We are a week away from Free Agency Frenzy. We are less than a week from the 2023 NHL Draft as well as the day qualifying offers are due to restricted free agents. Expect a lot of activity, news, and, most of all, speculation to continue throughout the National Hockey League. A key part of that speculation involve trades. Earlier this week, I covered some potential trade targets that I think the Devils should and should not consider. This post revisits the topic, but starts with a twist: Who could the New Jersey Devils be sending away?
Devils (Possibly) On the Block
In order for the Devils to make a trade, they would need to give someone up. Here are some names and thoughts about each of the Devils supposedly available for another team.
Yegor Sharangovich is the first name to consider for this section. Ryan Novozisnky of NJ.com reported Pierre LeBrun’s information from The Athletic that the Devils were getting inquiries about the pending free agent winger earlier this week. I thought that Sharangovich being traded would be a real option instead of re-signing him and figuring out what to do with him for another season. I did not expect the Devils to get multiple calls about him, though. This makes it more likely that he goes for something. I do not think Sharangovich is good enough nor can he command an eight-season deal so a sign-and-trade for that maximum term is not at all likely to happen. I do think he could go as part of a package for a player or help the Devils beef up their draft class for 2023 or even 2024. I do think he is one of the more attractive assets the Devils can part with without breaking up their core and/or making their team worse.
In terms of where he could go, James Nichols of New Jersey Hockey Now had five teams in mind where it would make sense. I think the five teams he named - Colorado, Nashville, San Jose, Washington, and Seattle - do make some sense. I would add to that list Vancouver as they are looking to change their roster. They have some skaters on some relatively expensive deals such as Conor Garland, Tyler Myers, and Anthony Beauvillier. I could see them looking at Sharangovich and thinking he could provide the same amount of value for less money. It may not be ideal but I do think that the Canucks could be sold on such a swap since they are making serious changes to their roster. This is a longer shot, but Las Vegas may also have some interest in a scoring winger given that Ivan Barbashev is looking to hit the free agency market as per Kevin Weekes.
The larger point is that it is 2023 and, yes, there really are multiple teams that could and would want Yegor Sharangovich. Who would have thought that in 2018? Not me.
Going to someone with multiple interest to someone with less buzz: goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. General Manager Tom Fitzgerald was coy about Blackwood when asked about him last week as per this Tweet by Amanda Stein. He would not commit to whether he would be qualified (he is a pending RFA), re-signed, or traded. Stein works for the Devils so a political answer from the GM is understandable. That said, all signs point to the Devils running with Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid as their goaltending tandem for next season. Blackwood did not even dress in the playoffs. He is on the outside and his past few seasons have done nothing to convince the People Who Matter that he should be brought back into the fold. It appears that may be the case with management.
The problem is that I struggle to think what market could be there for Blackwood. Fitzgerald certainly will not throw his player under the bus or keep it real when it would go wrong for a trade. But the NHL GMs are not total fools and they have eyes like we do. Who wants an oft-injured goalie who is 26 and posted a 90.2%, 89.2%, and 89.3% overall save percentages in his last three seasons? Who would think that they could “fix” Blackwood at this point? Even if he was able to reclaim his career, he would end up being a goalie on, what, a level like Vanecek? I think the Devils are trying to make him available, but I do not think they will get all that much for him. If anything.
Sticking with assets that would yield a relatively small return, the Devils could look to trade away signing rights of pending unrestricted free agents they do not intend to sign. The return would be minimal, but the idea has been floated after the sign-and-trade of Damon Severson. I would not expect anything much - think a sixth round pick - for the rights to Miles Wood, Tomas Tatar, or Ryan Graves. That would work if there is a team that wants to avoid bidding for them during Free Agency Frenzy. I think teams will wait on Wood or Tatar hitting the market; I do not know how much interest they would gather. I can see a team want to get Graves before he joins a thin group of defensemen hitting free agency on July 1. We shall see.
Here is another name that could be on the Devils’ trade block: Michael McLeod. This is more or less driven by another team that appears to want him. Thomas Drance and Harman Dayal of The Athletic ($) named McLeod as a trade target for the Canucks. They need a center for their bottom six. McLeod is a bottom six center. He fits their need. Should the Canucks have some players or picks the Devils want, then they could make a deal happen. It may not take a lot since, again, McLeod is a bottom six center and they're not uncommon to find. He would likely be worth something more substantial than a late pick deep in a draft, though. It would be worth considering. Especially if Vancouver likes him a lot more than I think they should.
It is not an expansive trade board, but there are some names that have been floating around. Again and apparently, the buzz is the highest for Sharangovich. We shall see if it leads to anything soon.
Let’s Revisit Connor Hellebuyck
On Monday, I wrote trade targets and made a rather short (for me, at least) case against the Devils trading for any goaltender now. I must re-visit the idea because the Devils are reportedly interested in the player. A quick recap of why Hellebuyck is on the trade block. The goaltender is entering the final season of his contract and does not want to sign an extension in Winnipeg. After the Jets’ first round elimination in 2023, the core of that squad looks to be blowing up with Pierre-Luc DuBois and Blake Wheeler supposedly on the outs as well.
LeBrun that the Devils have been in discussions with Winnipeg about Hellebuyck. Since then, it has been discussed in multiple outlets such as The Hockey News, Illegal Curve (a Winnipeg site), Infernal Access (Todd Cordell’s blog about the Devils), Ray (Ferraro) and Dregs (Darren Dreger)’s podcast, and more. Per LeBrun from TSN’s article, there is a cost issue. Hellebuyck wants “Andrei Vasilevskiy” money and the Devils do not want to pay that. Of course, if the Devils can talk his price down, then the question is raised: do the Devils make such a deal? The Devils are now seen as contenders but goaltending was an issue in the postseason. Vanecek’s performances were bad and it took Akira Schmid playing out of his mind to get the Devils as far as they did. Add in a quality goaltender like Hellebuyck, and more will think the Devils can go all the way.
I will not argue against the idea that Hellebuyck would be an instant upgrade in net for the Devils. He’s 30. He’s been amazing with Winnipeg since entering the league in 2015-16. His combined stats for the last three seasons yielded a +49.75 GSAA in all situations, trailing only Juuse Saros, Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, Linus Ullmark, and Vasilevskiy in the entire NHL. Hellebuyck is a great goaltender. He is better than Vanecek and Schmid. Simple as.
However. This does not mean Hellebuyck is needed for the Devils to reach the top of the proverbial mountain. Winnipeg has not done that with Hellebucyk and their core of forwards. Like a lot of goalies, his playoff performances have been variant but only once did Winnipeg get beyond the second round. Further, Hellebuyck just had his worst playoff appearance in 2022-23 with an 88.6% overall save percentage. Yes, he was better than Vanecek (and Vasilevskiy) in the 2023 postseason but that does not mean he was good or would have taken the Devils beyond Carolina this year.
Combined with his desire for Vasilevskiy money - which I am taking to mean an average value of $9.5 million - there is a concern with relative value. I agree that Hellebucyk is better than Vanecek and Schmid. The issue: Is that improvement worth the extra money? Vanecek is set to make $3.75 million in salary and Schmid is still on his ELC and will get $867,500 this season. That is a combined $4.6175 in the crease for 2022-23. Hellebuyck is set to make $7.5 million next season and, even if the Devils talk him under $9.5 million, I would anticipate he is looking for $8 million minimum in an extension. Again, I agree he is a better goalie than both of the Devils. The question is: Are the potential gains from Hellebucyk worth an extra $3.75 million over Vanecek? Are they worth an extra $6.6325 million over Schmid? If Hellebuyck gets Vasilevskiy money after all, will his performances justify the Devils spending nearly double their current money on goaltending in just one goalie? Given how much variation there is in the position and Hellebuyck having that in the postseason, I do not think he can unless he gets hot. Which any goalie can do regardless of their payment.
This does not even consider the issue it would create for the rest of the roster. Trading for an extending Hellebuyck - which would almost be necessary because why trade for him otherwise? - will make future contracts harder to deal with. Dawson Mercer’s ELC ends in this coming season. Luke Hughes will enter the final season of his ELC next season. Simon Nemec will see his ELC end in 2026. These are just the known names of players who are expected to command significant contract extensions. I do not want Hellebuyck’s new deal to keep the Devils from keeping those players in the future. Or have to dump someone in their current core to do it. I agree that the salary cap may go up. But we do not know by how much, we cannot guarantee any compliance buyouts to erase any problematic contracts, and hoping for the best is not a good plan for managing a team.
I have not even got into what a trade for Hellebucyk would look like? It may be the cheapest part of the proposition. The goalie wants out and the team is shopping him. While a lot of teams may kick the tires, that extension talk may ward many of them away from a serious deal. The Devils would have to move a goaltender to make it work and possibly throw in another player. I wonder if Vanecek and Sharangovich alone gets it done. Since Winnipeg appears to be losing skaters soon anyhow, they could use both. But moving a goalie would make it more necessary for an extension. Just having Hellebuyck as a rental would almost put the Devils back to where they were before they acquired Vanecek. And, again, Hellebuyck’s extension would get complicated. Even if he is willing to take $8 million, that is still a large enough addition to the cap to make current and future signings more challenging for Fitzgerald to manage.
This is a lot to say: I think the Devils should pass on Hellebuyck. If he is still around and tradeable during the season, then that can be revisited. But not now.
A Brief Revisit of Two Flyers
Scott Laughton was another player that I could be a nice add for the Devils as a trade target. No longer. Per Frank Seravalli via FlyersNation, the Flyers turned down a first round pick and a second round pick from St. Louis for Laughton. I understand that the first rounder is late and the second rounder may be in the future. Still: Laughton is a middle-six winger. Why wouldn’t Philadelphia jump on a first and second round pick for that? Why would St. Louis offer that much? Given that Philly rejected that much from a Western Conference team, I have to think they want much more. That is enough for me to not want New Jersey to think about Laughton. Plus, if they want more than that for Laughton, then what could they want for Travis Konecny, an objectively better hockey player than Laughton?
Calgary’s Apparent Blowup
While I do not think the Devils would or should be interested, but you can add defenseman Noah Hanifin as a potential player to be traded. According to Seravalli himself, Hanifin told Calgary he will not sign an extension there. This does not necessarily mean he will be moved soon but a trade is more possible than it was a few weeks ago. The same could be said for Mikael Backlund and Elias Lindholm. Seravalli tweeted out that Backlund may also not want to stay in Calgary beyond this season. It is not settled but it is a surprise as he has been a mainstay with the C’s. He also tweeted that while Calgary is trying to retain Lindholm beyond this coming season, others in the NHL may think he may want out as well. Later on the same night (yes, June 22 was not a happy day for Flames fans), Seravalli tweeted that Tyler Toffoli will not re-sign either. Here comes the cliche: It looks like the Flames are being forced to have a firesale. Perhaps this is a result of a new GM coming in along with the fact that Calgary has remained largely in place for years. Not bad but certainly not a contender. Something had to give and now, it’s giving.
Lindholm and Backlund are centers. Well-paid centers on their current deals. Backlund is 34 and will make $5.35 million next season. Lindholm is 28 and will make $4.85 million next season. Both are pending UFAs in 2024. Backlund will be entering the twilight years of his career. In the case of Lindholm, I think he could stand to get paid well on the open market. Especially if he has another 60+ point season. Since the Devils just re-signed Haula for 3 seasons, I am not more interested in diving deeper on Backlund and Lindholm. They are otherwise names of interest for the larger market - but nothing New Jersey needs unless they plan totally upend their non core roster at forward.
Toffoli, on the other hand, let us talk about him. His cap hit of $4.25 million belies an even lower 2023-24 salary of $3.5 million. He’s 31, a right-shooting right winger, and he is coming off an awesome - and unlikely to repeat - career season of 34 goals and 73 points. Toffoli had otherwise hovering around 16-24 goals per season for around 40 points. He was also awesome in 5-on-5 play while playing fewer minutes at 5-on-5 than Backlund, Blake Coleman, and Andrew Mangiapane (does he want out soon?). He is more than capable of playing on a second or third line at wing and keep driving play forward based on past seasons outside of Montreal (which lasted all of 37 games anyway). If Tatar is not coming back (I do not think he is) and Sharangovich is moveable, then I would absolutely want Tom Fitzgerald to call up Craig Conroy about him. Add Toffoli to the “It would be a good idea to get him within reason” pile of players to trade for along with Ross Colton. Especially if Calgary is willing to retain some of that salary.
These are just some of the names the Devils could trade along these updates for some other occurrences in the world of offseason trades. I am sure there are other names of interest, either for the Devils to trade away or bring in. Who do you want the Devils to move on from with a trade? Who do you want them to bring in? I may want to pass on Hellebuyck, but what do you think? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this year’s offseason trade possibilities for the Devils. Thank you for reading.