Barring a complete meltdown over the final 38 games of the season, the New Jersey Devils will be heading to the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-18 season. This will be a welcome sight to many Devils fans, as the seeds the franchise planted years ago when starting this lengthy rebuild are finally bearing fruit for all of us to enjoy.
Long-term, the Devils aren’t quite a finished product though, as they still have some notable prospects yet to make their NHL debuts. They do have a good team now though that could potentially make a run in the postseason with the right additions (despite flaws that need to be addressed). I think they need a middle-six forward and a bottom-six forward to give them a little more depth, secondary offense, sandpaper, experience, two-way play, and being ‘tough to play against’ in the lineup. And unfortunately, I don’t think the Devils have internal options that will properly address these holes come April.
The NHL trade deadline is six weeks from Friday on March 3rd, so I will be spending the next six weeks looking at various players around the league who may be on the trade block, what they do well, if they bring something to the table that the Devils currently don’t have, what they might cost, and if the fit makes sense. This week, we’ll start with a familiar face and one-time fan favorite in Anaheim Ducks forward Adam Henrique.
Who is Adam Henrique?
Long-time Devils fans will be very familiar with Henrique, but here’s a quick refresher. The Devils drafted the Brantford, Ontario native back in the third round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He got a cup of coffee in the NHL late in the 2010-11 season before exploding onto the scene the following year, finishing 3rd in Calder Trophy voting behind Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He provided two unforgettable moments for the Devils during their improbable run to the Cup Final in 2012......the series-clinching double overtime goal vs. Florida in Game 7 of the Eastern Quarterfinals, and the series-clinching overtime goal vs. the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. You may watch both of those below and relive past glories.
Unfortunately, the 2012 run turned out to be the high point for Henrique during his Devils tenure. Legends retired. A couple guys took their ball and chose to go home. Others aged out of their effective primes. The Devils responded by signing and acquiring a lot of guys who were injury-prone, ineffective, or downright washed up. As a result, Henrique became the best young player on a decrepit team in desperate need of a rebuild.
Henrique wasn’t a top performer by any means, but he was the Devils most consistent forward year in and year out during his time in New Jersey. He peaked with 30 goals in the 2015-16 season and even picked up some Selke votes as voters took note of his two-way play. He posted a respectable 257 points in 455 games as a Devil. All-in-all, he was a fixture in the Devils top six right up until he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks on November 30th, 2017.
The Henrique-for-Sami Vatanen trade made sense at the time, even if it wasn’t the most popular move. The Devils had a surplus of forwards with a newly-drafted Nico Hischier getting his feet wet at the NHL level, young players like Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha pushing for consistent playing time, and veterans including Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, and Marcus Johansson. The Devils needed more help on the backend, which Vatanen provided at the time. I don’t think its hyperbole to suggest that the Devils don’t make the playoffs in 2017-18 without trading for Vatanen. Still, there was a pocket of the Devils fanbase not happy with the trade at the time. That is understandable. When you score one of the biggest goals in franchise history against your biggest rival, you gain a lot of goodwill among the fanbase. But what’s done was done and Henrique was headed west.
Henrique ultimately signed a five-year, $29.125M ($5.825M AAV) to stay in Anaheim, where he has continued to be his usual, steady, productive self on a Ducks team that continues to slide further and further away from contention. The Ducks placed him on waivers midway through the second season of that deal, where there were no takers given his large cap number and remaining term. He has one more season remaining on that contract after this season and a partial no-trade clause where he can block a deal to ten teams.
Henrique has been in the NHL long enough though where you know what you’re going to get from him. He’s a guy who is going to be slightly better than a half point-per-game while playing solid two-way hockey and contributing on special teams. He’s a classic “jack of all trades, master of none” type of player who can slot anywhere into the lineup and not be out of place. I’ll expand on this more in a bit, but considering the issues the current Devils have had with their bottom six and their insistence on playing players on Jack Hughes’s line who probably shouldn’t be there, adding an Adam Henrique would be a welcome addition.
Why would the Ducks move him?
The Ducks, who have reportedly at least kicked the tires on a potential Henrique trade according to The Hockey News, would trade Henrique for the same reasons that any last place team would look to trade a veteran player. The Ducks aren’t very good and won’t be good again anytime soon. In that respect, it makes sense to get what you can for a quality veteran player who isn’t part of your long-term plans.
The Ducks are in the middle of a rebuild as new GM Pat Verbeek did what Bob Murray stubbornly refused to do for years and started trading off veterans. Anaheim moved Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Nic Deslauriers at the deadline last year for future draft capital. With the Ducks currently sitting in last place in the Pacific division and wanting to increase their Connor Bedard lottery odds, they’ll likely be looking to move John Klingberg, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitry Kulikov, and perhaps Anthony Stolarz as pure rentals.
This won’t be a one or two year fix in Orange County. Anaheim is closer to winning the Bedard sweepstakes than they are of winning the Stanley Cup anytime soon. Henrique turns 33 next month. Even with an additional year remaining on his deal, I would think Verbeek would jump at the chance to move him now if he got a good enough offer.
What Would Henrique Bring to the Table?
The biggest thing Henrique brings is his versatility. He could be penciled anywhere into the Devils lineup and the fit would make sense.
Assuming the Devils continue to roll out a top-line of Ondrej Palat-Nico Hischier-Jesper Bratt, the Devils could put him on Jack Hughes’s wing and slide Erik Haula down to third line center. Part of the reason why Haula has been superglued to Hughes’s wing is his faceoff prowess, but that would no longer be necessary if Henrique were in that spot, as he’s winning in the dot at a 53.2% clip as a Duck. Perhaps Ruff chooses to go in an entirely different direction and goes with a third line of Henrique-Boqvist-Mercer that’ll just wear out the opposition by being a pain in the neck to play against. Or perhaps Ruff switches things up and puts Henrique with Hischier and Palat with Hughes. There are a lot of possibilities with a versatile player of this skill-set. Henrique is also good enough to play on both the power play and penalty kill units, which could be key if the Devils wind up missing key players down the stretch due to injuries. You can never have too much depth.
Henrique has made his share of highlight-reel plays in his career (including one goal against the Devils where he made Vatanen look ridiculous), but I consider him someone who is more of a grinder with a good shot who earns everything he gets on the ice. He’s a guy who knows what he’s doing playing in the bumper position and can get to the front of the net, yet has soft enough hands where he can actually do something with those opportunities and finish off a power move. He’s opportunistic enough to take advantage of a rebound, but can also get enough space to create his own shot. I don’t really consider Henrique an imposing physical presence at a listed 6’0” and 195 lbs, but he has a tendency of being a net-front presence and making things happen whether its scoring a greasy goal or redirecting a puck into the back of the net. It’s an element the Devils lack but could use a little more of.
Henrique also brings experience and leadership to the table. Henrique has played over 800 NHL games, and while he doesn’t have much postseason experience outside of the 2012 Cup run (his only other postseason run was a quick, four-game sweep at the hands of the Sharks in his first season in Anaheim), he’s been around the league long enough to know what it takes to win when the games matter the most. He’s also worn an ‘A’ in both New Jersey and Anaheim. Don’t understate adding a veteran presence with a good work ethic and a reputation for playing a good 200-foot game.
Don’t believe me when I suggest Henrique is still good? I’ll leave you with this.
brought this up on the PDOcast today..— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) January 18, 2023
Ducks in 560 5v5 minutes with Adam Henrique on the ice this season: up 26-24
Ducks in 1580 5v5 minutes without Adam Henrique on the ice this season: down 102-40 oh my god
Forgive me I could not resist. pic.twitter.com/ryjDITO0wm— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 18, 2023
I am not an expert, but it would appear to me that Henrique is still a good hockey player. At the very least, he shouldn’t be blamed for the Ducks being bad.
What Would It Take to Acquire Henrique?
This last question to me is two-fold. How motivated are the Ducks to move Henrique right now as opposed to waiting until the offseason or next year’s deadline? How much salary are the Ducks willing to retain to facilitate a deal?
Henrique is slightly overpaid at $5.825M, but not grossly overpaid as his production is more or less in line with a $4M to $4.5M forward. I don’t think the Ducks should automatically have to retain half just to make a deal happen, although they might not have much of a choice if they want to move him now given the lack of cap space around the league in general. Anaheim might not want to tie up 2023-24 cap space in retention unless they’re given a good reason to do so. Henrique is also not a pure rental as he has an extra year remaining on his contract.
Anaheim is unlikely to be a cap ceiling team again next season, but they might view Henrique’s cap hit as crucial in their efforts to reach the floor. Personally, I think that is unnecessary. They didn’t have much trouble getting Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, John Klingberg, and Kevin Shattenkirk to take their money the last few years (there are worse places to live than Southern California, after all). There’s also no shortage of teams looking to dump bad contracts as long as they’re willing to pay the price in terms of draft pick compensation.
The one last thing I’ll point out from a Devils perspective is that they have several young players who will require waivers beginning next season. It would make sense for Tom Fitzgerald to figure out which players could be part of the future and which guys are “just a guy” and act accordingly by including them in trades such as this rather than potentially lose them for nothing down the road. Kevin Bahl, Nolan Foote, Nikita Okhotiuk, Tyce Thompson, and Reilly Walsh can not be sent down next season without clearing waivers. With the exception of Walsh, all of those players have gotten a taste of NHL action this year (Walsh got into one NHL game late last season). It would make sense for the Devils to figure out which guys are effectively blocked (all of them) and to include one of them in a trade like this where there is a clearer path to NHL playing time in Anaheim.
If the Ducks retained 50% on Henrique, I could see the Devils sending them a 2nd round pick, Reilly Walsh, and Andreas Johnsson (spoiler alert: Johnsson will be in just about every hypothetical trade I propose to “make the salary cap math work”). The Ducks rid themselves of the final year of Henrique’s contract, take a couple of fliers in Walsh and Johnsson, and get a Top-64 draft pick? I think a 2nd round pick for two playoff runs of Henrique is worth a shot.
I would think Henrique would waive his partial no-trade (that New Jersey may or may not even be on in the first place) to go back to the place where it all started for him. I would think he’d like to go where he’s a beloved fan favorite, escape a last-place team going nowhere, and Cup chase in New Jersey. I would also think Andreas Johnsson would waive his no-trade protection to go anywhere he has a chance to get NHL playing time since his NHL playing career is on life-support. Not that he has a say in the matter, but I think Reilly Walsh would have a chance to see NHL time with the Ducks having four pending UFA defensemen they need to move and Jamie Drysdale out for most of this season. It’s a win-win for all parties involved.
It would be easy to dismiss a reunion with Adam Henrique as pulling on the nostalgia strings and throwing a bone to Devils fans by giving them a player they know and like.
This isn’t that.
Adam Henrique would make the Devils lineup deeper, more versatile and tougher to play against in the most important games of the year. He’s defensively responsible while still contributing offensively at roughly a .5 PPG clip. The Devils will need guys who can chip in secondary offense occasionally, and this is something Henrique has done consistently throughout his career. He’s also not afraid to go to the front of the net and pay the price, which would be a welcome addition for a team that might have a tendency to settle for shots from the perimeter when things aren’t going well. His cap hit isn’t ideal, which is why I’d love for the Ducks to eat a portion of it, but he’s also not a pure rental either as you’d theoretically be getting two postseason runs with him. For a lot of hockey reasons, Adam Henrique’s return to the Devils makes a ton of sense. The fact that he’s a popular former Devil is just a bonus.
You’ve heard enough from me though, so now, I turn things over to you. Would you want to see a reunion with Adam Henrique? Do you think he’d be a good fit on this Devils team? What do you think the cost would be to acquire him and do you think he’d be worth it? Lastly, who else do you want to see me write about in the leadup to the trade deadline? I plan on doing several trade target deep dives like this one between now and the trade deadline on March 3, and while I have an internal list I’m working off of, I’m open to suggestions as well. Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thanks for reading!