31 Takes: Devils in position to strike it rich on trade market
New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero went out and acquired a lot of talent for his team this summer. And whether it’s an issue of coaching, roster build, depth, goaltending problems, bad luck, or a combination of any of the above, the fact is things have not worked out to anyone’s satisfaction.
People were deluding themselves that adding Jack Hughes and two past-it former stars in PK Subban and Wayne Simmonds would magically make this Devils team playoff-ready. That is, unless either Cory Schneider or Mackenzie Blackwood were at least as legit as they seemed down the stretch last season, but, perhaps predictably, they were not.
So now the Devils sit 10 points out of a playoff spot at the start of December and are likely looking at a 55-game slog to the end of another unsuccessful regular season. And they are wisely looking at their options.
Word is Taylor Hall is now firmly on the trade block, and he would almost certainly command a huge haul. Now probably isn’t the time to trade him, though some teams should be interested in locking in a player of Hall’s talent level ASAP. It’s better to start raking in points for what is already shaping up to be a contentious divisional battle just about everywhere.
But the thing is, Shero is in an excellent position to offload a lot more than just Hall in the next three months. Consider: Only nine Devils are signed after 2020-21, and none besides Subban are on bank-breaking deals north of $6 million. Meanwhile, Hall, Simmonds, Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen, and Mirco Mueller are all on expiring deals and the Devils could probably not only find buyers for them, but carry plenty of cap flexibility to sweeten their returns.
No team wants to have to drop the curtain on a group people were legitimately excited about just three months ago. However, the Devils were wise to put themselves in a position where even Subban is theoretically movable with retained salary (though one imagines the market would be, shall we say limited).
Other guys who appear at least somewhat movable — thanks to deals that expire at the end of next season — are Travis Zajac (full no-trade, just like Greene), Kyle Palmieri (eight-team no-trade), Nikita Gusev, and Blake Coleman. There’s not really much wrong with any of those players, at a minimum, and they’re all at least 27.
Sure, it’s a lot of talent to potentially offload, but thanks to some poor finishes and solid talent development, the Devils would still be in a good position going forward even if all those guys got traded. A core of Hughes and Nico Hischier down the middle is a great start. Pavel Zacha and Miles Wood are also there for depth, as are Jespers Bratt and Boqvist, and John Hayden.
On the blue line you’d still have Damon Severson and Will Butcher to work with, and you’d hope Blackwood figures it out in net since he’s just 22.
It’s obviously unrealistic to assume all or even most of these guys will be traded because even the biggest sellers don’t trade everyone over 26 to the tune of offloading half their roster. But three or four of these guys could get them the picks, prospects, and even roster players to compete more meaningfully a year or three from now.
In today’s NHL, it’s tough to admit that even with all this parity, you’re pretty much cooked this early in the year. Credit Shero and the organization for accepting their position and putting themselves in a position to maximize value when things went sideways.
Arizona Coyotes: After all this, all that’s separating the Sharks from the Coyotes is three games that went to OT. That’s parity for ya.
Boston Bruins: This is great news for David Backes.
Buffalo Sabres: The idea that “the Sabres are a hard club to gauge right now” is very silly. They’re not good. They’re not gonna make the playoffs in the top-heaviest division in hockey, loaded with four elite-talent teams. They have two more points than Tampa because the Lightning have three fewer games played. Let’s not lose our minds here.
Calgary Flames: Understandably lost in all the Peters stuff is that the city council felt like it needed to revisit the horrible arena deal Calgary gave the club, but that got shut down pretty quick.
Carolina Hurricanes: I’m not gonna buy that this was all the way on purpose but this save is sick.
Chicago: They played the Avalanche twice in two days and got outscored 12-5. To me that’s bad.
Florida Panthers: This is frankly the only decision they could reasonably make at this point. Bobrovsky has been awful, full stop. Cost the Panthers probably four points in the standings, and somehow they’re still second in the division. What a world.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings won seven games at home in November but didn’t win any on the road, and that strikes me as bad.
Minnesota Wild: Underreported: The Wild ended November on an eight-game point streak (5-0-3). They got those xGAs down to where they were last year.