The NHL trade deadline is two months away, March 21st to be exact, and the Devils are looking at another lost season. The Boston Bruins, the second wildcard, sit 13 points up on New Jersey with two games in hand. The playoffs are out of reach, and this usually means gearing up to sell assets. GM Tom Fitzgerald however, sits in a tough position. The Devils certainly aren’t in a position to buy, so there’s no debate there, The problem is that this was a team that made significant improvements on paper during the offseason, yet they still found their way to the bottom of the standings. The stated goal for this season was, “to play meaningful games at the end of the season.” It was not a high bar to clear, but even so, it’s hard to say that goal will be accomplished without a... well... unique definition of the word meaningful.
On the other hand, Fitzgerald can’t really sell either. The Devils are the second youngest team in the league, and they have very few unrestricted expiring contracts of note, with Jimmy Vesey being the only exception. It’s not impossible to move players with term, as Devils fans should be well aware, but it is much less common, particularly if there’s significant salary involved. On top of this, between injuries, poor goaltending, poor coaching, and COVID, it is easy to argue that this roster should’ve have had much better results. All of this is to say that I wouldn’t expect much of note to happen for the Devils at this trade deadline. They are no longer a rebuilding team with assets to deal away, they are just a team trying and failing to climb out of the bottom of the standings for the 4th year in-a-row.
This isn’t me criticizing Tom Fitzgerald, or calling for his job. The Devils GM did everything possible to improve the team in the offseason. He established clear objectives for the offseason and met every one of them. Other than an underwhelming draft, this offseason couldn’t have gone much better. But the organization has some major decisions to make in the coming months, even if the conclusion is to run everything back and hope for better results with more injury luck and further player development.
There’s nothing that says the Devils have to wait until the summer though to make some moves. While the trade deadline is usually reserved for teams in playoff position acquiring the final pieces for potential Stanley Cup runs, other moves occasionally get made. Just last season, the Devils acquired a big piece of their current blue-line, Jonas Siegenthaler, in such a deal. If they can identify a similar situation this year, the team remains in a great position to take advantage of the situation.
Any team wanting to make an upgrade this year will likely have to dump salary. There are 11 teams with any real amount of cap space, and 3 of them are playoff teams. That could go both ways, because teams looking to offload salary will have some options, but with only 3 playoff teams with room to add a significant contract, teams looking to load up will either need to offload money or stand pat. So the potential is there for the Devils to collect either a player, or more likely, some future assets. In particular, the Vegas Golden Knights, who have to clear space for Jack Eichel, will be looking to move a contract or two. Reilly Smith is the contract that is most likely to become the cap casualty for Vegas in my opinion, even if they’d likely rather move another player such as Dadonov. Smith is on an expiring deal and currently makes $5 million against the cap, but is also a useful two-way player.
What do the Devils Have to Sell?
There is one player I can see the Devils potentially getting a good return for if they choose to deal him. I am, of course, talking about dual-threat superstar Mason Geertsen. Geertsen can hit stuff, can fight, and is physically capable of playing both LW and defense. Get in line while you can NHL GMs, he won’t be around for long... More seriously, Jimmy Vesey likely will bring back a mid-round pick should the Devils choose to deal him. His work ethic, ability to play up and down the line-up, and penalty killing will make him a good option for a team looking to solidify their bottom 6. Goaltender Jon Gillies is another player who could be on the move unless the Devils still need him, which is very possible. Short of him getting really hot in the next few weeks, and likely even if he does get hot, Gillies would be lucky to return a 5th rounder. And that’s about it. Siegenthaler will likely be sought after given how well he’s played and his low cap hit, but I can’t see the Devils parting with him short of an offer that blows them out of the water.
What do you want to see the Devils do at this season’s trade deadline? Should the Devils stay pat other then dealing away some expiring contracts? Should they be aggressive and try to move players with more term left? If so, who would you deal? How many first round picks is Mason Geertsen worth in a deal? What would you want from Vegas to take on a contract so they can move Eichel off of LTIR? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading.