Entering this season, there was a good reason for optimism among the New Jersey Devils and their fans.
After five seasons of rebuilding, the Devils reached the playoffs last spring for the first time since 2012. Despite being eliminated from the opening round in five games by the Tampa Bay Lightning, they gave a good account of themselves against a superior opponent.
With left wing Taylor Hall winning the 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy by leading a promising young group of players into the postseason, the Devils appeared poised for better things in 2018-19.
Nearing the 20-game mark in their schedule, things aren’t going as well as hoped. After winning their opening four games, the Devils won only four (4-9-2) of their following 15 contests.
After a 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, the Devils have only eight wins in 19 games. Entering this week, they’re near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Several factors account for their current woes.
The bulk of their offense comes from the Hall line. Meanwhile, promising youngsters Pavel Zacha and Will Butcher have had their difficulties.
Injuries have taken a toll. Center Nico Hischier, defenseman Sami Vatanen, and center Brian Boyle are currently sidelined, while winger Jesper Bratt only recently returned to action. Starting goalie Cory Schneider is struggling to regain his form following offseason hip surgery, leaving Keith Kinkaid handling the bulk of the workload.
They’re not playing well on the road, winning just two of 10 games away from home. Their faceoff win percentage (46.6) is the league’s third-worst.
With the Devils showing little sign of snapping out of their lengthy funk, general manager Ray Shero might be moved to swing another November trade to help this struggling club.
In recent years, Shero hasn’t shied away from making a significant move. His biggest, of course, was stealing Hall from the Edmonton Oilers in June 2017 for defenseman Adam Larsson.
It was around this time last season (Nov. 30, to be exact) that Shero shipped center Adam Henrique to the Anaheim Ducks for Vatanen. With the Pittsburgh Penguins making a one-for-one swap of their own last week by sending Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson, perhaps the Devils GM will test the November trade market again.
So far, the Devils haven’t featured prominently in NHL trade rumors. Last month, the Boston Globe‘s Kevin Paul Dupont speculated they could be among the suitors for Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Artemi Panarin in the trade market or via free agency next summer. Panarin may be reluctant to re-sign with the Jackets but it’s doubtful the Jackets will ship him to a division rival this season.
Shero has some promising prospects, such as Ty Smith and Michael McLeod, to dangle as trade bait. Zacha or a veteran like Marcus Johansson might have some trade value. The Devils GM might even consider parting with a first-round pick.
The silence surrounding the Devils in the NHL rumor mill suggests Shero isn’t panicking and remains patient with his roster. Still, just because his club hasn’t surfaced in recent speculation doesn’t mean he’s not looking for help.
If the Devils don’t pull out of their current swoon soon, they risk falling further behind in the playoff race. Don’t be surprised if the Devils don’t start popping up in media trade chatter before month’s end.