this heatmap that the MATLAB maestro, Dr. Micah Blake McCurdy of HockeyViz, put out in response to the deal on Twitter:
Jonas Siegenthaler (to New Jersey for a third) is a shutdown defender. pic.twitter.com/Qu6MPBqxLh— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 11, 2021
It is hard to be thrilled for the acquisition of a third-pairing defenseman. The cynic may see a 6’3”, 210 pound Swiss defenseman who has provided limited value in limited situations as another Mirco Mueller, who was 6’3”, about 210 pounds, Swiss, and was bad when used beyond specific uses. But I think these are the kinds of flyers the Devils should be trying to take. Vatanen being waived opened up a spot on the defense. As Binghamton’s defense has been generously porous this season, I am not confident in giving Bahl, Okhotiuk, Tennyson, White, Jacobs, or others minutes in the NHL. The Devils made this deal in part so they do not need to use Butcher or Carrick, so this confirms that they are on the outside looking in. Siegenthaler will get a chance to show what he can do and have a chance at playing more than just 10 minutes at 5-on-5 hockey every few weeks. He’ll get the opportunities; it is up to him to keep getting them and he will have incentive to do so as his cheap contract expires this season. If he fits and can make at least a couple fewer mistakes on defense than Vatanen, then it is already an upgrade. And losing Arizona’s third rounder for this year is not a big loss to begin with should this not work out. Ultimately, I like it for the minor move that it is.
I am still a little surprised that the Devils would add anyone by the deadline. I do think it is good business to take advantage of Washington’s impending Seattle situation. I would not mind it if Fitzgerald does seek to make some other moves like this. As much as the Devils are still mired in the re-build, part of getting through that successfully means bringing in players to bring in players to possibly help the team immediately instead of just getting picks and prospects to possibly help the team in 3-5 years. Both are needed. While I do not think Siegenthaler will or should be expected to turn the defense around, if he helps make it a little better to close out 2021, then the deal was worth doing.
That is my take on this trade amid a day of Devils-related transactions. What is your take on this deal? Do you like it or not? What do you expect out of Siegenthaler in New Jersey? Please leave your answers in the comments and vote in our poll about the deal. Thank you for reading.
The New Jersey Devils acquired defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler from the Washington Capitals for a conditional third round pick in 2021. What do you think of the deal?
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