Around noon, two players who were part of the New Jersey Devils yesterday have become former New Jersey Devils players today. Both are defensemen, which means the recently acquired Jonas Siegenthaler will get his chance to play and Will Butcher will likely continue to get a chance to play instead of waiting over a month for another one again.
The first to go today was Sami Vatanen. Per Elliotte Friedman, Sami Vatanen was claimed on waivers by Dallas. Vatanen was placed on waivers yesterday, presumably because there was little interest in a trade for the 29-year old defenseman. Vatanen did play in the 2-5 loss to the Penguins yesterday and played fairly well. His season overall has been a mixed bag. Amid his decent 5-on-5 numbers were some performances where he was a shell of his former self with the mistakes and missed coverages that he made. The return of Vatanen did not work out. That he was placed on waivers despite a fairly inexpensive and expiring $2 million contract suggested he was not in demand. The Stars have stepped in to give him a chance to better his 2021 ahead of this offseason. We wish the best for Vatanen in Dallas.
The second to go was Dmitry Kulikov. This one was a little trickier to follow. First, Kevin Weekes broke the news that he was “likely” traded to the Edmonton Oilers for a pick. Second, Gord Miller of TSN confirmed there was a deal for a conditional pick but it was not done yet. Third, Miller followed that up by stating that there was an issue related with Kulikov’s immigration status. Apparently, whether he could get a work visa was an issue as his passport was expiring in six months. Would Canadian bureaucracy derail the deal? A deal that, fourth, Darren Dreger of TSN reported that the conditional pick in play was a fourth rounder in 2022? The answer came about a half-hour later: No. In the fifth tweet of this saga, Miller followed up a third time to state that the deal was done pending a trade call. Lastly (and sixth), the legendary Bob McKenzie reported that the fourth rounder in 2022 can become a third rounder in 2022 if the Oilers win a playoff series this year.
In summary: Kulikov was dealt to the Oilers for a conditional fourth round pick in 2022. If the Oilers win a playoff series this year, then it becomes a third round pick in 2022. This has been finally made official per the Oilers’ website.
This is a bit of an underwhelming return for Kulikov. Kulikov has been a good defensemen over the course of this season. When he was on the ice at 5-on-5 per Natural Stat Trick, the Devils have had a CF% of 53.76%, a SF% of 52.05%, an xGF% of 54.43% (best among NJ defensemen), a SCF% of 53.07%, and a HDCF% of 52.38%. Yes, he has had his moments and some poorer games where you are wondering what is he even doing. But over all the 38 games he has played, Kulikov has provided much more on the ice than his past pedigree in Winnipeg and his $1.15 million contract would suggest. Those are just straight-up great numbers at 5-on-5. Especially how he performed with respect to NST’s expected goals model; Kulikov was the only Devils regular defenseman with an xGA/60 below 2 at 1.93 - which is impressive. I expected Ryan Murray to play this well and Kulikov to have been more middling. It has been the opposite.
I could have been convinced about Kulikov sticking around for another year or so in Newark. But I figured he would be moved. This was nearly locked in when he was held out of yesterday’s game for precautionary reasons. Between the performances and his cheap deal, I expected Kulikov to be in more demand. I was hoping for at least a third round pick. That he brought back a pick for next year that requires Edmonton to win a playoff series to make it a third rounder is a little disappointing. Per the NHL standings that would mean beating Winnipeg. It is at least more possible than the Islanders going to the Stanley Cup Finals. Still, as hyped as the 2022 draft class is becoming, it is not going to be three rounds filled with amazing talent - much less four. I see this more as the Devils got a some thing for Kulikov. It is not a valuable thing. It is just a thing. It is not much more than nothing unless the pick becomes a hit - which is possible (see: Miles Wood and maybe Mikhail Maltsev and Tyce Thompson) but not at all common.
Unfortunately, the price of a good is often what the market is willing to pay for it and not what outsiders like myself think what the good is worth. We have seen that in full effect at a NHL Trade Deadline where Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac brought in more to New Jersey than Taylor Hall did for Buffalo. So I get it. I am not a big fan of it, but I get it. Regardless, we wish the best for Kulikov in Edmonton.
These two transactions may also be the most involved New Jersey gets today. Ryan Murray is the other notable pending unrestricted free agent on the roster. However, will Tom Fitzgerald seek to move him after already seeing two defensemen go? If Kulikov on a cheap contract and having a good season nets a conditional fourth round pick for next year’s draft, then would moving Murray be worth an even lesser return than that? I do not know. Of course, with under two hours left to make moves, there could always be surprises.
What do you think of Vatanen being claimed by Dallas? What do you think of the Kulikov trade to Edmonton? Please leave your answers, reactions, and other thoughts about these two moves in the comments. Thank you for reading.