Next week is going to be the real meat of the 2023 NHL offseason. Awards, the 2023 NHL Draft, qualifying offers due, and Free Agent Frenzy on July 1. What do we do until then? Speculate! With a Las Vegas team that wheeled and dealt a lot to make their Cup winning roster, a not-so-amazing free agent class, and teams already making moves (e.g. Damon Severson being signed-and-traded to Columbus), we could see plenty of trades happening soon. Some of them may be ones the New Jersey Devils should (or should not) be interested in. To that end, let us consider some trade targets for this year’s offseason and discuss how good or not-good of an idea they would be.
The Ross Colton Section
One of the most common names I see among the People Who Matter is Tampa Bay winger Ross Colton. He is from New Jersey! He plays with grit! He can do more than chip in some points! Tampa Bay probably cannot afford him! The Devils could! Let us start here.
Ross Colton is a 26-year old pending restricted free agent who will turn 27 in September. He is indeed from New Jersey. Robbinsville, to be specific. Colton is a left-shooting center who can play wing. NHL.com lists him at 6’0” and 194 pounds. He is coming off a $2.25 million contract over two seasons. For the low price of a $1.125 million cap hit, Colton put up 22 goals and 39 points in 2021-22 and 16 goals and 32 points in 2022-23. That was in the regular season. He put up five goals and nine points in their 2022 Cup run and a goal and four points in a six-game first round loss to Toronto this year. This production is more impressive than it seems given that Colton averaged around 11 minutes of even strength ice time and around 1:20 in power play ice time in each of those seasons. Given Colton’s grand total of 5 and 9 power play points over the last seasons, respectively, it is fair to presume that Colton has been a provider in limited minutes.
The 5-on-5 numbers at Natural Stat Trick back this up. He was very good in the run of play in 2021-22 and 2022-23. The Lightning did well when Colton was on the ice for his shifts on Tampa Bay’s third or fourth line. A peek at his teammates for his 5-on-5 scoring - which notably had him put up 20 goals in 2021-22 - showed that he largely played with Tampa Bay’s depth. Other than Steven Stamkos and Mikhail Sergachev being present for six goals each over the last two seasons, Colton has done his damage mostly playing with the likes of Corey Perry, Pat Maroon, and Nick Paul. Not to mention more points with guys like Tanner Jeannot and Anthony Cirelli than the bigger names of Kucherov or Point.
All signs are pointing to Colton being an effective bottom-six forward. He is due for a raise as he has played well for two full seasons. Tampa Bay is nearly capped out without LTIR. Even that gives them only a little room to work with. This makes Colton a prime target for trades.
Should the Devils Seriously Make an Offer?: Yeah. While the Devils are not in a position to take advantage of cap space now that New Jersey is looking to be a contender (and they are), they do have room to spend. They can give Colton a nice bump and pay and room on the roster should Miles Wood be free to hit the open market. It could potentially be a good upgrade given my stance on Wood. I would almost prefer that than trying to pay out a similar amount for an older UFA in a few weeks. This is a case where I agree with the demands from the People Who Matter who want Ross in Newark.
Given that Tampa Bay is up against it cap-wise and they have no picks in the 2023 NHL Draft except for a sixth and a seventh rounder, I wonder if the Devils can flip that third rounder from the Severson trade for Colton’s rights and then sign Colton. It may not even take a third rounder, even.
The Conor Garland Section
Believe it or not, the most capped out team in the NHL as of June 15 is Vancouver. Yes, Vancouver. A team that missed the playoffs by a boatload and they are technically over the cap ceiling for 2023-24 already by less than a million dollars. Sure, they can add some players to LTIR to get compliant. The point remains: This team stinks and they need to move players just to change something. Status quo is not a good option for the Canucks. So on June 16, they decided to buy out Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It gives them some needed cap room today at the cost of a dead cap hit of at least $2 million for the next seven seasons after 2023-24. It also concludes one of the more baffling trades in recent Canucks history that brought OEL to Vancouver in the first place two years ago, where they sent Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, their 2021 first rounder, their 2022 second rounder, and this year’s seventh rounder to Arizona. Yes, three picks and that first was a top-ten pick. (Aside: Arizona retained salary but because of the buyout, Arizona is down a retained salary spot until that buyout ends.) It also brought back Conor Garland’s signing rights.
To that end, Conor Garland has been brought up as a player the Canucks may want to move. Why not just pull the plug entirely on that trade? Garland is one of the few in Vancouver signed for the next three seasons with a cap hit of $4.95 million. But the 27-year old winger seems to be on the outside of Rick Tocchet’s plans. The 27-year old, 5’10”, and 165 pound winger who is streaky at scoring does not fit what Tocchet may want from his roster going forward. That is at least my impression from Ben Kuzma’s profile of Garland’s 2022-23 season at the Vancouver Province. Kuzma’s profile also notes that Garland is a fast winger and can shoot the puck well. The 46 points last season and the 52 in 2021-22 do back up the idea that Garland can produce. A fast winger that can produce may be a good option to a team that plays an up tempo offensive style of hockey.
Noah Strang at Canucks Army lays out the case that Garland has been pretty good for the Canucks even if the goal scoring is not so consistent. Strang notes that Garland has been a good player in 5-on-5, which is backed up by his on-ice rates at Natural Stat Trick. While he was not a positive player in 5-on-5 last season, few Canucks were and Garland was really close to it. Putting him on a team has excelled at 5-on-5 may show off more of his value. I agree with Strang’s point that if Vancouver wants to make space - and they really do - then they should start with someone else. But teams like Vancouver are not where they are by making good decisions. Teams like New Jersey can take advantage of that.
Should the Devils Seriously Make an Offer?: Yes - if Colton cannot be had. I am sure the criticism will come up that Garland is too small and not tough enough and I counter that the guy put in an honest and productive effort for two bad Vancouver seasons. He will put in the work. His deal is a bit pricey - thank you, Jim Benning - but it is not so unreasonable that it cannot be fit in. Garland may truly be a third-line caliber forward but he could really thrive in New Jersey’s system given his speed and offensive sensibilities. Colton would be a cheaper and more efficient option. But if the Devils let Wood walk (and they should), then the addition of Garland would not be a huge add to prevent future moves. Especially since Garland’s deal has no trade clauses or somesuch to make a future deal impossible.
What would be an offer to start out with? Vancouver is not in a position to be so demanding. They need to make cap space and they have too many wingers on their crummy team. Throw them a B-level prospect (Nolan Foote?) or a pick and see if they bite. I think it can.
As far as the eventual Quinn Hughes trade, ask again in 2025.
The Taylor Hall Section
You remember Taylor Hall! He was acquired for Adam Larsson in a famous one-for-one deal years ago. Hall proceeded to dominate when healthy, mostly in the 2017-18 season. A campaign where he was a huge reason why the Devils were competitive and made the playoffs. One that ended with him earning the Hart Trophy; the only Devil to have ever won it. Hall was dealt away to Arizona in a deal that turned out much better than I thought when it happened in 2019. He signed with Buffalo in 2020 and was dealt to Boston in April 2021. While the B’s have been very good in 2022-23 and Hall has been productive in black and gold, he may be moved out for Boston to make cap space. If only to sign or call up some actual forwards now that David Pastrnak’s massive $11.25 million AAV extension begins in 2023-24.
When Hall was acquired by the B’s in 2021, Boston’s GM Don Sweeney signed him to a four-season contract worth $24 million for a $6 million cap hit. The contract has a modified no-movement/trade clause where Hall has a 16-team no-trade list. That list becomes a 10-team no-trade list for next season. Should Boston need space, they will need to check that list for options as to whether a deal is made before or after July 1 when that no-trade list gets reduced. Since the Bruins would need to make space, expecting them to retain salary would not be a viable option.
What has been viable is Hall as a scoring player. No, he has not been Boston’s main forward or even on their first line. That has been the Perfection Line of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand. However, since joining the B’s, Hall has put up 44 goals and 111 points in 158 games. Only Charlie McAvoy and the Perfection Line have produced more points than Hall in those last three seasons. He has maintained a 0.70 point per game rate, an average of 2.62 shots per game, and even continued to produce in the playoffs with 10 goals and 17 points over 25 playoff games since 2021. In the run of play at 5-on-5, Hall has been a positive force in 2021 (16 games only with Boston, but still), 2021-22, and 2022-23 per Natural Stat trick. And he has been counted on to play around 16 minutes per game. Hall has been a very good second-line player that could be on a first line had he been on a team that did not have something called a Perfection Line.
That said, there are concerns. Hall will turn 32 in the 2023-24 season. Health has been an issue with past injuries; he only played in 61 games in 2022-23 due to the dreaded “lower body injury” in February 25. While he came back for the postseason - where he was not the problem with five goals and eight points in a seven-game meltdown to Florida - one has to wonder about his durability. Especially if he is asked to play in an up tempo system. Years ago, Hall would have thrived in a system like New Jersey’s. Now that he is older? I do not know. The fact that whoever takes on Hall will have to take on the whole deal. This may mean getting him in a trade may not take so much, but the team would need a lot of space for this and next season since Hall is signed through 2025.
Should the Devils Seriously Make an Offer?: No. I get the appeal. I mean, replacing Tomas Tatar with Taylor Hall would be an upgrade in some regard. And without entirely sacrificing the 5-on-5 goodness Tatar has brought to the table. But Hall’s past injury history plus a question about how quick he can keep playing makes me wonder if it is a good fit now. 2018 Hall? Absolutely. 2023 Hall? I do not know.
Most of all, I do not think the Devils are in a position to add Hall’s $6 million for two seasons while comfortably fitting in Bratt’s new deal, the new deal Meier will (should?) get, and a future extension for Dawson Mercer among other contracts. Especially if New Jersey is not on that 10 team no-trade list. If Boston was able to retain a portion of that $6 million, then I would be more favorable about a return of Taylor Hall. I do not think it makes sense now.
The Winnipeg Jets Are Possibly Blowing It Up Section
Winnipeg made the playoffs and got waxed in five games by the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets did not take it well. Head coach Rick Bowness ripped the team after they were eliminated , claiming the team had “no pushback” and he felt that back in January and February. Some of the players did not take it well. They could not have been pleased after Winnipeg management confirmed that Bowness is returning two days after Bowness’ terse tirade. As such, there is a sense the Jets could be blowing it up:
- Blake Wheeler was among the vocal critics of Bowness’ post-game presser. He is 36 and has one year left on his current deal.
- Pierre Luc-Dubois is a pending RFA wants over $9 million in his next contract. That is an exceptional amount of money and the Jets may prefer to pass that on to someone else.
- 30 year old assistant captain Mark Schiefele is entering the final season of his contract and TSN already pointed out he could be moving on.
- Along with 30-year goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, also entering the final season of his deal, who definitely will not sign an extension to stay in Manitoba.
Those familiar with the Jets know that those players make up the crucial part of their current roster. The only missing names within that core are Kyle Connor (signed for three more seasons), Nikolaj Ehlers (signed for two more seasons), and Josh Morrissey (signed for five more seasons). Winnipeg may look to re-shape and re-build somewhat as those Jets players could not get Winnipeg beyond their traditional playoff runs of no more than two rounds (2018 was the exception). Would New Jersey be able to get in on some of that action?
Should the Devils Seriously Make an Offer for Any of These Players?: No, and for differing reasons.
- Wheeler is 36 and that one season left on his deal comes with a cap hit of $8.25 million. His 2023-24 salary will be exactly $8.25 million. Oof. While his production has been quite good for an aging player in the previous four seasons (55 in 72 last season, 60 in 65 before then), that is a hefty amount of money. Put it this way: the Devils have at least three players now who can out-produce Wheeler for less money. I do not think Wheeler would add much. Not to mention Wheeler’s modified no-trade clause is a five-team trade list. I am not sure the Devils are on that list.
- Dubois is going to want his $9 million cap hit deal and he may be able to get it somewhere. New Jersey cannot afford that. Also, the Devils have The Big Deal and Nico Hischier. They really do not need Dubois.
- Similarly, Scheifele is not so necessary given the Devils depth at center. He is 30 and his deal is easier to swallow. His cap hit will be $6.125 million with a salary of $6 million. His modified no-trade clause is a list of 10 teams he cannot be traded to. It is possible the Devils are not on that list. Still, even if he is willing to move to wing, I doubt he is going to top 42 goals again (which is what he scored last season). If the Devils were not going to keep Bratt or Meier, then I would be pounding my desk for Scheifele. But keeping Bratt or Meier is the smarter move than this. (This also applies to Ehlers if he ends up on the trade block too.)
- Ah, Hellebuyck. I am going to make a new section for this one.
The Any Goaltender Trade Section
Goaltending was a sore spot in the postseason for New Jersey. It is not clear whether Vitek Vanecek is more than a good regular season goalie in a tandem. It is also not clear whether Akira Schmid can perform well over months at a time. All signs are pointing to the Devils going with a Vanecek-Schmid tandem to start 2023-24. The Devils may likely go get a depth goalie with Nico Daws set to miss some time to start next season in Utica. But other than trying to decide Mackenzie Blackwood’s fate (read: no qualifying offer or trade for anything), the Devils are set in the net for the time being. With money being committed for skaters, the Devils may not be in a position to spend big for a goalie anyway.
The smarter play for New Jersey is to look to trade for a goaltender during next season if they need to do so. If Vanecek and Schmid are playing well, then they do not need to do that. If they are struggling, then the Devils will at least know how much room they do have to work with and can fit in a goaltender. They can also decide who to let go either since the Devils would need to make room for this incoming goaltender to help the team.
This is a long way of saying that it would be smarter for the Devils to try to cram in whatever is left of Hellebuyck’s $6.16 million deal if he is not moved already during the next season than beforehand. Likewise for any other goaltender that could be had. Whether that is Carter Hart (he is a pending RFA after this season) or
I will make an exception about Anaheim’s John Gibson. I do not want any part of that contract where he has four seasons left of making $6.4 million. I understand he may be better than his numbers suggest because Anaheim has been so awful, but the soon to be 30-year goalie may not get much better after being punished for the last four seasons.
The Travis Konecny & Scott Laughton Section
Let me end this series of potential targets with a pair of Flyers. Yes, two from the Second Rate Rivals. There is new management in Philly and a re-build may be in store. They already sent Ivan Provorov to Columbus in a three-team trade where they got a new goalie (Cal Petersen), a defenseman (Sean Walker), an AHLer (Helge Grans), and picks. To that end, the Flyers may seek to move on from two forwards that make me raise an eyebrow: Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton. Both were on TSN’s Trade Bait list and both may be better fits than you may realize.
Konecny is a talented scoring winger who is coming off his highest goal-scoring season (31 goals) and tied his career high in points (61 points). Alas, he missed six weeks with an “upper-body injury” and Konecny’s career has seen him miss significant time in three of the last four seasons due to injury. That said, the 26-year old still led the team in scoring last season despite missing 22 games and he was one of the better players in 5-on-5 on a team that was bereft of players doing well in 5-on-5. What is more is that his contract is nicer than you may think. He is under contract for two more seasons with a cap hit of just $5.5 million. While Konecny’s actual salary will be higher in this and next season, that is a very good cap hit for someone who can provide 20-30 goals and 50-60 points in the middle of the lineup. If the Devils think he can fit into how they play and they think his injury concerns will be in the past, then it would not be the worst bet to make. I would prefer it than a Hall reunion.
As for Laughton, he has three seasons left on his deal with a straight $3 million cap hit. This coming season will see him make the most in salary at $3.875 million but that will go down in the next two seasons. He’s 29 and he has been the definition of a solid hand for the middle of the Flyers lineup. While the production will not blow you away (he had 18 goals and 42 points last season, both career highs), he has been better in 5-on-5 relative to most of his compatriots in Philly last season. Plus, his career high in goals appears to be more of a function of being able to play in more games and shoot the puck more. His shooting percentage was just 10.6% last season and he has been a career 9.9% shooter. The benefit to getting Laughton would be that he is set in his deal (unlike Colton, who would need a new contract) and he is cheaper (and not as small) than Garland.
Should the Devils Seriously Make an Offer for Any of These Players?: Maybe. I am concerned about the durability of both players and whether they can play in an aggressive, up tempo system under Lindy Ruff. Laughton has been healthier in the past two seasons, so I am less concerned about whether he can play as much as he can. Konecny is a skilled forward who can move well, I am less concerned about him adapting to New Jersey. But I think these are risks worth taking as both players have been good at what they have done - even on what has been a really rough Philly team last season.
The other concern is what to give to Philly. It is not so much that trading within the division is impossible. The Devils did it twice last season to get John Marino and Vitek Vanecek. Philly moved Provorov to Columbus with Los Angeles’ help. Yet, the Devils have to be careful not to give Philadelphia too much. It may come back to haunt them. The Flyers have a lot of picks for this and next year’s draft. I doubt they would want too many more. They may be interested in some prospect defensemen and goalies but the Devils should not give up their best for either. It may take an actual player, maybe one (1) Yegor Sharangovich, to make something happen. Would that be worth it? It remains to be seen.
These are just some of the targets the Devils should consider - or avoid - in a potential trade. I am sure there are other names of interest. Maybe there is someone you want the Devils to bring in not mentioned in this post? If so, please let us know in the comments. Alternatively, what do you think about these thoughts about these targets? Are you (still) on the Get Ross Colton to Newark wagon? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about these trade targets in the comments. Thank you for reading.