The trade deadline is still close to two months away in this jumbled NHL season, but even at that distance, the picture of who is likely to add and who will be moving players out is pretty clear already. This is especially true in the East, where only a near-miracle or major collapse will lead to a change of the teams occupying the top eight spots. For their part, as of this morning, the Devils are sixteen (16) points out of a playoff spot. Boston currently occupies the eight spot, having 51 points to the Devils 35, and they even have a couple of games in hand, to boot. The Devils are 20 or more points behind the other seven teams above Boston. Suffice it to say, I think we can be pretty safe in the assumption that no postseason hockey (or remotely meaningful games, standings-wise) is on the way this spring.
With the above in mind, the Devils certainly will not be buyers at this season’s deadline. If they do anything at all, it will have to be on the “seller” side of the equation. The Devils being sellers has been a consistent theme in recent Devils history, due to their steadfast commitment to losing a lot of hockey games. This season was supposed to be different but, as we have all witnessed—at least as far as the standings are concerned—it very much is not. So, it will be the same old story of the Devils attempting to move what they can to bolster a brighter future somewhere beyond the horizon.
There is one issue for the Devils on that front this year, though: it’s unclear that they have any valuable pieces to move in the context of the trade deadline. As John got into on Monday, they really shouldn’t be tanking at this point, meaning a teardown isn’t in order, but the players that don’t figure into the long-term picture won’t retrieve much. The list of players on the Devils roster who are slated to be unrestricted free agents is as follows:
- PK Subban
- Jimmy Vesey
- Mason Geertsen
- John Gillies
For those keeping score at home, that is a $9M third pairing defender and three guys acquired on waivers this season. As far as pure rentals likely to garner a return, the cupboard is bare in New Jersey. Subban might have a little value with half of his salary retained but even then, you’re not likely to see much more of a return than a mid-round pick or a middling prospect. For the others, Vesey is the only one I could see someone even bothering to trade for and if he were, we’re talking a “2023 sixth rounder” type return for his services.
So, who else is even on the roster at this point that Tom Fitzgerald could realistically move and theoretically get a return for? Even extending things out a year, the Devils only have another five players at the NHL level slated to be UFA in 2023. Those five are Damon Severson, Ryan Graves, Tomas Tatar, Andreas Johnsson, and Jonathan Bernier. All of those players certainly do have some value (save Bernier, who obviously isn’t getting moved while out for the season), but deadline deals with time left on a contract can be tricky to make work unless it’s a blue chip-type guy or a team is really looking to tear it down. Despite this season’s failure, the Devils are not really in that position with many of their best players heading toward their primes. I’m sure there would be interest in guys like Severson or Graves, but is Fitzgerald going to pull major pieces out of an already somewhat thin defense without a big-time return? And as for Johnsson and Tatar, even if you were looking to move those guys at some point, you might have better luck in the offseason if they can finish the season a bit stronger.
Looking beyond UFAs, there are a few players heading toward restricted free agency this summer, but even in that group there are very few options that make much sense to move. The most valuable RFA is obviously Jesper Bratt, who is currently enjoying a marvelous season on an individual level, but unless someone is sending back an absolutely elite player (which makes little sense in the context of the trade deadline), it would be borderline malpractice to trade Bratt at this point, given where he is at as a player. Other RFAs like Jesper Boqvist, Christian Jaros, and Colton White are going to have little to no value in a trade.
The only one I can really make a case for trading if I squint is Pavel Zacha, who looks far from being any kind of cornerstone piece but probably has at least some value. He’s a big player with some good tools, maybe some lingering draft pedigree, and the ability to occasionally get hot and score a few goals, that’s enough to draw interest from at least some of GMs around this league. This isn’t just me trying to get rid of Zacha either, he has the mix of attributes that give him value and he’s getting into his mid 20s and probably isn’t overly crucial to the Devils’ future plans at this point. Miles Wood might also fall into this category if he weren’t injured for the entirety of this season thus far. If I were betting one way or the other, though, I still wouldn’t expect any of the RFAs to move in the end.
So, yeah. The Devils are a team with few items of interest left in this season. They certainly don’t have anything related to the postseason to look forward to, and they also aren’t in a position where it looks like they will be making many moves at the deadline, either. Nominally, they will be sellers, I suppose. They just won’t have many players who are actually going to be available in a trade and valuable to other teams. It may not be the most exciting 40-game stretch of our lives upcoming, I guess is what I’m saying.