Earlier this morning, the New Jersey Devils made their first major move of the offseason. They made a trade. Defenseman and pending unrestricted free agent Damon Severson was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Calgary’s third round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. This was a sign-and-trade. Just as the deal was done, Severson was re-signed by Columbus to an eight-season contract worth $50 million. According to CapFriendly, the new Severson contract carries cap hit of $6.25 million, it has a no-trade clause for the first four seasons, a no-trade-list for the following four seasons, and just $10.8 million total in signing bonuses.
This is the second sign-and-trade in the NHL. The first was the famous Matthew Tkachuk trade last year. It is not uncommon for teams to trade the rights to pending free agents. This usually happens a few days before free agency begins and the returns are usually minimal since there was no guarantee that the team making the trade would sign the player. This is different. As Pierre LeBrun reported on Twitter, the Devils were only interested in a short term deal if they re-signed Severson at all but Severson wanted the full eight-season term. The Devils granted Severson’s agent permission to negotiate with other teams and that led to the trade. The trade meant that the team could offer that eighth season as only free agents re-signing with their team can get eight instead of seven seasons. Do not be surprised if sign-and-trades becomes a more common practice in the near future.
Was it a Good Deal?
For the Devils, absolutely. In a little over three weeks, Severson would be able to hit the open market and sign with anyone. Based on LeBrun’s tweet, the Devils were not going to give what Severson wanted. They made it work such that they got something in return. The 80th overall pick in a draft is not a lot, but it is more than the usual fifth-to-seventh rounder (or even future considerations) that comes back when trading the rights of a pending free agent. It also fills a hole in the Devils’ 2023 NHL Draft picks as they traded their third rounder in the John Marino trade last Summer. Now the Devils end up with an earlier third round pick than they would have for a player that was not likely to return. That is much better than the nothing most teams get with UFAs, as they often hit the market.
Further, this now opens up space for the future of the blueline to take hold. It was something I and many of the People Who Matter figured out last year that Severson and Graves could very well give away to Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec in 2023-24. Half of that is now reality. Severson is now a Blue Jacket through 2031. Luke Hughes signed right out of Michigan last April and earned big minutes in the playoffs during the Carolina series. He would almost have to intentionally sabotage his chances to make the Devils roster in 2023-24. There is also reason to believe that Nemec is ready now. He had a very productive 19-year old season in the AHL, which is rare for defensemen. Nemec was named to the AHL All Prospects Team as well. He may have more to prove to make the NHL roster as Luke Hughes already played in the NHL in 2022-23; but I would like to think he has a great shot at it. Should Graves move on, then you can pencil both into the Devils’ lineup for the Fall. The sign-and-trade made space for the Devils budding stud defensemen to actually play. That is a positive for the Devils.
Also, keep in mind that when the blueline was at full strength in this past season, Severson was playing on the third pairing plus special teams. I think Luke Hughes and Nemec can handle third pairing responsibilities. The penalty kill may be a bit risky at first, but it is a price to pay as both grow into being NHL players.
What about Severson? He got paid real well. Look at his contract again at CapFriendly. His average value jumped from $4.166 million to $6.25 million. He will be making $8 million in total salary for next season and the following season. That salary will decrease a bit from the third season onward but will be at least $5.1 million - which is the salary he earned last season. He has trade protection of some kind in all eight seasons. The only possibly negative in this contract is that most of the money is in salary and not signing bonuses. That may be more of a negative for Columbus, though.
(Aside: Chris also looks really good from this trade. He projected that Severson would get 8 years and $6-7 million if his rights were traded. He nailed it. Now please go read Chris’ post about Severson and tell your Blue Jackets friends and enemies to read it.)
Ultimately, Columbus gets another established defenseman and paid out big for them. By the sign-and-trade, they did not have to risk losing out in a bidding war on the open market. They also secured one of the most valuable UFAs in this year’s offseason too. That said, I hope GM Jarmo Kekalainen understands that Severson was not a big-minute dynamo on New Jersey. He just had one of his best seasons and he did it by playing in a more limited role than in the past. Yet, he is being paid so much that he will have to play a lot. Which Severson can do but that also increases the risk of Severson doing something catastrophic and make one regret playing him so much. It is a deal that Columbus is going to have to live with for a long time. Should Severson struggle with increased minutes and responsibilities, there is a real chance this contract becomes a real anchor.
Additionally, between the acquisition of Severson and Ivan Provorov (they traded for him earlier), Columbus now has a glut of defensemen prospects that may have just become more available. David Jiricek, Denton Mateychuk, Stanislav Szovil, Corson Ceulemans, and Samuel Knazko will eventually need some minutes somewhere beyond Cleveland. But that’s Kekalainen’s job to worry about that. Or the next GM’s job if Kekalainen is out after another tough season in Ohio. We’ll see.
This is a lot to say that I think the Devils did well to get something a bit more than not much for a player they were not going to be able to re-sign. Severson and his agent did well to get the term they wanted along with a rich contract. Columbus may not like this so much in the future but that remains to be seen. I may not be a big fan of Severson staying within the division, but I can appreciate the Devils not taking Severson’s desire of a max-term deal.
The End of an Era
Damon Severson being dealt means that the final player to play under Lou in New Jersey in the 2014-15 season is now no longer in New Jersey. (Miles Wood was drafted in 2014 and played his first game in the Spring of 2016.) Severson was part of a wave of defensemen prospects that I and many of the People Who Matter were excited about over a decade ago. A group led by Adam Larsson, Severson, Jon Merrill, and Eric Gelinas was thought to form a great defense to bring the Devils up a level. Throw in Alexander Urbom and Brandon Burlon as potential adds too. As we now know, that did not happen. Burlon never made it. Urbom did not. Gelinas had a great shot and not much more. Merrill was more or less a guy. Larsson was good in his own end, the offense never developed, and his greatest contribution to New Jersey was being good enough for Peter Chiarelli to trade Taylor Hall straight up for him. Severson ended up being the best of this group.
The truth was that Severson was always a very good defenseman. No, he was not the one to lead the defense, but look at those 5-on-5 numbers again. Even the ones that looked rough were among the best on some bad Devils teams. He was often a positive factor on the ice; much more than when he was a negative - even if some of those negatives were memorable. Look at his production. He was rather consistent in putting up over 100 shots per season, a couple of goals, and was good for providing over 30 points when healthy for the most part. When he was on the ice, the Devils did well in 5-on-5 as Dr. Micah Blake McCurdy showed on Twitter. When the Devils had defenders injured or unavailable, Severson was given bigger minutes and, again, he was not a waste at all. That could be an issue for 2023-24 and perhaps a bit beyond. Until Luke Hughes and/or Simon Nemec finish developing, the loss of Severson is a notable one. There is no shame in stating the truth. Severson was a very good defenseman for the Devils.
Was he perfect? Far from it. Severson could be accurately described as a “Yeah, but” player. Yeah, Severson was great in 5-on-5, but he spent his entire career with his on-ice goals for percentage lagging behind his expected goals for percentage. Yeah, Severson could kill penalties and be relied on to play a lot, but when he makes a mistake it is often a massive one. A penalty that even Miles Wood would call stupid. A giveaway or bad coverage decision to leave someone open for a score. A goal against his own team. Catastrophe is not a hyperbole for Severson. Yeah, Severson could very useful, but he could not be trusted to be the defenseman for the team. It is for these thoughts that I can understand some of the People Who Matter being happy to see Severson go. Especially for $50 million over eight seasons.
I will miss him. Thank you, Damon Severson, for providing the best years of your career for the Devils. As he endured the Fall of Lou, the First Rebuild, and the Second Rebuild in full, he has been through a lot of tough times. He also got a first-hand look at the current core of the team and was as much a part of the team’s massive 2022-23 as anyone. I am certain he loved being on the right side of the handshake line against Our Hated Rivals.
The sign-and-trade of Severson for a third-round pick has been done. You know what I think. Now it is your turn. What do you think of this deal? Do you think the Devils did well to get a third-rounder back for a pending UFA? Do you think Columbus did well to sign Severson to an eight-season, $50 million contract? Will Jarmo Kekalainen What will you miss (and not miss) the most about Severson’s time in New Jersey? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Severson in the comments. Thank you for reading.