Those who have read my articles over the past few months might know that I have always been interested in a reunion with former Devil Adam Henrique. While I was all for such a move, I was on the fence about John Gibson. Committing $6.4 million for a 30-year old goalie with subpar results over the past few seasons seemed like a move that could easily backfire. But after the Anaheim Ducks had a hot start to the season, in part driven by a return to form for Gibson, I became more intrigued in him. Last night’s loss? I’m not particularly pressed about it, given the 8-2 stretch in the ten games prior. Eventually, the team will lose a game. And eventually, the Ducks needed to win one. But if John Gibson and Adam Henrique weren’t on the ice for the other team, it might have been win number 17 for the Devils.
With that, let me make the case for using the money the New Jersey Devils will be allowed to spend when Dougie Hamilton hits LTIR on John Gibson and Adam Henrique.
With John Gibson’s cap hit standing at $6.4 million alongside Adam Henrique’s $5.825 million, it does not look from afar to be an “easy” situation for the Devils to work out under their cap. However, with Dougie Hamilton and Tomas Nosek (whose injury is currently indefinite after surgery) on IR, waiting to be put on LTIR, the Devils will be able to add $10 million to their current roster on top of their current $565,000 in cap space. Additionally, if the Devils made such a trade at the deadline, after they accumulate more cap space, they would have just over $1.6 million in deadline cap space prior to using LTIR, according to CapFriendly. That would make them able to add over $11.5 million in cap hits if they make their trades at the deadline.
I’m not incredibly concerned about that. Assuming that the Ducks retain half of Henrique’s contract when they move him (regardless of his destination), the cap hit coming back to the Devils would be $9.315 million, leaving just over a million to spare. They could make the move tonight. They could make the move in a month. I just want to see the team win with better consistency.
If you’re concerned about the long-term financials, I think that’s a foolish position to take. Show me a better goalie than Gibson that is readily available who also costs less against the cap. There’s certainly a possibility that Vitek Vanecek’s contract would be moved in the trade as well, removing his $3.4 million from next year’s cap situation and better allowing an extension for, say, Dawson Mercer to take hold. Down the line? If Schmid, Daws, or Malek become legitimate starters in a few years, Gibson will only have a modified no-trade clause, and should not be immovable: especially with the cap increasing.
The Case for Henrique: A Supporting Finisher
When thinking of the most impactful supporting forwards for the current Devils, you would probably think of Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula, and maybe Alex Holtz or Dawson Mercer. These four players have combined for three 20-goal seasons in their careers, though Holtz should make it four this season. With Michael McLeod and Curtis Lazar playing well on the fourth line, but not scoring much, while Nathan Bastian struggles to do much on the ice, it seems like the Devils still have room for a goal scorer in their midst. Adam Henrique has had six career 20-goal seasons: double what all combined supporting Devils have had, and he’s well on his way to a seventh.
Always Special to come back!! pic.twitter.com/jI5dkPkVcT— Adam Henrique (@AdamHenrique) December 18, 2023
Most NHL players see their finishing ability decline over the course of their careers after peaking in their early 20s. Adam Henrique is a unicorn. While Haula and Palat are unlikely to score 20 goals even on lines with guys like Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes, Henrique would be all but a certainty to get to 20, 25, or 30+ goals. He would be yet another option in both realms of special teams, but his most important impact would be making the Devils a more lethal even strength team when it comes to finishing their chances. His shooting percentage has actually increased with the Ducks to 16% in his years there. He’s up near 20% this season, so far. But with a guy like Rico, his percentages won’t regress very far, if at all.
Think about Ondrej Palat for a second. Palat has been excellent at impacting the game off the puck, playing good defense and supporting in the neutral zone and along the boards. But at the end of the day, Ondrej Palat is not a finisher. When he got a shot at the net with Gibson down, it didn’t get through. When he, seconds later, had a wide-open one-timer with the puck going to a perfect spot for the shot, he shanked the shot bad enough that the puck popped up sideways. FOR THE ANAHEIM DUCKS, Adam Henrique has 9 goals and 7 assists. On a line with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt for several games, Ondrej Palat has 4 goals and 9 assists. If we were watching Henrique on a line with Hischier, with Palat able to drop to the third line and someone going to the fourth line, pushing Nathan Bastian to the press box, we would see a more robust efforts on the back end of back-to-backs, at the very least.
HAT TRICK RICO— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) December 18, 2023
We lead 5-1! pic.twitter.com/rUHrj1rVYg
It takes a lot for a guy to score a hat trick against the Devils and not even leave me angry about it. But Adam Henrique deserves a team that is going to the playoffs. Is it a coincidence he played so well against us? Probably not. If there’s ever a time to take the hint, it’s here. When Henrique scores a hat trick at The Rock, there shouldn’t be a groan coming up from the crowd. Everyone wearing red there should be standing and cheering when that man scores.
The Case For Gibson: Do I Really Need to Say It?
While I was excited for the expected Vitek Vanecek vs. John Gibson matchup last night, it seemed Vitek was a little banged up and unable to play. I am not sure how that affects his future with the team this and next year, as he was a candidate for a trade given his $3.4 million cap hit, which could help keep a team above the floor. But we know very little about what was physically ailing him enough to keep him out of last night. What we do know is that John Gibson was an absolute menace in net for the Ducks.
The Devils need an absolute menace in net. Last night, Gibson had 18 saves on 19 shots against with a 1.69 goals saved above expected, stopping five of six high-danger and eight medium-danger shots on goal. He looked unshakable in goal, which was a stark contrast from Akira Schmid’s four goals allowed and 1.46 goals saved below expected. The Devils did not lose because of Schmid last night, but he made it difficult, or impossible with how well Gibson played. Just see his three goals allowed on six high-danger shots: a starting goalie needs to save some of those.
When the team doesn't score, it's difficult to win. In several back-to-backs so far this season, the Devils have run out of gas in the second or third period, falling to come back after falling behind despite what were usually far superior first-period efforts. Beating the Devils has become a game of outlasting them. If they had a goalie who is capable of elite play like John Gibson (even if that has not been the case for a few years), it makes the Devils much more capable of surviving games such as last night's without falling apart in the third in a multi-goal regulation loss. Having a guy like Gibson could make that game go to overtime at 1-1. Maybe he could even pull off a shutout. Ultimately, the Devils did not play poor defensively last night. A better goalie performance would have given them a much closer score.
When this team gets to the playoffs, they’re going to want a guy like that. Akira Schmid fell off in the second round after his heroics helped beat the Rangers, and Vitek Vanecek was just not enough of a difference maker in either round last season. While I wanted to give them a chance to prove themselves again, there’s only so many times I can watch them give up four or five goals on 2 or 2.5 expected goals against before I, like today, call directly for Tom Fitzgerald to trade for a very specific replacement. There’s not going to be a better option that magically pops up between now and the trade deadline.
Why Henrique? Why Not a Defenseman?
With the rise of Simon Nemec in the time since Dougie Hamilton’s injury, I am less concerned about the defense than I used to be. If Nemec is as good as he is at 19 years old, he should only get better as the season goes on. And presuming Dougie Hamilton is back for or during the playoffs, Lindy Ruff is already on track to be forced into a tough decision on the back end. Do you sit Bahl, Marino, Miller, Nemec — who sits? If you went and added Ilya Lyubushkin to the mix, all it would really do is relegate Brendan Smith to the eighth defenseman spot until Hamilton returns, which I don’t think is very necessary with all the defensive depth that the Devils have. As for the forwards, there isn’t a tough decision to be made if Henrique is added. Nathan Bastian has not been himself this year, and should end in the press box if Fitzgerald were to add an impact forward. Bastian could then rotate in with Lazar or when guys get banged up and need to miss a night or two.
What it May Cost, Final Thoughts, and Your Thoughts
I’m staking my trade desires for the Devils this season right here. Adam Henrique is on an expiring contract and fits what guys like Nico Hischier needs (a LW finisher) like a glove. Adding Henrique would also allow Ondrej Palat to play in a more appropriate third-line role, or for Dawson Mercer to be moved off of third-line center. John Gibson seems much better than he has since the 2019-20 season, when he started to play below the standards he set in his early career. With how rough the Ducks were defensively during that time, it’s not an incredible surprise — but now he can be brought to a team that really doesn’t allow as many chances against as it seems. But then again, any guy that can consistently have a save percentage over, say .905 could bring the Devils significantly more wins than it seems just Vanecek and Schmid will.
This trade would not have been possible without Dougie Hamilton becoming eligible for LTIR. It’s never good to see someone go down for surgery, but other teams take advantage of these situations. The Hurricanes, Golden Knights, Lightning, Maple Leafs, and others have made no bones about using LTIR to the fullest extent possible. A two-way goal scorer and a goalie sounds good to me right about now.
Given Gibson’s poor performance in the seasons immediately preceding this one and the fact that Henrique is on an expiring contract, I would imagine their combined price is a first round pick and a good B-level prospect (i.e. Topias Vilen, Josh Filmon, etc). The return for Anaheim could involve more, like Vanecek or another, lesser prospect and/or pick. But a high-dollar goalie who is having his first good season in five years should not command much more than that.
As for you, what did you think of Henrique and Gibson last night? Do you think it was just a coincidence they had such a good night, or do you think they were consciously trying to make an impression? What kind of crowd do you think a truly returning Rico would get? How much could they impact games in the playoffs? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.