Most New Jersey Devils fans still remember the day a few short seasons ago when we woke up to find out that our beloved Adam Henrique was shipped off to the Anaheim Ducks. Mr. It’s Over was trading places with defenseman Sami Vatanen, as the Devils vied for a playoff spot for the first time since 2012. While most of us held fond memories of Rico and were sad to see him go, the trade filled a hole on the Devils’ blue line for a young, point-producing defenseman.
For what it’s worth, since then the Ducks have had about as much success as a team as the Devils have had with Vatanen, and that’s not much. Vatanen’s contract, which he signed during his Anaheim days, ends this season. With the Devils too far behind a playoff spot, it looks like Vatanen might be packing his bags once again. One place where Vatanen’s services are needed that might yield a sufficient return for the Devils is the Chicago Blackhawks.
Why Send Him to Chicago?
Ever since the Blackhawks were ousted in a sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators in the 2017 NHL Playoffs, they haven’t returned to the postseason. Interestingly, they have come close and got a bit of draft lottery luck as well. With the Blackhawks once again just outside the Western Conference’s last playoff spot, the team might look to make a move to get them right over the hump and back into the postseason. After all, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren’t getting any younger.
On Wednesday night’s episode of NHL Tonight on NHL Network, the panel mentioned that the Blackhawks could look to at a second pairing defenseman. They also are in no position to bet the future for a 2020 Cup run, when them making the playoffs is no guarantee at the moment. Enter Sami Vatanen, who might have to start loving some deep dish Chicago pizza if the Blackhawks make a play for him.
Chicago isn’t willing to bet the future, nor should they considering there’s a chance they end up a lottery team once again as well. A quick look at the Sporting News ranking of NHL farm systems (ranked prior to the beginning of this season) has the Blackhawks in the middle of the pack at number 15. As much as the best return for the Devils would be a great prospect, Chicago doesn’t have so many to go around that they’d consider wasting one on Vatanen. Chicago is also in no position to overpay, so the return most likely wouldn’t tilt very far in New Jersey’s favor.
One intriguing player to watch out for is Calvin De Haan, who the Blackhawks made a surprising move to acquire the left shooting defenseman from the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason. De Haan was part of the Carolina team that surprisingly made the Eastern Conference final. When he was a free agent two seasons ago, after leaving the team that drafted him in the New York Islanders, there was some interest around him from New Jersey fans.
De Haan is also often injured, with season-ending surgery in December of 2019. Since Chicago has more or less learned to play without him, they may be willing to part ways with him. After this season, he’ll still have two seasons on the contract he signed with Carolina. If Vatanen’s expiring contract is the asking price, De Haan sounds like a low risk, high reward situation for New Jersey. Especially if you consider the Devils’ blue line to take a step forward with the anticipated addition of Ty Smith next season, and pending free agency decisions around captain Andy Greene.
If De Haan can’t be had, here’s where asking for draft picks might get tricky. I fully believe that Vatanen demonstrated his worth of a second-round pick for his month or so of services, but a third-round pick doesn’t devalue him too much. If New Jersey can get a second for Vatanen they should take it immediately, but even the Hawks know they’d be slightly overpaying. For anything less than that, I’d prefer getting De Haan in black and red.