Written by Igor Tsipenyuk and can be followed at @tsipsky89
The trade deadline is fast approaching and the biggest question for the New Jersey Devils is a lot different than it was at each deadline prior to 2010. After years of sequential playoff appearances, the Devils have hit a rough patch; missing the playoffs in two out of the last three years and possibly three of the last four if they can’t turn this season around in time.
Prior to the 2010-11 season, it was not a question whether the Devils were buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. They were always looking to add a piece for the playoffs.
In 2010-11, they had a lousy start to the year and it was apparent that players needed to be traded. One of them was the captain and they actually redeemed themselves with a nice run in the second half despite still missing the playoffs.
The following year, they were on the bubble for the majority of the year until finally pulling away in February and March. Trading for Ponikarovsky and Zidlicky added depth and a missing dimension to the lineup and having Zajac return from injury put the team in prime position for a solid run to the Stanley Cup finals. This was the best season they had in recent history, which unfortunately had to be sandwiched between playoff-less seasons.
The top piece of this sandwich already had a few bites in it due to the lockout shortening the season to 48 games (while the loss of Parise left Devils fans with a bad taste in their mouths). With a hot start for New Jersey all had been forgotten and the Devils were ready to prove doubters wrong again. Players started dropping like flies and with both Brodeur and Kovalchuk missing significant time (exacerbated by the shortened season), the Devils started sliding down the standings. They still held a playoff spot on deadline day. The biggest area of concern was scoring. Sound familiar? As hard as they tried and as much puck possession that they had, the Devils could not score goals. A 10 game winless streak basically knocked them out for good while the additions of Steve Sullivan, Matt Dagostini, Alexei Ponikarovsky (second time) and Andrei Loktionov didn’t help the scoring woes (Surprise, surprise). Lou Lamoriello was trying to make changes on the fly as evidenced by those trades coming April 3rd (trade deadline), March 22nd, February 13th and February 6th respectively.
An early summer was followed by trading for the goalie of the future, adding a few free agents and losing their best forward for the second straight summer. It’s safe to say Lou had a busy summer. There were three main concerns going into this season: the lack of scoring, the glut of defensemen and the goaltending situation. Lou has done nothing to resolve these and the time left to rectify the situation the Devils are in is running out. The trade deadline of March 5th is Lou’s last chance to save this season and he actually can save it.
Most people think that acquiring a scorer is the top priority for the New Jersey Devils. However, the most important thing for them right now is to get rid of one or two of the older defensemen. Current NHL defensemen in the system:
Greene, Fayne, Salvador, Zidlicky, Volchenkov, Merrill, Gelinas, Harrold, Larsson
Greene is their best defensemen, who can play in all situations and log big minutes. He should not be moved.
Fayne will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. He plays well alongside Greene and would probably be the one of the easier D-men to trade. Having said that, the Devils should try to keep and resign him as he will be inexpensive while being able to play 18-20 minutes a night.
Merrill, Gelinas and Larsson should all be in the lineup. At least two should play every night. They can all handle the puck, skate and pass better than at least three other defensemen listed above. They are this year’s youth infusion. Much like the youth infusion from 2010-11 that gave the team a breath of fresh air and enough juice for their second half run. Trading Captain Langenbrunner was uplifting. In 2011-12 it was Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson. When Gelinas and Larsson played together earlier this year it was another breath of fresh air, but then Larsson got injured and Gelinas’ defensive play slipped. Shortly after, Devils defensemen started getting healthy again and both ended up being sent to the AHL. Gelinas has been recalled now for his power play prowess and canon of a shot, while Larsson is still waiting for a spot to clear.
The defensemen that should be traded are perhaps the hardest to move. That could be because of a combination of their age, skill level, contract and injury history. The cases for Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov to be traded have been discussed between Devils fans since the summer. Many felt that after Tallinder was traded another deal was coming to clear one more spot for the NHL ready prospects. It hasn’t come yet, but it’s either coming up in the next few days or not happening at all this season. Salvador and Volchenkov are both considered defensive defensemen and have similar skill sets. Either one of them being traded will take pressure off Deboer when setting his lineup. It will also guarantee an extra spot for one of Merrill, Gelinas and Larsson. Dealing one of these defensemen is more important than acquiring a scoring winger or a top 6 forward. The reason being that neither creates offense nor is able to skate out of trouble in the defensive zone the way one of the young guys can.
Bryce and Anton have skill sets that are becoming less and less useful as the NHL moves to a faster game where being able to skate the puck out of trouble or finding an open team mate is paramount. The Devils would most likely end up keeping Volchenkov and it would not be because he is the better defenseman. The biggest reason Salvador is being singled out here is because he is the captain. Despite his play falling off Salvador has continued to log big minutes (20:16), more minutes than Volchenkov (16:57), and at a lower cap hit (3.17M vs. 4.25M). Not only would it be easier to trade one more year of Salvador’s contract compared to two more of Volchenkov’s, but it will garner a greater return. Trading the captain will also free up an additional three plus minutes a night for the younger defensemen to share.
By many accounts, the Devils are a close knit group so it is difficult to say whether trading the captain will tear a few strings or bring them closer. Those on the inside should be trusted to make the correct decision. Either way, trading one is essential for success this season and going forward.
Zidlicky was a talent the Devils lacked for several years. He is a great asset in the offensive zone and makes creative plays most others cannot. He takes risks by going down low with the forwards and creates scoring chances all the time. His downside is that he takes many unnecessary penalties. As a soon to be unrestricted free agent, it is not clear whether Lou has him in next year’s plans. If not, then he should be traded for some help up front. Gelinas, Merrill and Larsson can certainly pick up some of the slack. He should not be traded for a draft pick unless it is a first.
Peter Harrold is a serviceable defenseman who can jump into the lineup after sitting for 20 games and not be a liability. He can skate well and certainly take a hit as he has been on the receiving end of many punishing hits. There shouldn’t be much, if any, demand for him so there is no reason to trade him unless someone overpays for some unknown reason. Many fans think he is a good 7th defenseman despite how Pete Deboer plays him when he is in the lineup.
Losing your best two forwards in consecutive summers will hamper any team. Luckily, the Devils signed Jagr in the offseason. What a blessing he has been. Leading the team in goals, assists and points at the age of 42 is an amazing feat. Without number 68, it’s safe to say that the team would be forfeiting the first overall pick. As of the Olympic break he has 49 points in 59 games. The next best player is Patrick Elias with 33 in 44. As a team they scored 135 goals which is good for next to last in the league. Clearly their biggest problem is scoring goals.
There are plenty of top 6 wingers being thrown around in trade rumors: Tomas Vanek, Mike Cammalleri, Matt Moulson, Marion Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Ales Hemsky, Brian Gionta etc.
Lou has most likely contacted each of those players’ teams (except maybe the Rangers) to at least have a conversation. Any of those players would help the scoring issues that have plagued this team all year. The only problem is that most of those players would cost too much.
The Devils are not in a position to trade assets and futures for expiring contracts. This means that we can knock a few of the above names off the list. Vanek and Moulson are the most sought after and will go to the highest bidders as their respective teams are pretty much out of playoff contention at this point. Without a first round pick, the devils will not get those players, nor should they try. The Devils have been linked to Cammalleri in several rumors, but something tells me the price will be too high even though he is having a down year. Other teams like the Kings and Penguins are in a much better position to trade prospects and picks than the Devils. We can scratch Callahan off the list for obvious reasons: the Devils and Rangers have never made a trade.
That leaves Marion Gaborik, who was not really a fit on the Blue Jackets before his injury; Ales Hemsky, who has been in trade rumors for years now; and Brian Gionta, which would be a classic Lou Lamoriello reclamation project. The following names are other possible trade candidates, but are not exactly top 6 forwards anymore: Heatley, Erat and Ray Whitney. Any of these players can be had for a lot less than the ones crossed off the list above.
Gaborik is the most lethal scorer out of this bunch and his value has dropped significantly since scoring 41 goals for the Rangers two years ago. This would be a very attainable player for the Devils, but questions remain about his fit on the Devils and his work ethic. If you know anything about the Devils, Lou and Deboer, you know they value work ethic above everything else.
Hemsky’s value is up in the air. I don’t think the Oilers can get as much as they want for. His value around the league is much less than his value to the Oilers. That’s usually the case with these kinds of players that develop certain reputations regardless if they are accurate or not. Some of the knocks on Hemsky are that he is soft and lazy. Many Oilers fans claim otherwise. Devils fans should understand what that’s like as their players, and the Devils in general, are constantly being mislabeled.
Brian Gionta is just too obvious a player for Lou to acquire. The Devils always welcome players back. More recently they have brought back the following players for second stints: Sullivan, Ponikarovsky, Sykora, Arnott, Holik, Shanahan, etc. Any other ex-Devils playing right now should not be surprised if they end up back here again (*cough* Gomez *cough*).
Heatley and Erat have either become shells of their former selves, or are just not fits on their current teams. Minnesota is dying to get rid of Heatley’s 7.5 million cap hit and Washington is looking to trade a player who requested a change of scenery at a 4.5 million cap hit. The good thing for both sides is that the actual salaries are less than the cap hits for both: 5 million and 3.75 million, respectively. Although Erat has another year left on his contract with a salary of 2.25 million.
Ray Whitney of Dallas is 41 years of age. If Dallas can trade him to improve in other areas, they will do it. The Devils will always accommodate a veteran with a good track record. It actually worked with Jagr this year so it scares Devils fans to see how far Lou can go with that.
One last forward, who recently came into the trade rumor scene, is Marty St. Louis. He’s 38 years old, works hard, has another year on his contract and can score. He would fit right in on this team as there are plenty of veterans who are still performing at high levels at advanced ages. They shouldn’t give up the future for one more year of St. Louis, but it would be cool as hell to see him in New Jersey.
The plan going into the season was for the greatest of all time and the newly acquired Schneider to split starts. It took longer than some expected, but Schneider emerged as the clear starter in January. Now the dilemma is whether to trade Brodeur, who has been with the Devils his whole career, or to keep him as a contingency for a potential playoff run.
Brodeur has said many times in the media that he wants to play. He does not like sitting. The only way he ends up playing consistently in New Jersey is if Schneider goes down with an injury. Based on these two facts alone, Brodeur most likely asked Lou to see what he can get for him. There have been rumors of interest from teams like the Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks. Those are completely different situations and ones that should be considered by Brodeur when picking his potential destination.
The Blackhawks will be contending for a second straight Stanley Cup this year. They are considered one of the best teams in the league and already have a pretty good goalie in Corey Crawford. This means that Brodeur will have a pretty good chance at another cup, but most likely will not see many starts along the way. It is very unlikely that he can unseat their starting goalie, who just signed a 6 year, $36 million extension.
The Wild are actually a very good fit for Brodeur. Their goaltending situation has been problematic all year. Josh Harding has been elite when in the lineup and Niklas Backstrom has not been on his game all year, but both have had trouble staying healthy enough of late for Minnesota to be confident going into the playoffs with them and their third string goalie, Darcy Kuemper. Brodeur would have a chance to take over the starting job here if he plays well enough, which we have seen earlier this season. If playing time is his main goal, then he certainly can get it in Minnesota, while still playing for a playoff team. Brodeur also has two sons playing high school hockey in Minnesota. Being close to them would be a very pleasant side effect of a trade.
With all this in mind, Brodeur should not be traded for less than a first round pick. A second rounder just does not seem worth it for the Devils. If not a first round pick then perhaps a forward prospect that can step into the lineup soon.
The most important thing heading into the trade deadline is trading one of Bryce Salvador or Anton Volchenkov. Lou can kill two birds with one stone by trading Salvador for a top 6 forward. A lot of teams looks for a veteran presence on the blue line come playoff time and some may be willing to deal an aging top 6 forward with an expiring contract.