Now beyond the halfway point of the season, the Devils sit near the top of the league’s standings. The team has had an uneven couple of months, though, as they struggled to find the win column for much of December and now have been finding it in spite some fairly sloppy and disjointed play here in January. Given that the Devils have already blown by last season’s win total and surpassed their 2021-22 points total with 36 games yet to play on their schedule, it’s tough to complain too much about where the team is situated right now in the standings.
In spite of those very positive circumstances, standings-wise, a Devils team that was looking like a juggernaut for the first quarter of the season now looks decidedly more vulnerable. The team seemed to have decent depth when things were going well, but much of the roster has struggled to find the scoresheet and has had their underlying numbers sink substantially over the past month and a half. The Devils feel largely like a two-line team right now which creates some definite limitations for a team with bigger aspirations than “make the playoffs.”
When this season began, “make the playoffs” was certainly the target that everyone had in mind as a marker of a successful season. That accomplishment is looking increasingly likely to be achieved, as the Devils now sit 13 points clear of the playoff bubble. But just because something was the goal when the season began doesn’t mean that the team shouldn’t necessarily reach for higher ambitions based on the updated information now available. A team that has suffered under an extended rebuild as long as the Devils have is understandably reluctant to overcommit before the proverbial “window” has opened. There is no hard and fast rule for what constitutes a team’s window to compete for championships, though.
The Devils front office (understandably) wants to make sure they are doing things The Right Way™ after essentially 10 years in the NHL wilderness. Sacrificing too much in the name of making a big splash, whether at the trade deadline or the offseason, when a team is on the rise can ultimately set back a rebuild, the conventional wisdom goes. I think people are beginning to come around to the fact that the Devils are probably now in their window, though, with the way their core pieces like Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Dougie Hamilton are playing. If your best players are at or near the height of their powers, there’s no time like the present.
The purpose of all this setup is this: if the time is now to try to make some serious noise for the Devils, there is no need to sit on your hands or settle for half-measures in your trade targets. Enter Timo Meier. Meier will be an RFA with a burdensome qualifying offer this summer and is currently playing on a lousy San Jose Sharks team with an aging core, limited prospect group, and a capped-out roster. For a San Jose team that is likely finally considering hitting the reset button their roster after years of mediocrity and a relatively grim outlook, Meier is certainly their most valuable trade piece. He also might just be the biggest difference-maker theoretically available by trade this season.
Meier is on pace for close to 50 goals this season, and on top of that, he drives play at absolutely elite levels from the wing. A look at his isolated xG impacts from HockeyViz shows just how much of a difference-maker he is at 5v5 and, to a lesser extent, the power play. Meier is an aggressive forward who can push the pace of games and he has a great shot to go along with it. Whether it’s next to Jack Hughes or his Swiss compatriot Nico Hischier, it’s fun to imagine just how dominant a line with Timo Meier on it would be in New Jersey. Timo also has a reputation as a feisty player, which he showcased with some pretty impressive throwing of hands just yesterday. He checks just about every box available for a team that could use a boost on the wing.
So how do the Devils make a trade for Meier a reailty? Well, it’s unlikely to be cheap as he is about as big of a chip as the Sharks have to navigate out of the mess they find themselves in, and if he’s available, there are likely to at least several teams vying for his services. I think at a minimum, the Devils will likely have to part with a top prospect, a young roster player, and a top pick. I think there are a number of imaginable setups for the Devils to make such an arrangement work.
A name that is likely to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue is Alexander Holtz, which, despite his being a recent high pick, is only a chunk of what the Sharks are going to need to be enticed. His ties to recent Sharks top pick William Eklund give it a kind of synergy for the Sharks, but the question marks on Holtz’s development mean that a first round pick is probably an automatic throw-in if Holtz is the centerpiece. The question would be how much more would the Sharks need beyond Holtz and a first. Given that the pick will probably be in the mid-20s with the Devils’ trajectory, the Devils will probably have to do more to make the Sharks whole.
A decent young forward like Yegor Sharangovich could be a pot-sweetener, but his somewhat middling season does hamstring his trade value to an extent. The Devils will have to move out some salary either way, so a guy like Sharangovich could be a likely casualty, since the Sharks probably don’t have much interest in a guy like, say, Tomas Tatar, as a trade chip. And if the Devils are looking to execute a salary dump of someone like Andreas Johnsson to make the cap numbers crunch, that’s probably only going to raise the price for the Sharks. If Holz/1st/Sharangovich isn’t enough to get it done, I think the Devils could consider moving a prospect from their next tier with good upside, such as Shakir Mukhamadullin or Arseny Gritsyuk.
The big question facing the Devils is would they part with a player like Simon Nemec if the Sharks say that’s what they need? Under those circumstances, I think you probably need to have a contract extension worked out with Meier before the trade, and the amount of other pieces you’re including in the trade has to go down substantially (possibly to zero), but I don’t know that I’m slamming the door in their face if they make that ask. The only prospect that feels really untouchable to me is Luke Hughes, given the height of his ceiling and the obvious family ties to your best player.
Looking forward at the coming years, I think the Devils have the ability to fit Meier on their cap, assuming he lands somewhere in the $8.5M(ish) AAV range on a longer-term deal. That would certainly open up some questions on the future of RFA Jesper Bratt, and likely means you have to part with at least one of Ryan Graves/Damon Severson, but for a player like Meier, you figure out a way to make it work. The Devils will hopefully have some players (like the aforementioned Luke Hughes) arriving to keep costs down with some ELCs as well.
There’s plenty of smoke around the ‘Meier to the Devils’ fire, including in the national media, and even if it’s just speculating, these things have a way of sort of willing themselves into existence and Sharks GM Mike Grier has done nothing to throw cold water on the suggestion. Could it be a fit? What do you think it will take to actually make the Sharks bite on a trade proposal? Is Holtz too flawed a prospect to be a centerpiece? Is Nemec a player you’d consider parting with to make a trade like this go? Sound off with your thoughts on the possibility below and thanks for reading.