On Zacha, Sharangovich, and the 22-23 New Jersey Devils Line-up
While the Devils continue to play play out the string in relatively meaningless games, the NHL trade deadline draws ever nearer, and I still have no idea what to expect from the Devils. Logic would dictate that when you’re in 26th place, you should sell, but there’s not a whole lot for the Devils to sell. Also, it doesn’t help that the Devils don’t actually have a beat reporter who doesn’t work for the organization. So instead, us fans are left with nuggets like this from national reporters and insiders like Elliot Friedman, Jeff Marek, Kevin Weekes, etc.
Per @JeffMarek on 32 Thoughts on HNIC, the Vancouver Canucks have interest in Pavel Zacha #NJDevils— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) February 13, 2022
and this one:
Friedman at the intermission says #Canucks have a number of forwards outside of JT Miller that they are discussing with teams, doesn't think it includes Pettersson or Horvat. Conor Garland is one name, Rangers, Boston, Calgary are interested and New Jersey is in there too.— NHL Watcher (@NHL_Watcher) January 30, 2022
When I first heard the Garland news, I didn’t think too much of it because Garland is a good young forward with term the Canucks just acquired this past offseason. And even if he really is available, which is still surprising to me, the Devils being interested could mean anything from, ‘they’re working on a deal’ to ‘Fitzgerald called the Canucks GM and asked what the price for Garland would be’. I would absolutely love to see Garland in New Jersey. In addition to being tenacious on the puck, skilled, and having good hands, Garland has excellent underlying metrics, and is capable of driving shot attempts, xGs, and GAR. That said, given his play and contract situation, he is the type of player I would expect to command a large return, with his only real downside being he’s small. This hasn’t stopped him from ranking 31st in GAR and 89th in xGAR in the league via Evolving Hockey’s model, and a smart GM wouldn’t stop it from acquiring the young winger.
Things got more interesting last week with the report that Zacha is a potential target of the Canucks. Add this to the Garland rumors and it seems likely that the Devils and Canucks are having trade discussions of some sort. The whole smoke and fire saying and all that. A trade package built around these two players would be very appealing to me. Zacha, despite having all of the tools to be an effective top-6 forward, has never lived up to his draft pedigree and is a very flawed player at 5 on 5, particularly in his own end.
Unless the Canucks front office is overly-enamored with size (Elite Prospects lists the Czech forward at 6’3” 209 lbs), the Devils would likely have to add to any deal centered around these two players. But given their 4th ranked prospect pool, that shouldn’t be a major concern. I would part with any defensive prospect not named Luke Hughes, and any forward prospect not named Alex Holtz in that trade.
On a more big picture level, this suggests that instead of selling at the deadline, perhaps the Devils are more interested in making a “hockey trade”, meaning instead of collecting picks and prospects for a roster player, they are looking to improve the current roster, obviously looking towards the future. I am a big fan of this strategy, because much like John and Mike, I’m over the tank. The Devils have also been successful recently with this strategy, picking up Siegenthaler for a 3rd round pick at last years deadline. On top of this, this is a very good year to make a hockey trade, since the Devils can leverage their relative abundance of cap space at a time where many teams are up against the cap and relying on LTIR to stay compliant. Even if it’s not Garland, the Devils would do well to explore the market and use this opportunity to improve their roster.
On Yegor Sharangovich and Expectations
One of the biggest early season disappointments for me was Yegor Sharangovich. Without Hughes, he seemed to struggle to put the puck in the net, and only had 3 goals in the first 20 games. There’s a good case to be made that much of his early season struggles had more to due with bad luck than bad play however, as his underlying numbers away from Jack Hughes were still very good.
Lending weight to this theory, in the viz below you can see the dashed line on the graph that stands for finishing drop precipitously from last season to this one. Notice that his offense and defense metrics are trending positively, despite Hughes missing a chunk of games early this season and then taking another handful of games to start playing like himself. It’s worth pointing out that Sharangovich was never going to be a 14% shooter for his career, and the 10.6% mark he is currently firing at is much more sustainable.
My point to this, is that the narrative surrounding a player is often false and expectations can play a big role in this regard. Sharangovich was more snake-bitten than bad early this year, even if he didn’t have the breakout I was expecting/hoping for. He hasn’t relied on Hughes to produce, although it obviously didn’t hurt getting him back. His production is actually not too far off of last season. Prior to last night’s game against Tampa, he had 22 points in 43 games, which is good for a rate of 0.51 pts/game. Last season, he finished with 30 points in 54 games which translates to 0.56 pts/game.
The reason I wanted to talk about this today is that, to me, Sharangovich is capable of being the perfect winger for Hughes. Unlike Zacha, Sharangovich has shown the ability to contribute to the run of play at even strength, even if he does not have Zacha’s pure talent. He is capable of playing away from Hughes, but his skillset complements Hughes nicely, between his motor, shot, and skating ability. This is true right now, but assuming this team actually gets good anytime soon, I see him as a key complementary forward surrounding the young core of Bratt, Hughes, and Hischier. One that will likely be very affordable and provide good value while doing so.
The thing I like the most about the chemistry between Sharangovich and Hughes, is that not only does it get the most out of Sharangovich (see the table above), but this is one less thing to think about for Fitzgerald. He doesn’t have to find some superstar to play with Hughes. Attention and resources can be spent elsewhere, like finding a winger for Hischier.
What do you think about the rumors connecting the Devils to Conor Garland? What do you think it would take to trade for him? What about the rumors regarding Pavel Zacha? Do you think the Devils should part with Zacha? Which other players you would like to see Fitzgerald acquire? Do you see Sharangovich as a long-term fit alongside Hughes? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!