This was actually supposed to be an article about “free agents to avoid” for our New Jersey Devils but after seeing the commentary on some of the previous articles, we decided that it was more important to discuss a topic that seems to be more at the forefront of everyone’s mind than acquiring free agents: acquiring assets during free agency, but through trades.
Defense is the biggest need of the Devils’ organization still (despite the inverse seeming to be the case when the initial rebuild began) and so today’s article will see us focus on a couple of defenders who could possibly be pried away from their current teams first. After that, we will look at a couple other defenders in the “maybe” pile and another pair of ideas that could be possible as well.
Defenders to Pursue Via Trade
Why Tampa would do it: The Tampa Bay Lightning are way over the salary limit after their financial shenanigans this season and will be looking to shed some $$$ in order to make the cap and maybe have some room to sign whatever complementary pieces they deem necessary to bolster their depth enough for continued contention. They are missing their 1st and 2nd round picks this season as well as their 2nd next year. They have their top pair in Hedman and McDonaugh locked down and could use the $5M elsewhere to to either revamp the lost depth this offseason or to put away for Brayden Point’s looming extension.
Why the Devils would do it: I think this is self explanatory, but the Devils need long-term help on the blueline and there are very few defenders available that are Sergachev’s age and have his resume.
Over the past 3 seasons, he’s been a significantly above-average defenceman in terms of on-ice value and, at 6’3’’ 215 with a 100/100 pace (blocks and hits), he brings the size and sandpaper that GM Tom Fitzgerald has been seeking.
What would it take?: Acquiring a potential pillar of the blueline would almost definitely require the Devils sacrificing their 4th overall pick so that the Lightning could get an asset that will be ready for the NHL either this year or next that will be able to play on an ELC for the duration of their core’s prime.
Why Washington would do it: The Washington Capitals have a windfall coming very soon with the oldest roster in the NHL, some big deals already on the books, and a couple more like coming this offseason (Ovechkin, Samsonov). They need to squeeze a couple more years of Cup contention out of this deteriorating core. They are missing their 2021 1st and their 2022 2nd. In terms of their defense, they have John Carlson and then “everybody else,” but Orlov is the most expensive of the “else”s.
Why the Devils would do it: Orlov was in the 96th percentile this past season in value according to xGAR and is above average at everything we’d care about except for the powerplay which is the only place that we wouldn’t use him. He is the perfect age to bridge us into the Ty Smith era with the end of his prime.
What would it take?: The Capitals also need help on ELCs, but Orlov is not worth the 4th overall selection so they would probably like a package of picks and prospects headlined by an NHL-ready player like Nolan Foote or Tyce Thompson. Perhaps the Islanders first round selection would be included in a deal for Orlov; if the Devils were able to acquire Orlov for the Isles first and a prospect or two, and also drafted another defender with the 4th overall choice, those moves could go a long way towards fixing the back end woes.
Other Ideas on Defense
If you were to simply look at the analytics on Dunn, he seems like the type of player that St. Louis should be building around, or at the very least, a player they should be giving more minutes to. Dunn has been used mostly in a Bottom 4/sheltered role, and perhaps that speaks more to the Blues’ depth in front of him, rather than his skill. Between his status on the depth chart, his status as an RFA and the looming expansion draft (and the limited protection slots that come with it) Dunn could be a piece that the Blues could part with while not requesting a premium price.
Dunn is in some ways the Will Butcher of the Blues: he’s fallen out of favor with the staff and there are defenders that their coaches would rather play before him. Now that’s not to say that the “Butcher of the Blues” would become another Butcher in New Jersey. Dunn could be a player seen as expendable in the expansion draft for the Blues while having value to the Devils; if acquired, he could be protected provided that the Devils see him as the third most valuable defenceman they have that needs said protection. However, if Tom Fitzgerald seems to think that Dunn is more of a product of his environment, then this is probably an option that he should steer clear of.
The Flyers have certainly soured on Gostisbehere (to the point of him being waived last season), who some of their fans once touted as being one of their top pair defenders of the future. The man they call Ghost still brings a high-end offensive skill set, and as the Devils could still se a lot of help on the left, they could do a lot worse than bringing him in to help provide points and puck movement from the back end.
The concern here again would be that this kind of move doesn’t address the actual issue of needing defenders that actually are good at defending. Still, considering that Ghost was waived last season, the cost to acquire him probably wouldn’t be terribly high. If the price is right, this could be a move that the Devils consider.
Additional Trade Ideas that Could Improve the Devils
There’s definitely potential for a deal with the stuck-in-limbo Flames. Johnny Gaudreau is frequently a subject of the rumor mill, and despite only having one year left on his current deal, he could be a good target for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he brings goal scoring, which the Devils could use more of. Secondly, he may be looking for one more big contract, and the Devils could fit that under the cap, meaning he could be open to an extension. What it would cost to acquire him could be the issue.
Matthew Tkachuk is another winger from the Flames who could be available, as rumors claim that he has said that he would like to be moved. While he currently has a higher cap hit than Gaudreau with the same term remaining, Tkachuk would probably cost even more, as he is only an RFA after next season. As such, #4 would probably have to be on the table, but using it to augment the forward group might not be the best bet considering the state of the back end.
If Calgary decides to tear it down (or even just to part with one of these players as part of retooling their current group), these are both ~90th percentile wingers and the Devils need to put some talent around Hughes and Hischier now.
San Jose Defenders
San Jose is in, possibly, the worst position of any NHL team. They have no hopes of competing any time soon with the players they currently have and they are loaded with bad contracts — next season they will be paying $7M+ to FIVE DIFFERENT players over 30-years-old. If I’m Doug Wilson, I’d give up a LOT to be able to get out from under some of those contracts.
The Devils certainly have some assets that they could make available this offseason in exchange for making the team more competitive sooner. If Sergachev and/or Orlov are heard to be available, Fitzgerald should at least due his due diligence to gauge what the price would be, if not making an offer outright. The same could definitely be said of the Calgary wingers depending upon what path their front office chooses to walk.
As per the Tier 2 defenders, again if the price is right, go for it. Ghost and Dunn could be worth a combination of a mid/late round choices and/or a prospect, with the former probably only being worth one of those assets (at least without retention) due to him being available for nothing more than his salary last season.
The scenario with the Sharks could be the most interesting, as the Devils could walk away with some decent assets at a low cost if Doug Wilson decides to go that route to unbury the team. While some of those contracts shouldn’t be touched with a ten foot pole, a couple of them are manageable; the Devils could also bring in another useful asset for taking one of those anchors off of the Sharks’ hands while maybe only having to give up something marginable in return.
Who do you believe the Devils should be targeting via trade this offseason? Do you agree with our possible price assessments, especially for Sergachev/Orlov? Would you be willing to part with the 4th overall pick in exchange for premium talent? Leave any and all thoughts below, thanks as always for reading, and tune in tomorrow for our look at the big fish in this free agency sea, Dougie Hamilton.