After that ugly opening night loss in my 29th season as a Devils fan, I was ready for another year of "here we go again". After that magical 2012 run, I've grown immune to the suffering the team so consistently has tried to enforce upon me - it's grown into more of a silent numbness that never leaves.
The season turned out very different than expected. We're winning games that by regular Devils standards should be blowout losses, we have depth quality, our bad players aren't THAT bad. And for the first time in 13 years, we're in the middle of what might be a huge, in-season blockbuster trade for a star player. And similar to the Kovalchuk trade, getting it done is going to be a managerial masterclass.
The potential trade for Timo Meier makes, as everyone and their grandmother will tell you, a world of sense for the Devils. The right player at the right age at the right time doesn't come along too often, especially not in a situation where he's available during your best season in over a decade, and one that promises to be the first of many. "GET IT DONE", the comment section reads, and when it makes so much sense, why isn't it just getting done?
The truth is, this trade is going to be massively complicated, for a series of reasons, and if Fitzgerald pulls this off, it will probably be the biggest trade in Devils history in terms of impact and complexity. Let's look deeper into the factors at play here:
1. Meier's contract. Taking on Meier's contract for this season requires us to take on the remainder of a $6m cap hit. The Devils as of the moment of writing have $2,085,834 in available cap space with Johnsson buried in the A and Bernier on LTIR. The cap situation needs some massaging, but it's managable, especially if the Sharks are willing to retain on his salary. The question is, however, if they are, and at what price. A team can only retain salary on up to three players, and already retain on Brent Burns. Any deal for Erik Karlsson (we'll get back to that) is definitely going to be a second retention. Retaining on Meier, even if just for the rest of the season, adds a third, which means the Sharks cannot use their newfound cap space to launder cap as a third team in another trade. That potentially lost asset will have to be paid by the Devils if they want Meier at less than his full cap hit.
Then there's the case of his qualifying offer (QO). As Matthew Tkachuk showed last summer, these are becoming very powerful tools for players now. If the team doesn't qualify, you're UFA - happy days. If the team qualifies, you get your cash for a year and then you're UFA - happy days. And Meier's QO being $10m guarantees that he'll earn big wherever he plays, and walks him straight to his next big ticket at his convenience. Unless, of course, he's extended conventionally and doesn't Tkachuk his team.
So far, the Sharks have been unwilling to let other teams talk extension with Meier's camp. Whoever trades for him, trades for uncertainty. With the Bratt situation being what it is (the exact same contract situation at a significantly lower cap hit), and half the current roster being UFA or RFA this offseason, adding another piece to that puzzle isn't ideal. Nor is giving up a premium for a potential rental. Until the Sharks let teams talk to Meier's agent and map out the options available, teams will be hesitant to take on a rental unless the price is significantly lower than market value. Which, in turn, the Sharks won't accept for a premium asset.
2. What the Sharks want. Most fans think Holtz, a 1st and a D will get it done. Reports, however, suggests that the Sharks want Dawson Mercer as the centerpiece of the return, and they have a keen eye on Fabian Zetterlund. Both match their timeline perfectly. The Sharks aren't looking for a Jesper Bratt (as some suggest would be fair 1-for-1) - they are looking for NHL-ready players that are going to be their Jesper Bratts and Nico Hischiers in five years, when their window opens, but develops with the team during that period. Dawson Mercer fits that mold perfectly, as does Kevin Bahl, Alexander Holtz, Nikita Okhotiuk and Akira Schmid. Similarly, Sharangovich is an RFA due a raise that will be 29 in five years - he's not what the Sharks are looking for. And don't even get me started on the idea that they'll take the Johnsson contract. It'll cost us an extra 3rd just bringing his name up in trade talks. The Sharks have no need to take a bad contract back, especially when we can make the cap work by trading one or more young roster players.
3. But Erik Karlsson. Some don't seem to understand that what happens with Karlsson, is going to affect what happens with Timo Meier. If, theoretically, San Jose trades Karlsson for a 1st, a young prospect D and a young sniper winger, that drastically changes the dynamic of the Meier trade. Will they want Holtz? Probably not. Will they want Bahl, Casey or Mukhamadullin? Probably not. And that severely handicaps what the Devils are able to offer. Pulling off the Meier trade prior to any Karlsson trade is almost a must to make it work, unless you're planning to end up in a ransom situation where you bid for the thing the other party doesn't really HAVE to offer. Especially when Carolina, Winnipeg, Vegas and St. Louis are waiting in the wings.
4. The value of what we offer. At this point, it's sadly becoming a likely scenario that Holtz is going to be closer to Mattias Tedenby than Jesper Bratt. We could all be wrong on this, but his game thus far has not translated well from the AHL level to the NHL level. NHL scouts know this, and his value reflects this. Holtz is not going to be the centerpiece in any trade for Meier. Similarly, our 1st this year is happily bad value. If the playoffs start today, we have home advantage against the Rangers, and we're taking them in a series judged by the season so far. So with a 1st in the twenties range, we're basically offering a glorified second. Any team offering in the 16-19 range offers better value, and it's true St. Louis are actually in on Meier, they might even offer in the 10-15 range.
That leaves us with young roster players, and top tier prospects. Hughes and Nemec are untouchable as per Fitzgerald, as they should be. Mercer, as much as he is the single asset we have that makes perfect sense for San Jose, should be as close to untouchable as possible - including him in any deal has to significantly lower further payment. That leaves prospects like Casey, Mukhamadullin and Gritsyuk, which are all fine prospects, but nowhere near sure bets or "sexy" names. Thus, adding up enough value to trade for Meier alone is challenging - adding up enough value to trade for Meier signed and retained is going to be an immense task.
As much as I want to see Meier in a Devils shirt as soon as possible, my hopes of it happening is still around 50/50. I hope I wake up tomorrow being proven dead wrong, but for now, this is my take on why the Meier trade isn't "getting done".
SergeantBrylin as a diehard Devils fan with a particular interest in game theory, and the business of hockey. He lives far north in Norway with his fiancee and two kids.