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With the off-season *still* yet to begin, but the draft and free agency quickly approaching, I thought it'd fun to do one last New Jersey Devils Q&A before things get really hectic.
Let's dive right in.
I'm not sure I'd bet the house on any one specific player being dealt, but there are a few who stand out to me as possibilities:
a) Miles Wood – With Jesper Boqvist in the mix and Pavel Zacha *potentially* shifting to the left side, the Devils have depth there. Wood strikes me as someone the Devils could use as part of a bigger trade package. There'd no doubt be plenty of interest in him.
b) Will Butcher/Damon Severson – If the Devils are able to pull off a deal for a marquee defender, any team they do business with will almost certainly want some help coming back the other way. I think Butcher is the more likely one to be moved.
c) Sami Vatanen – He needs a new contract next summer and I don't think the Devils want to commit the kind of money and term it'd take to get his signature, nor should they. His name could surface on the trade market in the coming weeks as a result.
I think there is urgency for Shero to improve the team now but not just because of Hall. The Devils will have Hischier, Hughes, Bratt, Boqvist, etc. as quality roster players on entry-level contracts making pennies. They need to add legitimate pieces while they still have the financial flexibility to do so. It's a lot more difficult to win when all your top players are making bank, and Toronto is a great example of that. They still haven't made it out of the 1st round with their elite core – though a tough division certainly plays a big role – and they're now at the point where they have to make cuts and be extremely careful around the edges to make everything fit.
Yes. Hall is everything the Devils want in a player. He is highly skilled, skates like the wind, and works his ass off. If he's not worth paying up for, who is? Even if the last couple of years don't provide value, he'll still be a solid player and it's not like the Devils are swimming in bad contracts. They can afford to take it on the chin a little bit at the end in exchange for several years of elite hockey. Overpaying for the middle and bottom-tier is what gets you into trouble.
Not to mention, it'd sting to lose a MVP-caliber player *right* when the window to be really competitive is finally starting to open.
I do like Lee as a player. I wouldn't touch him in free agency, though. Not because I don't think he'd help – because of the contract he is going to command. It'll probably take max-term, or close to it, and $7 million+ annually to get his signature. I don't want to give that to a non-star who will be 29 before he plays a game on his next deal, especially considering how poorly power forwards tend to age. Look at James Neal, Milan Lucic, David Clarkson, David Backes, Corey Perry, Wayne Simmonds, etc, etc. There are so many examples of the wheels completely falling off as they work their way into the 30s.
As for which players they might have interest in, it's tough to predict. Personally, I'd prefer someone like Gustav Nyquist – he's solid and should be cheaper than guys like Lee, Jordan Eberle, etc. – or Joonas Donskoi. The latter is an underrated 5v5 scorer, plus-defender, and could be a nice fit with Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman if the Devils want a strong defensive unit to eat the tough minutes and free up Hischier/Hughes.
It depends what the ask is, of course, but I'm for it. Subban has averaged 50 points per 82 over the last three seasons and posted strong on-ice numbers. Though we've seen his peak, he is still really good. I'm not too worried about his 30, 31, and 32-year-old seasons, and his contract will be up after that. I think the timing is perfect – when his deal expires, Hughes, Boqvist and co. will be in line for big raises.
My ask would be massive. To the point that it's not even realistic. The Devils have taken on bad contracts and hoarded picks for years. It's time to focus on adding quality players rather than taking on other team's problems.
I know the Devils have a ton of cap space right now but they need to use it to surround their core with more talent – not add pieces that'll muck up the cap when Hischier, Hall, etc. break the bank. Not to mention, some of those guys (Lucic, for example) would need to be protected in the expansion draft. No thanks!
Through two seasons, Bratt has averaged 1.8 points per 60 at 5v5 alongside Nico Hischier. If we assume he can garner similar results with Jack Hughes, and Bratt plays a full season centered almost exclusively by one of the two, 30-35 points should be in the cards. Chip in ~15 on the power play and I think something around 50 points is a realistic expectation. That'd be great production to get out of a guy chosen in the 6th round just three years ago.
I can be hard on Mueller at times – some of the plays he makes with the puck...yikes – but he is quite solid defensively. Mueller might be the best defender on the roster in terms of suppressing shots/chances. I think he is perfectly fine on the 3rd pairing, and could be a good partner for someone like Ty Smith while they ease him in.
As for Steven Santini, I think he is pretty much a lost cause at this point. The Devils have controlled just 40.46% of the attempts and 41.97% of the expected goals with him on the ice (5v5) over the last two years.
I would test the market for Santini and see if he can fetch an undervalued asset from a team still willing to bet on his draft pedigree.
I don't see that at all. Palmieri has averaged 29.5 goals per 82 games since being acquired by the Devils. Given their lack of scoring prowess, and depth on the right side, he's one of the last guys I could see being dealt. I think I get where you're coming from but, even if they upgraded Palmieri to the best right winger on the planet, they could probably still use more help there.
I would think so. Even if Zacha's offensive ceiling isn't nearly as high as previously thought, he is still an excellent defender and elite penalty killer. He can play tough minutes and doing so allows John Hynes to put the team's growing list of high-end offensive players in more favorable situations. I think Zacha has more value to the team than what he'd fetch in a trade.
Barring Blackwood having a noticeably stronger preseason, I'd expect Schneider to get the nod opening night. It doesn't really matter, though. I think we're heading for a platoon situation.
On the Taylor Hall contract situation
Data tracking Hughes and Kakko at the Worlds
On the Devils' potential interest in Nikita Zaitsev
Four potential targets on TSN's trade bait board
Five pieces the Devils could use as trade bait this summer
Another word on Jordan Eberle
Nico Hischier or Elias Pettersson?
Don't sleep on Jesper Boqvist
The Kaapo Kakko blog™
The Jack Hughes blog™