The New Jersey Devils announced today that they will be without the services of defenseman Jon Merrill and forward Luke Gazdic for four weeks each due to injury. Merrill broke his index finger in Saturday’s preseason tilt against the New York Rangers, while Gazdic suffered a broken left foot on September 26th.
The loss of Merrill is a particularly tough one for the Devils as their top-six was already a bit thin. Merrill recorded a goal to go along with four assists in 47 games in 2015-16 but missed the final three weeks of the season due to a shoulder injury. He had surgery on that shoulder in May and was expected to miss four months but recovered quickly enough to participate in training camp.
The Devils could choose to roll with Seth Helgeson or perhaps Yohann Auvitu to pick up the slack on the back end until Merrill is healthy. Or the club could look to the waiver wire where a number of interesting players could be available. Jakub Kindl, cut by Florida, or Matt Bartkowski, released from his PTO with Ottawa, could represent solid, short-term fixes for the Devils.
While Kindl might have name recognition going for him, he would also represent a fairly sizable financial commitment should the Devils claim the 6-foot-3, 199-pound blue liner. He is in the final year of a contract that has an AAV of $2.4MM but with Detroit retaining $360K as part of last year’s deadline trade with Florida, any team claiming Kindl would be on the hook for just over $2MM.
On the other hand, Auvitu is an intriguing player. The French-born blue liner was named the top defenseman in the Finnish League in 2015-16 and attracted plenty of interest from teams in both the NHL and the KHL this summer before choosing to sign with the Devils. The 27-year-old Auvitu also speaks five different languages: English, Russian, German, Finnish and French.
Gazdic, a big LW, spent the last three seasons with Edmonton, seeing action in 129 games for the Oil and accumulating just five goals and eight points. He was expected to add some size and toughness to the organization in a depth role.