After being deprived of sports for now about a month, we thought it would be fun to hold a mailbag type Q&A among our followers. After solid engagement over a few days, I have picked some of the questions and answered them. Given not much else is going on, I have separated this Q&A into two separate articles. This one will answer the first four questions, and we will be releasing another one, part two, next week. I want to thank everyone for their participation, and hopefully, we can do this again down the road.
Question #1 (Facebook courtesy of Christopher M.): Do you think Alex Tuch would be a good addition to the Devils? Considering Vegas is up against the cap. What do you think it would take to acquire him?
Tuch, as you explained in your question, is a young forward with size and a decent contract. He also, excluding this year, has been one of the more underrated forwards in the league. This thanks to a 37-point campaign in 2017 (only playing 15 minutes a night) and a breakout 52 points (20G, 32A) in 74 games last season. 2018-19 was undoubtedly special for Tuch as is confirmed by the chart below. However, it’s worth noting he registered an 11.1 shot percentage, which has regressed to 8.2% this season.
Unfortunately for both Tuch and the Golden Knights, his shooting percentage is not the only number to regress, as he has taken a large step back this season. Only able to play 42 games because of an injury, he had a meager 17 points and a Relative Corsi (CF% Rel.) of -2.7, which is the lowest of his career. The chart below further confirms these new struggles.
The Devils are in definite need of forward help. Tuch, if able to return to last season’s form, would be a welcomed addition. And given the recent injury and regression, it most likely wouldn’t take more than a second or third-round pick coupled with a later round selection to get a prospective trade done. However, given Tuch’s regression and the Devils’ cap space supply, I would prefer them to look elsewhere and try to reel in a more established forward. This rather than take a risk on Tuch returning to his previous season form.
Question #2 (Facebook courtesy of Bobby K.): Who will be the Devils’ netminders next October?
The starter for the Devils next October will undoubtedly be Mackenzie Blackwood. After excelling in his first season with the club (.918 save percentage in 21 starts), he showed this season that it was no fluke and contributed a .915 save percentage behind a dreadful team in 43 starts. The backup goalie position is where this gets interesting.
Do not expect any netminder on the current roster to fill that role next season. Cory Schneider has shown countless times he is no longer a reliable option, and younger guys, such as Gilles Senn and Evan Cormier, still need more seasoning in the minors. This means the Devils should pursue a veteran backup/1B-type in free agency. Options include Anton Khudobin, Jaroslav Halak, Jacob Markstrom, and Thomas Greiss. Each of these pending free agents are veterans (30-years old and older) and tallied a save percentage above .913 this season.
Notice the options listed above are backup types and do not include big names such as Braden Holtby and Robin Lehner. This is strictly due to the fact Blackwood has shown he is capable of playing 50-55 games a season, making it unnecessary to sign a guy like Holtby to a bigger contract. The money saved in signing a back-up rather than an unneeded starter can be used to plug other holes in the Devils’ lineup.
Question #3 (Facebook courtesy of Jeremy F.) Your recent article highlighted why “Nas” should be replaced. Who are your favorites and why?
For those wondering what article Jeremy is referencing to you can find it here. I strongly recommend reading it, as you will quickly learn Alain Nasreddine should not be the head coach next season and has leaned on stellar goaltending play in his 43-game tenure.
With that said, lucky for the Devils, they do have a lot of solid options to choose from. And as was reported earlier in the week, they have already begun the process by interviewing Gerard Gallant and “a few other candidates.”
In addition to Gallant, who would be a stellar addition, other names the Devils should pursue are former Sabres and Penguins bench-boss Dan Bylsma, and former Wild and Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau. Some options that should be pursued but who have yet to coach in the NHL are Wisconsin (NCAA) head coach Tony Granato — who has been around the Devils in the past via their summer developmental camp. Jay Leach, who coaches Providence of the AHL, and Rikard Gröberg, who is an extremely successful European head coach.
In my opinion, given the Devils’ recent unsuccessful attempt in hiring a coach with no NHL-head coaching experience in John Hynes, I would prefer them to go the opposite route this time out. Out of the three I listed above, my first two choices would be Gerard Gallant, who did terrific with both the Panthers and the expansion Golden Knights, and Bruce Boudreau, who has been terrific wherever he has coached as is evident by his career .635 win percentage and the fact he has never led a team to a season below hockey-.500. You hire either one of those two guys, and I’d be shocked if it doesn’t work out in the Devils’ favor.
Question #4 (Facebook courtesy of BD K.) Who do you think are the top UFAs the Devils should look at?
As you correctly mentioned in your original question, we will be releasing individual profiles on specific free agents the Devils should target as we get closer to free agency. However, I will include several different guys you should expect to see profiles on in the future and that would be a great fit for New Jersey.
The Devils have several holes in their lineup. A glance at their depth chart shows a need on the left side in their top-six, a top-four left or right-handed defenseman, another defenseman for the bottom pairing, a backup goaltender (see above on who targets should be), and possibly a depth scoring forward or two.
Top-six left wings the Devils should investigate are Panthers’ forwards Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov. Each, although now in their early 30s, are terrific point producers and would immediately jolt the Devils’ top-six. Another option at left-wing the Devils can look at is, that’s right, Taylor Hall. Now, this is extremely unlikely, and Hall is most likely about to be extremely overpaid. However, given the state of the league, you never know. Top-four defensemen the Devils could pursue are Torey Krug and TJ Brodie. Lower-pairing guys the Devils should look at are Mark Pysyk, Radko Gudas, Dylan Demelo, and Trevor Van Riemsdyk. Lastly, some depth forwards that would help the Devils’ scoring are right-wing Valeri Nichushkin and left-wingers Matt Nieto and Josh Leivo.
As mentioned above, be on the lookout for the individual profiles of these guys. However, until then, these are some of the guys that I would familiarize myself with as they would make great additions to a Devils squad with a plethora of cap space.