The New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild have agreed to a swap of depth defensemen, the teams announced this evening. Heading to New Jersey is former first-round pick Ryan Murphy, while collegiate standout Michael Kapla goes the other way to Minnesota. Kapla is the third different defenseman acquired by the Wild in the past ten days, following the trade for Brad Hunt and claim of Anthony Bitetto.
What is clear from this move is that Minnesota and GM Paul Fenton were not happy with their depth on the blue line and have opted to change out multiple players in an attempt to shore up their options on the back end. The recent additions of Hunt and Bitetto were made even as Murphy, a veteran of close to 200 NHL games, toiled in the minors, implying that they did not see the 25-year-old as a solution. Rather than keep Murphy in Iowa with knowledge that they did not trust him to play a role in Minnesota if necessary, Fenton and company decided to swap him out for another AHLer. Kapla, 24, has shown improvement at both ends in his second full pro season with the AHL’s Binghamton Devils, but has not been given much opportunity to showcase his talents in New Jersey. The former UMass-Lowell captain has not played an NHL game since the final weeks of the 2016-17 season, right after he initially signed with New Jersey. Kapla may not necessarily see much time in Minnesota right away following this trade, but he was surely open to a change of scenery. If not this season, the impending restricted free agent is at least an intriguing depth piece for the Wild moving forward.
What’s unclear is what the Devils get out of this trade. Of course, Murphy is the more experienced and refined player and has the possession skills and offensive instincts to make a difference in the right NHL situation. However, he is also an impending unrestricted free agent and New Jersey is well outside the current playoff picture with little hope of climbing back in. There is a chance that Murphy could excel with the Devils, NHL or AHL, and earn an extension, but otherwise this is a strange swap of a controllable asset for an expiring one by the team in less need of immediate help. Had the Wild also sent over some other “sweetener” – a late draft pick or low-end prospect – the deal would make some more sense. New Jersey fans just have to hope that Murphy, the 2011 twelfth overall pick, is the one to break out down the stretch and not Kapla, if either do.