Welcome to the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. Today is the last day for teams to register trades that will allow playoff participation. In other words, it is effectively the last day for trades to be made during the season. All deals must be registered with the league’s offices by 3 PM ET. Some may get reported a bit after then, but the deadline is with the league and that is a true deadline.
As with many recent seasons, the New Jersey Devils are mostly sellers. It will be tricky to do so this season. About half of the NHL is only cap compliant due to players on long term injured reserve allowing temporary space. Most teams have 48 or more contracts out of the maximum of 50 on the books. On top of that, there are rumors that the salary cap will not increase for 2021-22. The upcoming expansion draft for Seattle means 30 teams have to make sure they have players to meet the league’s exposure requirements. There is also a global pandemic known as the Coronavirus, which has led to a mandate from Canada that all incoming players have to quarantine for a week before joining their teams. This is not to say there will be no moves made. Just that there are additional complications than usual - which I covered in my early 2021 NHL Trade Deadline primer - and they will be at least a little more difficult to manage.
For the Devils, their big piece to move was pending unrestricted free agent Kyle Palmieri. He was moved last week. Surprisingly, he was moved along with another pending unrestricted free agent and the last player to have played for a Devils team that regularly made the playoffs, Travis Zajac. Both were dealt, and with 50% salary retained by the Devils, to the New York Islanders, who are essentially locks to make the playoffs and could still win the East Division. In return, the Devils have the Islanders’ first rounder for this year’s draft, a conditional fourth rounder for 2022, A.J. Greer, and Mason Jobst. The acquired players were moved to keep the Isles compliant to the 50-contract limit (they have 49 now) and the salary was retained to help keep them under the cap ceiling. Again, complications in today’s NHL make deals trickier as it could not simply be Palmieri and Zajac for a first.
The trade was essentially made to get second first round pick for the 2021 draft. How that pick will go will ultimately determine if this move turns out in New Jersey’s favor. For the moment, it is the definition of a rental for the Isles. They acquired two veteran players to strengthen their forwards ahead of a fight for the division lead and the postseason. Should they succeed, then whatever they gave up would be worth it in the short-term. Your mileage may vary on wishing the Isles to crash out early in the postseason to make their first round pick in the high 20s or wishing the Isles to go all the way such that Palmieri and Zajac get some glory (and that conditional fourth becomes a third for 2022 or 2023, Isles’ choice).
In any case, Palmieri was the Devils’ most attractive asset to be traded. But that does not mean the Devils will be idle today. The Devils have been active since then.
- On April 8, the Devils coaches decided to give Aaron Dell his first start since March 2 and his first appearance since March 4. Given that both Scott Wedgewood and Mackenzie Blackwood were healthy, it was surprise that he got the nod against the Sabres. I would have to think it was done to show Dell off as there has been no shortage of opportunities to have him play. I am still uncertain that someone may want to trade for him. The Devils claimed him off waivers to begin with, so I am not hopeful someone will give up something for him now. But if there’s interest, then I get it.
- Nikita Gusev was placed on unconditional waivers on April 9 with the intent of terminating his contract. Nikita Gusev played his way out of the lineup under Lindy Ruff. He was not a fit for his system and whatever he did do was not nearly enough to keep him in the lineup regularly. Whereas his scratches in 2019-20 led to outcry, his scratches in 2021 were met with understanding. Gusev’s $4.5 million cap hit was apparently too much for other teams to be interested in him. They placed him on waivers to see if anyone would be willing to take him off the Devils’ hands. He cleared regular waivers. So this was the only way during the season to let The Goose loose. After clearing the unconditional waivers, Gusev signed for $1 million with Florida on April 11. Best of luck to Gusev with the Panthers.
- The Devils did place Sami Vatanen on waivers on April 11. Vatanen has a cap hit of $2 million and is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Usually, players like him are placed on waivers because they could not attract any interest at that amount. This is a move to see if any interested teams would want him without giving up an asset. In other words, the Devils probably do not see Vatanen as part of their future. And I can understand that. Vatanen has been contentious to watch at times with little in the way of offense and much in the way of defensive miscues. Vatanen did play in the 2-5 loss to Pittsburgh yesterday and actually played well. We shall see if he actually clears by noon today and what happens after then.
- The Devils made a trade on April 11 to acquire a player. Yes, acquire. The Devils traded a conditional third round pick (Arizona’s third round pick in 2021) to the Washington Capitals for defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler. He is on an expiring contract, he is fairly young, and he was a victim of the numbers game with the Capitals. At the least, he will get a shot in New Jersey to play and earn more shots to play with New Jersey. He may debut with the Devils on April 13; that is yet to be determined.
- Lastly, Dmitry Kulikov was scratched from yesterday’s game against Pittsburgh for “precautionary reasons” per the Devils. This is a clear sign that he may be moved and very soon. Kulikov’s cap hit is a mere $1.15 million and his season has been quite good over the whole season in 5-on-5. Depth defensemen with experience are usually popular additions for playoff teams at the deadline. With so many teams needing to thread needles to stay cap compliant, a player like Kulikov on a cheap contract could draw some interest. That he was scratched yesterday is a bigger sign that there absolutely is interest and the Devils did not want to risk a late injury to blow up a possible deal. If anyone from New Jersey gets moved to day, then expect it to be Kulikov.
As Palmieri and Zajac were already traded and Kulikov is clearly on the block, it could be a busier day than I would have expected a few days ago for general manager Tom Fitzgerald and the New Jersey Devils. Fitzgerald has already multiple transactions within the last 48 hours. They have lot of cap space (over $10 million as of the night of April 11) and room for contracts (46 are on the books, so they can add up to four more). Whether it will be used is another question. So will be whether the league will be busy today. It just might be as yesterday saw a three-team deal that saw Nick Foligno end up in Toronto and late last night, Pittsburgh traded for Jeff Carter after just beating the Devils.
To account for all of the possible activity, this is an open post for you to discuss whatever happens today for the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. What has happened, what is about to happen, and what shouldn’t happen in terms of trades and transactions. Please feel free to chat about what the New Jersey Devils should do, should not do, and what they have done so far. You can even talk up what other teams should, should not do, and what they have done so far.
Here is the annual reminder for this kind of post: Please do not post false rumors, “hot tips from sources” that nobody knows, and cite Twitter accounts that aren’t legit or real insiders (Hint: spelling insider wrong is always a good sign that they are not one). Nobody here has the time for riling people up over fake rumors and made up nonsense that wouldn’t fly in videogames. Instead, please stick to following real people with real Verified marks on Twitter accounts. Actually check if the Verified mark is legit too. Please follow real sources of news from known beat reporters to big companies (e.g. TSN’s Tradecentre) to credible hubs (e.g. SB Nation’s NHL Trade Rumor Hub) to even the team’s official website and/or social media accounts. As always: It’s better to be right than first. All other rules apply (no trolling, no swearing, no personal attacks etc.) to this post as well.
Thank you for reading and enjoy the activity of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.