With five days to go until the NHL Trade Deadline, the New Jersey Devils have finally made their move. It’s not just any move either as the Devils acquired arguably the best player on the trade market this season. After weeks and even months of speculation and the seemingly never-ending saga surrounding Timo Meier’s availability, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun finally broke the news Sunday afternoon that we’ve all been waiting to hear. The Devils have acquired Timo Meier from the San Jose Sharks.
LeBrun added that Timo Meier would NOT be coming with a contract extension, as the Devils ultimately became comfortable with the idea of doing the trade without a new contract in hand sometime in the last 48-72 hours. As a reminder, Meier is on the final season of a four-year, $6M AAV contract. He will be an RFA at the end of the season with a $10M qualifying offer. At a minimum, if the Devils make him that qualifying offer, they have a season’s and a half worth of control with Meier.
There is no Meier contract extension as part of this. The Devils became comfortable doing the trade without having him signed to an extension as part of it.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) February 26, 2023
With that bit of information out of the way, the only remaining question would be what exactly the Devils would be giving up. So we waited. And waited. And waited.
And at 9:01pm ET, it was finally made official.
MEIER (AND MORE) ACQUIRED.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 27, 2023
Here's how we got it done.
The Devils acquired LW/RW Timo Meier, F Timur Ibragimov, D Scott Harrington, D Santeri Hatakka, G Zach Emond, and a 2024 5th round pick in exchange for RW Fabian Zetterlund, D Shakir Mukhamadullin, LW Andreas Johnsson, D Nikita Okhotiuk, a 2023 1st round draft pick, a 2024 conditional 2nd round draft pick, and a 2024 7th round draft pick. The Sharks will also retain 50% of Meier’s remaining cap hit for this season. The conditions of the draft picks going to San Jose are as follows, according to the Devils press release.
- San Jose Receives New Jersey’s 2023 First-Round Pick: If the pick is a top-two selection, New Jersey will instead transfer their own 2024 first-round pick.
- San Jose Receives Conditional 2024 Second-Round Pick: Should New Jersey reach the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals (and Meier plays in at least 50% of Meier’s Club’s Playoff games in 2023) or the 2024 Eastern Conference Finals, New Jersey will transfer its own first-round pick in 2024 NHL Draft to San Jose (top 10 protected), instead of its own second-round pick in 2024 NHL Draft. If New Jersey’s first-round pick in 2024 NHL Draft is a top 10 selection, New Jersey will have the option to instead transfer its own first-round pick in 2025 NHL Draft to San Jose. Should New Jersey transfer its first-round pick in 2024 NHL Draft per the original condition (top-two above in Condition A), New Jersey will instead transfer its own first-round pick in 2025 NHL Draft should they reach the 2024 Eastern Conference Finals.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but my initial reaction to this trade is simple. How do you look at that package as a Devils fan and say anything other than “That’s it? That’s all they gave up?”. On the surface, this appears to be highway robbery by Tom Fitzgerald.
Let’s start with the outgoing players. Fabian Zetterlund is the most likely player to have any direct impact on this year’s Devils team. After impressing during a late-season audition last year, Zetterlund continued to build on that this season with 20 points in 45 games. He has shown that he won’t look out of place when he was tasked with playing with Tomas Tatar and Nico Hischier earlier this year. After some midseason struggles and a stretch where he was healthy scratched, he has again shown promise playing on the Devils third and fourth line at times. Zetterlund won’t hit UFA for a few more seasons, but he’s a perfectly fine middle six winger for the Sharks going forward.
Nikita Okhotiuk got a taste of the NHL earlier this season while Ryan Graves and John Marino missed some time with injuries, and while he showed flashes of promise as well as some much needed toughness, he also struggled at points. With the Devils depth on the blueline, including the highly anticipated arrivals of Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec at some point, it makes sense for the Devils to move him now if he wasn’t going to be part of their long-term plans. Especially when you recall that Okhotiuk will not be waiver-exempt beginning in the 2023-24 season.
Shakir Mukhamadullin was the third of the Devils trio of first round picks in 2020. He was also recently ranked the #5 prospect in the Devils system according to Scott Wheeler and The Athletic. Of all of the players the Devils gave up, he might be the one they miss the most if he ever becomes a Top 4 defenseman at the NHL level. James mentioned earlier in the week that Mukhamadullin could be one of the Devils prospects on the move, and like with Okhotiuk, he was also blocked at the NHL level going forward. I don’t know exactly when Mukhamadullin was planning on coming to the US full-time as he signed his ELC awhile ago and was technically on loan, but with him having a good season at the KHL level, it makes sense to sell high on him while his value is stable.
Andreas Johnsson has been with the Devils since the 2020-21 season, and after two underwhelming seasons in New Jersey, he has mostly been an afterthought in the final year of his contract. The Devils placed him on waivers in training camp, and aside from two NHL games earlier this season during a brief recall, has almost exclusively played for Utica in 2022-23. He is clearly no longer in the Devils plans and was included in this trade to help make the money work.
More importantly, this deal is more about who the Devils DIDN’T give up. Luke Hughes? He’s still a Devil. Simon Nemec? Still a Devil. Alexander Holtz? Still a Devil. Dawson Mercer? You’re damn right he’s still a Devil. The Devils managed to pull this off while keeping Seamus Casey and Arseni Gritsyuk in the fold. They didn’t touch their goaltending as Akira Schmid and Nico Daws are still here. Even most of the names on the B and C-tier of prospects are present and accounted for.
That’s not to say that the Sharks didn’t get a good deal in their own right, but with the Devils top prospects off the table, they opted for an awful lot of quantity. Zetterlund look like he’ll be a solid NHL player. Okhotiuk might be as well, and Mukhamadullin is probably the highest ceiling prospect the Sharks got in return. Two potential first round picks aren’t anything to sneeze at either. Still, if I were a Sharks fan, I’d feel underwhelmed with the quantity over quality package they ultimately accepted. Yes, its nice that one of those first round picks is guaranteed, and Sharks fans will have incentive to root for the Devils to make a deep playoff run so they get a second first round pick out of this deal, but the fact that Tom Fitzgerald managed to land Meier while protecting his top prospects is a major win for the Devils. And that’s before you consider the fact that the Devils will assuredly push to get Meier signed long-term at some point now that they have his rights.
All of this brings us to Meier, the headliner of this deal. Last month, I wrote about Meier and his potential fit with the Devils. In summary, Meier is a big, skilled, power forward who can play either winger position and produce at an elite level. He drives possession, he is a volume shooter, and he goes to the front of the net, using his size and strength to bully his way to high-danger areas. He gives the Devils much needed size in their Top Six on the wings and adds some physicality as well. Need some help on the power play? Meier can help there as well. Need a player who can play with speed and be able to keep up with Jack Hughes? Meier can do that. I won’t rehash everything I wrote last month about Meier, but he checks every box of what the Devils need as they gear up for a playoff push and potential Cup run. Fitzgerald has long-coveted a top-line caliber winger for this group, and he finally got his man.
Timo Meier, acquired by NJ, is a top scoring winger, an elite driver of offensive possession and scoring chances with excellent hands and instincts in tight. A big player who doesn't shy away from physicality either. #NJDevils pic.twitter.com/PvM7gP2kVk— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) February 26, 2023
Scott Harrington is a 6’2”, 204 lb. left-handed defenseman who can be viewed as veteran depth. He has played parts of six NHL seasons, most of which came with the Columbus Blue Jackets between 2016 and 2022, and is probably best known for being part of the trade package that sent Phil Kessel from Toronto to Pittsburgh in 2015. He is in the middle of his first season with San Jose and while the underlying offensive numbers look good, it must be noted that he’s played mostly with Erik Karlsson since the Sharks traded Jaycob Megna a few weeks ago. He’s also never really put up much when it comes to counting statistics such as goals and assists, but clearly, the Devils saw something they liked for him to be part of this deal. With Okhotiuk outgoing and Mukhamadullin no longer an option, Harrington could be a depth option for the Devils if they really get into a bind later in the season or in the playoffs.
Santeri Hatakka was the Sharks 6th round draft pick in 2019. He made it into 9 NHL games last season and looks to profile as a 7th or 8th defenseman at his ceiling. Timur Ibragimov was also a Sharks 6th round pick in 2019 and has primarily played for the ECHL Wichita Thunder this season. Zachary Emond was the Sharks 6th round pick in 2018 and while he has played well in limited games at the ECHL level this season, its the ECHL. The latter two players are essentially throw-ins as the Sharks were at the 50 contract limit and needed to send some contracts back to New Jersey with the Devils giving up as much quantity as they did.
But with all due respect to Harrington, Hatakka, and Emond, this will be known as the Timo Meier trade. And rightfully so. It’s a statement trade by Tom Fitzgerald. The Devils, who currently have the third most points in the National Hockey League, are going to be playoff bound for the first time since 2017-18. Their window of contention is just opening up. Even without a Meier extension for the moment, Jack Hughes is signed through 2030. Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler are signed through 2028. Nico Hischier, John Marino and Ondrej Palat are signed through 2027. Luke Hughes, Simon Nemec, Dawson Mercer, and Alex Holtz are all going nowhere. There’s no reason to think that the Devils won’t eventually come to an agreement with Meier on a long-term deal, as they have plenty of cap space and a desire to get a deal done.
The Devils are set up to be a “Win Now” team for the foreseeable future, but make no mistake. This is a “Win Now” move that the Devils made. As in, right now. After so many years of losing, rebuilding, losing, false starts, rebuilding again, more losing, and whatever last year was with the abysmal goaltending luck the Devils received, Fitzgerald has made arguably the biggest move he will ever make as the general manager of the Devils. If (when?) the Devils ultimately win the Stanley Cup, whether its this year, next year, or five years from now, we will likely point to this trade as a defining moment and a big part of the reason why they won the Cup. It’s refreshing to see the Devils make a statement move like this and I fail to see how any Devils fan could object, especially when you look at what they surrendered in the deal.
Perhaps most importantly, the biggest move the Devils were going to make at this year’s deadline is now done. Now that Meier is in the fold, the Devils have $1.36M of Deadline Cap Space left to play with according to CapFriendly. The Devils don’t have a ton of flexibility, but they have enough if they want to make another depth move to address the bottom six. I would recommend they act quickly, as some of the options that I liked are starting to fly off of the board. But that’s all secondary. Today, it’s all about Timo Meier and the Devils landing the top-line scoring winger they coveted.
EDIT 10:43pm ET 2/26/23: You can watch Tom Fitzgerald’s comments on this trade below.
EDIT 11:06pm ET 2/26:23: You can watch Timo Meier’s comments on the trade below.
You’ve heard enough from me though, so now, I turn things over to you. Are you happy that the Devils have acquired Meier? Are you happy with what they gave up, or perhaps more importantly, what they didn’t give up? Are you concerned about the Devils not acquiring Meier with a contract extension in hand? How do you think Meier and Harrington will fit into the Devils lineup? Do you agree with me that this is a home run for Tom Fitzgerald? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading!