Kevin Weekes tweeted before the NHL Draft to keep an eye on the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks. They were thought to be doing something together. They did not do anything together at the NHL Draft. They did something together today. It was not a particularly significant something. The New Jersey Devils traded forward and pending restricted free agent Nick Merkley to the San Jose Sharks for defenseman and pending restricted free agent Christian Jaros. The Devils promptly signed Jaros to a one-season, two-way contract where Jaros will make $800,000 in the NHL and $275,000 in the AHL.
It is not a coincidence this trade was made today. Qualifying offers for RFAs are due by 5 PM ET today. Anyone who was not tendered an offer would become an unrestricted free agent and can sign with anyone on Wednesday. I think General Manager Tom Fitzgerald and his staff did not think much of Merkley’s future and decided to move him than let him hit the market.
This is understandable. Merkley was in and out of the lineup on a bad New Jersey Devils team in 2021 and his inconsistent play yielded some unimpressive (but not obscenely terrible) on-ice rates in 5-on-5 to go with two goals, eight assists, and 38 shots on net in 27 games. He is 24 so he is just about in a “What you see is what you get” category. What I saw was a depth forward. They gave him a chance in 2021 and the Devils decided to move on. It happens. The Devils have a lot of forwards in their system with brighter futures. Filling in Merkley’s spot on the roster should be easy.
As Merkley was a depth forward, the Devils received a depth defenseman in return. Is this depth defenseman any good? Well, no. After all, he was traded for a depth forward.
Jaros was with San Jose last season but you might remember him more as an Ottawa Senator. Ottawa drafted Jaros in 2015 and he spent most of the 2018-19 season with Ottawa, bookended by seasons where he spent more time in the AHL than the NHL. He was then sent to San Jose in 2021 after a pair of deals. There, he split time between the Sharks (7 games) and the San Jose Barracuda (11 games). Perhaps similarly to how the Devils felt about Merkley, the Sharks were fine with sending Jaros away rather than trying to retain him in the organization.
What did Jaros do on the ice when he was in the NHL? He played limited minutes. In 2017-18, he made his NHL debut and made one other appearance with Ottawa. The remainder of his season was with Belleville. As he played fewer than 15 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time in those two games, it is not worth going into further. In 2018-19, Jaros did dress for 61 games. Jaros did not play a lot on special teams so his performances were in 5-on-5 situations. How did that go? Per Natural Stat Trick, he averaged 13:14 and the Senators were generally outplayed when Jaros took a shift. This happened quite a bit without Jaros, but he ranked in the lower half of Senators defensemen last season. Jaros’ CF% was 43.16%, SF% of 45.36%, SCF% of 43.06%, HDCF% of 45.59%, an actual GF% of 36.92%, and an expected GF% of 43.76%. It was bad. Sure, it was better than Ben Harpur but it is still not good. And it was not as if Jaros was providing much else given his one goal, five assists, and 65 shots on net in that season. Ottawa kept him more in Belleville in 2019-20. His 13 games in Ottawa yielded better numbers in 5-on-5 then; but he still ranked behind most of their defenders that season in multiple categories. And he averaged just over 9:30 per game in 5-on-5 ice time too, so he was sparsely used in those games. Needless to say, Jaros’ future in the NHL was not likely going to be with Ottawa.
And so he was traded to San Jose. Given that he played just the seven games with the Sharks and eleven with the Barracuda, I question whether he was hurt or was on COVID-19 protocols or just languished on the taxi squad for stretches. His seven games with the Sharks were not impressive to say the least. He averaged 10:47 per game in 5-on-5 and his 2021 on-ice rate stats were closer to what they were in Ottawa back in 2018-19. They were bad and the Sharks decided to not prolong his usage at least in the NHL.
That brings us to today. Jaros was a depth defenseman at best for two NHL teams and now he is a Devil. He was acquired for a depth forward. His two-way contract further supports this depth status. Jaros has not been a productive defenseman at the NHL or AHL level. So what is his appeal? Simple. He is a right-shooting defenseman and he is large. Jaros stands at 6’3” and weighs 222 pounds. Cynical as it may seem, I think those two points were main ones as to why the Devils acquired Jaros. It is increasingly apparent that GM Tom Fitzgerald likes big players. And right-sided defensive depth is generally good to have on hand. Jaros is 25 so, again, what you see from him what you are likely going to get. Hopefully, he will serve more time and contribute with Utica than New Jersey.
I will point out that this trade and signing likely means some changes elsewhere in the depth chart. With Jaros signed, there is less of a need for the Devils to qualify David Quenneville or look to re-sign Connor Carrick, Josh Jacobs, and/or Matt Tennyson. Jaros is at least better than Quenneville and both Carrick and Tennyson performed rather poorly last season. In the context of those players, Jaros may be a small upgrade to the defense’s depth. He may be more of an improvement for Utica, which still looks to have a very young defense for 2021-22. I hope the Devils do not see him as someone that should play regularly. But given the two-way deal, I do not expect that he will.
It is hard to be unhappy about a deal like this. It is not that Jaros is any good at the NHL level. But he was traded one-for-one for a depth forward in Merkley and the Devils signed him to a one-season, two-way deal. This is not a player that is seen to be a future regular for next season. As much as I would have preferred a better player in return, this is not worth getting worked up over. Or excited. Again, Jaros is a depth defenseman and the deal was depth for depth.
Now that you know what I think of Merkley, Jaros, and the deal as a whole, I want to know what you think. Do you think the Devils were right to deal Merkley away? Would you have done this deal? What do you expect out of Jaros, if anything? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this transaction in the comments. Thank you for reading.