Editor’s Note: This piece is the sole opinion of writer Mike Luci, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Devils Army Blog or its Admins.
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After Tuesday’s game, the Devils are 12 points out of the last wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. With six games until the March 2nd trade deadline, the writing on the wall shows (and has for some time) this team is poised to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. Lou Lamoriello is inevitably going to have to orchestrate some kind of fire sale for the first time in his illustrious career, with a cast of has-been veterans at his disposal that won’t yield a groundbreaking return. Since teams will most likely resort to what the Devils have to offer as a fallback, we might not witness a cleanout as theatrical as anticipated.
When it comes to player transactions, you never know what direction Lamoriello will take. Sometimes he surprises us, many times he doesn’t. Nonetheless, I find it unlikely Lamoriello fails to move at least two or three bodies before March 2nd. The Devil’s quartet of veteran Czechs will definitely get some inquiries from other teams. While it’s almost a certainty that Jaromir Jagr and defenseman Marek Zidlicky will attract takers, teams could always take a player like Martin Havlat as a last minute acquisition. If the deal is right with a team that’s readying itself for a deep playoff run, I wouldn’t put it past Lou to ship Patrik Elias out. Trade speculation isn’t normally something I invest time writing on because it’s a topic that gets beaten to death, however I suppose it’s warranted this time around. New Jersey’s Czech players have distinguished profiles that make them fits for different teams, which makes each one worth looking into.
Patrik Elias…Out of this particular group of four, Elias is the least likely to be moved. Despite his no-movement clause, he has another year left on his contract and has seen his numbers decline over the past two seasons. His play has picked up since the coaching change, registering five goals and 11 points in 18 games he’s played in since DeBoer’s firing, compared to four goals 13 points in his first 29 of the season. Personally for Elias, it’s been a special year. He achieved milestones of 400 goals, 600 assists, 1000 points, and represented the Devils at the all-star game. His extensive playoff experience and still producing at a respectable pace for his age, especially if he plays with a more offensively compliant cast of players, could make him a steal for a prospective buyer.
Lamoriello would undoubtedly treat an Elias trade with the utmost delicacy, making sure Elias benefits as much as the Devils do. In 2013, he was supposedly plan B for the Detroit Red Wings if they failed to sign Daniel Alfredsson. They like bringing in veteran players, many of which have had some good years with the organization. He would certainly be a nice complimentary piece to Detroit’s arsenal of wingers, and could potentially be tried at center on their second or third line. A more offensively hindered team in the playoff race like the Montreal Canadiens could also benefit from Elias’ services in their upcoming playoff push. Although the Habs have been rumored to be interested in Jaromir Jagr, they could redirect their attention to Elias if they faill to acquire him. The Habs need to supplement their depth at wing and an experienced playmaker like Elias can bolster Montreal’s struggling power play, setting up shooters like Subban, Markov, and Pacioretty.
Martin Havlat…The 33-year old right wing was a low risk/high reward signing. Undoubtedly, hopes were high Havlat would have a turnaround season like Petr Sykora did in 11-12. While injuries have factored into his performance, he has just five goals and nine points on the season. He still possesses a speedy element to his game that teams could use. Just like the Devils, anyone looking for a low risk acquisition could bite on Havlat. While the league’s elite teams are already set offensively or will pursue more impactful assets, you could see him wind up on a bubble team shoring up on their offensive depth.
For a minimal price, one of two places I see a fit for Havlat is the Boston Bruins. Currently occupying the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, they rank 23rd amongst teams in goals scored. With their tight salary cap situation, they could take on a player of Havlat’s caliber if all else fails with hopes he’ll do more on a deeper, faster team. Nipping at Boston’s toes is the Florida Panthers, who have also struggled to score this year. Currently four points behind the Bruins, Florida is still in the playoff race, and might not attract higher profile targets with restrictive clauses in their contracts. This could prompt them to broaden their search criteria in their efforts to push for that final wildcard spot. Havlat would definitely bring experience to a Florida team with a relatively young core, and find himself playing on any of their four lines.
Jaromir Jagr…Devils trade talk starts and ends with what happens to Jagr. It’s a shame nothing better could come out of the two seasons he spent here, but it doesn’t make sense for him to waste his talent on a struggling team when he could help another win a Stanley Cup. It’s worth noting Jagr won his two championships in the early-90s and he’s only been back to the finals one other time. He deserves every chance at getting his name engraved on the Stanley Cup a third and final time. Despite his unsteady production this year, the 43-year old right wing continues to play an instrumental role in the Devil’s offense, which more than justifies whether he’s worth trading for.
Lamoriello is known to bring back old faces that previously played for the Devils, but has also traded players back to their former teams. It’s been suggested the Pittsburgh Penguins are interested in bringing Jagr back to the city he started his career in. They’re a team that’ll never turn away help at the wing and despite his declined playoff numbers in recent years, his locker room presence and general playoff experience will be invaluable to a team that’s developing a reputation for their postseason collapses. If a Vanek-like situation unfolds where Jagr doesn’t get dealt until the last second, one “mystery team” he’d be a good fit for is the Nashville Predators. He would find a spot in their top two lines and reunite with Peter Laviolette, who coached Jagr in Philadelphia. Out of their current top-six scoring forwards, Mike Fisher is the only one who’s individually played more than 50 playoff games in their career (97). Their top five scoring forwards have appeared in a combined 102 playoff games, so in addition to whatever offensive skill Jagr brings, his playoff experience can prove invaluable to the Predators in different ways, considering they’ve never advanced beyond the conference semi-finals.
Marek Zidlicky…Despite his age, the right-handed defenseman logs heavy minutes on a nightly basis with a sufficient point production rate to show for it. Although his defensive zone play leaves a lot to be desired, the offense his game features could make teams needing more production from their blue line, overlook this glaring flaw. Teams also looking for power play help will bite on Zidlicky, especially considering the asking price will be less than other highly touted trade options. A new team could get a lot more out of him if he takes on a lesser role in a more supportive defensive cast.
The market for defensemen this year is relatively lively; just as abundant as there are teams looking for defensive help. With top scoring defenseman Sami Vatanen sidelined for an extended period of time on an Anaheim Ducks team that lacks right-handed defensemen and is looking to shore up on their defensive depth, the Ducks are a potential fit. Located in the same area, the Los Angeles Kings have a defensive cast that’s scored sparingly this season. They’ve felt the absence of Slava Voynov while he deals with his legal problems and have struggled to reciprocate his workload. Not saying Zidlicky is the answer to this void on their defense, but he could definitely help the offense coming from their blue line.