We’re two weeks into summer free agency and about a month into the 2017 offseason. With their needs apparent, most of the New Jersey Devils fan base anticipated a busy offseason…and were largely disappointed. While the first overall selection of Nico Hischier along with the acquisitions of Brian Boyle and Marcus Johansson were laudable gains, the organization went into the offseason with a derelict defense corps.
Many Devils fans deluded themselves by thinking Shero would acquire all-star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, only to see him sign across the river. Outside of trading for Mirco Mueller from San Jose and losing Jon Merrill in the expansion draft, the Devils blue line is ultimately no different than the squad that skated in their regular season finale.
Considering New Jersey faced the tenth-most shots, surrendered the sixth-most goals, had one of the worst shot and goal differentials in the league last season…this is concerning.
To make matters worse, it doesn’t appear the backend will improve anytime soon. Having said that, it’s not like Ray Shero (who admitted the defense would be his priority this summer) didn’t make an effort. Between his unwillingness to take less term and salary from a team like the Devils, Kevin Shattenkirk signed with the New York Rangers to play with the team he rooted for growing up (that’s also in a better position to contend).
Outside of Shattenkirk, the pickings in this summer’s free agent class were slim. Teams that faced the prospect of losing a quality defenseman in the expansion draft (Minnesota, Anaheim, and Columbus) opted to make lopsided deals with the Las Vegas Golden Knights when they couldn’t find a compatible trade partner. I’m sure Shero made inquiries, but obviously failed to reach an agreement.
Now that the dust has settled, the best remaining options in free agency won’t turn the Devils into a playoff contender (that can compete in the Metropolitan Division no-less). I’ll admit I’m a sucker for trade speculation, which reveals how many conceivable trade scenarios can materialize when put into perspective- nobody saw the Johansson trade coming.
The point being a trade can happen any time, but the current demand for quality defensemen that can indisputably improve the team’s backend is exorbitant. Unless Shero’s willing to part ways with a combination of players like Zacha, McLeod, Wood, Henrique, or Speers, I wouldn’t get your hopes up.
Obviously, things can change with the next round of arbitration hearings coming up at the end of July, and inevitable roster shakeups that occur throughout training camp. To reiterate- not only won’t Shero make a trade for the sake of doing so, but he especially won’t at the expense of New Jersey’s replenishing prospect pool.
While it’s within the realm of possibility we can be surprised with a trade out of left field, the only way I can truly see the Devils make a substantial acquisition on their backend is if Shero pounces on another cap-strapped team as a ramification of an arbitration ruling or re-signing one of their restricted free agents. Due to the broad nature of speculation, it’s not even worth throwing out potential names of defensemen who fit this profile.
Nonetheless, the way things look, Devils fans should start warming up to the possibility that their team is starting the season with a defense of “status quo” quality.