One of the few common threads with the New Jersey Devils over the past four-plus decades is that one rarely knows when a move is made until it is made. This evening, General Manager Tom Fitzgerald pulled a trigger on a big trade. Now we know the move. The New Jersey Devils sent Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the New York Islanders for their first round pick in 2021, a conditional fourth round pick in 2022, left wing A.J. Greer, and forward Mason Jobst. As announced by the Devils, New Jersey will retain 50% of the remaining salaries of Zajac and Palmieri.
The decision to trade Palmieri was obvious. He was held out for precautionary reasons - the team’s term, not mine - for the last two games. It was a matter of to whom and for what Palmieri will be traded; not a matter of whether he would or not. The decision to deal Zajac was not so obvious. While both were pending unrestricted free agents, Zajac was older and had a full no-trade clause. Palmieri was younger and riding a cold stick this season with a modified no-trade clause. He wanted a big contract that the Devils were not (and should not) going to give him. I have long accepted that The Pride of Montvale, New Jersey would be wearing a different uniform by April 13. I fully expected Zajac to hit the market this offseason and see whether he would go elsewhere to play out his career, want to return for a short time, or even hang it up. Those are still possibilities, but the career Devil is no longer a career Devil.
As much as it makes sense from a larger picture of moving out expiring veterans for a potentially brighter future, a part of me is sad to see Zajac go. He has been a very good center; a poor man’s Jonathan Towes at best and a solid jack-of-all-trades center for the most part. He put up over 200 goals with the Devils and made over 1,000 appearances with the team. He was the last player who can say he played for an organization where the playoffs were an expectation instead of a dream. I wanted him to at least finish 2021 in New Jersey; but that is a generally a bad way to manage a team that is clearly all about the future.
To that end, the Devils did receive a vaunted first round pick. Per Nick Kypreos, who cited the Devils Insiders who was citing him earlier, Fitzgerald wanted a first round pick. He got one. It is ultimately the centerpiece of this deal and will determine in the future whether it was worth it. In most seasons, getting a first rounder is a good return for what is essentially a rental for the team receiving the veteran(s). This is not most seasons. This is a draft class with more uncertainty than most with leagues playing even more non-congruent schedules and prospects being less available than usual. The Islanders’ first rounder will be in the early 20s at best. They will make the playoffs and clearly picking up Zajac and Palmieri are “go for it” moves. I doubt they make this move if they did not have some confidence they could at least go on a playoff run. Given how the Islanders have turned Nassau into Fort Neverlose 2.0, it is entirely possible - which would put the first rounder later in the draft.
The remainder of this deal is underwhelming. Should you want the most out of that conditional fourth rounder, then you do not want them to crash out of the first round. But the condition is really unlikely. Per Pierre LeBrun, the condition is that the Islanders have to make the Stanley Cup Finals and if they do, then the pick becomes a third rounder for 2022 or 2023 - whichever the Islanders want to move. In other words, it would likely become a third rounder for 2023.
What about the players? They may help Binghamton out. Mason Jobst was a captain for Ohio State and was signed out of college after his senior year. The 27-year old has yet to make the NHL and he has been not very productive at the AHL level so far in his pro career. A.J. Greer has at least been in the show for a little bit. He has made 27 appearances for Colorado across the 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 seasons. Since then, Greer has been in the AHL. He has not played beyond Bridgeport since being moved to the Isles organization. He might get a shot here, but I would keep expectations low for the 24-year old winger who is on an expiring contract. With all due respect to Jobst and Greer, I doubt either will make an impact in New Jersey to warrant keeping them around.
Ultimately, I am not a big fan of this trade. Anytime one has to use the rationalization, “At least they got something for them before they walked,” I am inclined to think it was not a very good deal. Yes, Palmieri’s time in New Jersey was done and his recent healthy scratches were proof of that. I can agree that Zajac’s time in New Jersey should be done and the Devils do need to move on from him for their future. Yet, what did the Devils really get for both? They got a first round pick and some spare assets to help make the deal work in exchange for two players who will still be in the division (New Jersey will play the Isles twice in May) and paying 50% of their salaries. This pick now has to be a success to justify this deal. Again, the likelihood of nailing that in the later half of this first round is lower than it would have been last season or next season. The trade deadline is in five days. If this was the best Fitzgerald was offered, then I would have waited at least another day or so. Had Palmieri not suffer a recent low in shooting percentage this season, then perhaps he would have commanded a better return. This does not mean Fitzgerald had to accept this to get that apparently important first round pick.
My initial reaction is that Lou won this deal. As he usually does.
What will the Devils do now? As Palmieri was scratched the last two games, the Devils have filled in his spot in the lineup. Given that they have put up a lot of shots and seven goals across both games (albeit in losses) without Palmieri, they can deal with his absence. Zajac being dealt away creates a bigger issue as Zajac was used in match-ups and played in most situations. I fear Lindy Ruff and his staff thinks Pavel Zacha is a capable center despite mounting evidence. He may be the choice and I do not think it will go all that well. A more hopeful option may be available soon. Nico Hischier practiced with a cage earlier today. Perhaps Hischier’s impending return made Fitzgerald more comfortable with dealing Zajac away. I can believe Hischier as someone to take Zajac’s responsibilities. I would not have done it right away as I imagine Hischier will need some time to get into form. However, I understand that April 12 is five days away, so a decision had to be made regardless. In terms of other forwards to fill in spots, I think we will continue to see rotation among Nick Merkley and Jesper Boqvist among others until someone solidifies it.
As for the trade deadline, I think more eyes will be on the defense if Fitzgerald makes any more moves. Dmitry Kulikov, Ryan Murray, and Sami Vatanen are impending free agents. Kulikov, in particular, has a really cheap contract that could make him more viable for teams who want to add a veteran defenseman to their rosters. That stated, the Devils’ biggest player to move was Palmieri and he has been sent to Long Island. I would not expect a massive return unless a lot of teams really want one of these three defensemen. Should a defender get dealt, then I would think we could see Nikita Okhotiuk (who is on the taxi squad right now) make a debut.
Now that you know what I think of this trade, I want to know what you think of this trade. Please leave your thoughts about the deal in the comments. What you like about it, what you do not like about it, and what you will best remember Palmieri and Zajac for as Devils. Also, please feel free to vote in the poll regardless of whether you leave a comment or not. Thank you for reading. Goodbye to Long Island, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, and good luck.
The Devils dealt Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to the New York Islanders for a 2021 first round pick, a conditional fourth round pick in 2022, A.J. Greer, and Mason Jobst. What do you think of the deal?
This poll is closed
I love it!
I like the trade.
I don’t know / I’m not sure.
I do not like the trade.
I hate it!