With the trade deadline now just weeks away, we’re going to start taking a closer look at each team. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs?
The New Jersey Devils are not a playoff team this season. Did anyone expect them to be? Probably not. Las Vegas odds-maker Bovada predicted they would finish 13th in the Eastern Conference with 83 points and they’re currently 12th and on pace for 85 points, so at least there’s been some improvement over the projections. However, New Jersey trails the New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Florida Panthers for the final wild card slot in the Eastern Conference, with little chance of catching any of them. And that’s okay.
The Devils have great young forwards in Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Adam Henrique locked-up long term at a reasonable rate. They also have invaluable veterans Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri, and Andy Greene in the fold for a while longer, along with star goalie Cory Schneider. Youngsters Damon Severson, Pavel Zacha, and Miles Wood have all had solid seasons too and more help is on the way soon in high-end forward prospects John Quenneville, Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian and goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood. The future is bright in New Jersey, and it will only grow brighter with the Devils’ whopping 14 picks in the first four rounds of the next two drafts and $22MM in salary cap space going into next season.
As far as this year goes, New Jersey can be content with getting what they can from their pending unrestricted free agents (as they already did with Vernon Fiddler) and dealing struggling depth players as they continue to stockpile picks and prospects and have another lottery pick in their sights.
23-21-10, 7th in the Metropolitan Division
Deadline Cap Space
2017: NJ 1st, NJ 2nd, BOS 2nd, COL 3rd, SJ 3rd, NJ 4th, NSH 4th, NJ 5th, NJ 6th
2018: NJ 1st, NJ 2nd, FLA 2nd, NJ 3rd, TOR 3rd, NJ 4th, NJ 5th, NJ 6th, NJ 7th
In what may end up being the shrewdest move by any NHL GM this season, Ray Shero picked up P.A. Parenteau off of waivers from the rival Islanders prior to puck drop on the 2016-17 season. The Isles signed Parenteau to an affordable one-year deal this summer, only to cut him in camp. Not only has he been one the Devils’ best offensive players this season, with 12 goals and 12 assists in 52 games, but he came free and will almost surely be dealt away for a nice return. That’s called turning a profit for Shero. Last year, the Islanders netted 2nd-round and 4th-round picks from the Boston Bruins for Lee Stempniak, who had 41 points at the deadline. Expect Parenteau, who should have 30+ points by March 1st, to go for a similar price in what is very much a seller’s trade market. A similar situation could be had for Kyle Quincey, who was a last-minute free agent addition to the team on a cheap one-year contract, but is quietly having his best season since leaving the Colorado Avalanche in 2012. Quincey won’t bring back the same return as Parenteau, but holds value to teams in need of veteran depth on the blue line. The $1.25MM cap hits (worth less than $400K at the deadline) will only help in moving both players.
Jacob Josefson, Sergey Kalinin, and Seth Helgeson all appear to have hit a wall in their development. If the Devils can find takers for any and all of them, don’t be surprised if they jump at the opportunity to move on from disappointing investments.
Players To Watch
1) Top-Pair Defenseman – As good as New Jersey’s forward core and forward prospect depth is shaping up to be and as solid as they are in net, this team will never be a contender without major changes on the blue line. The 22-year-old Severson has been a pleasant surprise this season and the always-reliable captain Greene is a mainstay, but beyond that the Devils are hopeless on defense. Severson has been great, but doesn’t project to be a star without help. Greene has slowed down and become injury-prone. Ben Lovejoy, John Moore, and Jonathon Merrill are serviceable players, but not top-four defensemen on many teams. Steven Santini is still developing and Helgeson appears to have stopped developing. The entire prospect system is void of any really promising defensive prospects. If a young, high-ceiling defenseman or an established All-Star caliber player hits the trade market this month and the Devils have the pieces to get such a player, don’t expect Shero to hesitate in pulling the trigger. One potential candidate: a sign-and-trade scenario with the St. Louis Blues to get Kevin Shattenkirk.
2) More Defensemen – For all of the reasons above, if the Devils are offered defensive prospects for players like Parenteau, Quincey, Kincaid, or others, they should jump on them. The blue line needs reloading and it starts at the development stage. New Jersey may have a top-ten pick on the horizon that they can use on a defenseman, but it never hurts to add some depth where there is an obvious lack of talent.
3) Bottom-Six Forward – In a preview of this week’s “Expansion Issues“, the Devils are currently short on qualifying forwards to expose in the upcoming Expansion Draft. Without adding another player to the mix, they risk having to expose a veteran like Zajac or Cammalleri. Josefson or Beau Bennett would qualify for exposure if given an extension, but the Devils may want to trade (or protect) one or both. Adding a throwaway bottom-six forward who they can expose to the Vegas Knights and then likely send to the AHL next year is a likely move.