On June 18, teams’ expansion draft protection lists will be released, which will allow for more speculation, analysis and mock drafts than you could ever hope for. Then the Vegas Golden Knights will chose their inaugural team on June 21, followed by the NHL entry draft on June 23rd, followed by free agency “interviewing” period on the 24th, which then brings us promptly into free agency on July 1.
What a week—especially if you’re a Devils fan.
This is arguably the most important off-season in Devils history and Ray Shero has his work cut out for him. While the rebuild has been slow for fans, Shero, to his credit, has a plan and has stuck to it. There is reason to be optimistic. The Devils have very valuable assets, also to his credit, to make the changes needed to help bring this once storied franchise back to its winning ways.
- Cap Space (about $25MM).
- 11 Draft picks in 2017 (including the #1 overall Nico/Nolan).
- Ilya Kovalchuck as a trade chip
That’s a lot of ammunition.
Unfortunately, despite all that money, there’s little to spend it on. Save for Oshie and Shattenkirk, both possible Devils targets, it’s a rather weak UFA class. So Shero will look to use a few of those 11 picks (and that Russian guy) to make a splash. In fact, on keeping all the picks, he was quoted as saying:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we did, but I will be trying not to, if you know what I mean.” – Ray Shero
I believe Ray has at least one big move up his sleeve this summer. So what could that look like?
Let’s take a look at a few realistic trade scenarios, courtesy of the writers at DAB:
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Why this works for both teams: Anaheim is one of those few teams with a surplus of young defensemen and a difficult cap situation, making them a perfect trade partner. Vatanen will likely be the target of several teams and the Devils may have to pay a bit to get him. Remember, the cost of Adam Larsson was Taylor Hall… A second and a third would get the ball rolling and even then, it may take a roster player or prospect, such as Quenneville to fulfill Anaheim’s desires. In return, the Devils get a defenseman who’s young, mobile, and under contract for the next 4 years. He’d immediately become a top-2 pairing. That said, I also wouldn’t be surprised if Anaheim made some moves and wound up protecting him, too.
Likelihood of happening: (7/10): There’s a good chance Vatanen gets dealt somewhere given Anaheim’s cap situation and the Devils will surely be at the top of the list of many interested suitors.
Why this works for both teams: On the surface, this may look like it benefits the Oilers more than the Devils. At $6 mil a year, Eberle probably isn’t worth the price tag. However, he did shoot a career low 9.6% percent last season and is a 13.4% career shooter. Even with that low shooting percentage, he managed 20 goals and 51 points. He was also a 52.8% possession player in 2016-17 and has a positive relative Corsi% over the last three seasons. He’s only 27 and is signed for only two more years, so he still has good years left ahead of him.
The Devils have the cap space to take on his deal and Eberle does fill a need for a scorer. With large extensions looming for Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, Edmonton needs to free up money and the Devils are one of the few teams who can take on Eberle’s cap hit without Edmonton having to retain any salary, which is out of the question for them.
Likelihood of happening: (7/10): Like I mentioned above, NJ is one of the few teams that can take Eberle’s cap hit on the books and he fills a need for the Devils. He’s also only under contract for 2 years. It’s probably a safe bet that Ray Shero and the Devils will be one of the finalists for Eberle if Edmonton does indeed decide to move him.
Why this works for both teams: The New York Islanders have been treading water recently, either just sneaking in or just missing the playoffs the past 2 seasons. With John Tavares’ contract about to expire, there have been rumblings he will bolt from (stadium location to be named later) for greener pastures if the Islanders can’t get him a winger to play with and a chance at the Stanley Cup. They struck out last offseason with Andrew Ladd and Kovalchuck gives them an opportunity to make up for that mistake. They will have an inside track on the returning Russian superstar due to their location. In order to acquire him from a divisional foe they will have to pay a pretty penny in the form of AHL star Ryan Pulock. Pulock has been a mainstay on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers blue line for 3 years and is about ready to burst onto the NHL scene. A 22-year old defenseman who has the skills to QB a powerplay would be a welcomed addition to the New Jersey defensive core.
Likelihood of happening (8/10): The Kovalchuk saga in New Jersey is going to come to an end around July 1st. It is rumored he does not want to play in Newark so the only option is to sign-and-trade him. According to Russian media he would like to stay in the NYC area or go down to Florida. This trade seemingly is a win-win-win for all parties involved as Kovy gets to stay where he wants, the Islanders add a potentially offensive dynamo to play alongside their captain, and the Devils get much needed help not only on the blue line, but offensively due to Pulock’s prowess on the powerplay. A trade like this may be in the works when the calendar reaches July.
Why this works for both teams: The two guys that would make an immediate and significant impact on the Devils are Jacob Trouba and Justin Faulk. Both are future franchise defenseman and players Ray Shero should make inquiries about. Both would come at a significant cost. While I’d prefer Trouba, I’m targeting Faulk as he’s under contract for 3 years as opposed to Trouba’s one which mitigates the risk. Also, Carolina is benefited from a stable of young defenseman making Faulk (somewhat) expendable. Given where the Devils are, giving up a #1 pick is not something I’m willing to do. Especially as next year’s draft is supposed to be very solid and ours could be a lower pick. There’s only a few scenarios I’d be open to doing this and a 25-year old bonafide franchise defenseman is one of them. Adding Quenneville should sweeten the package and while I don’t want to give him away either, we have guys like McLeod, Zacha, Bastian and this years #1 to offset that loss. Also, that’d likely be the asking price—at the very minimum.
Likelihood of happening: (5/10): There was buzz in February that Faulk was on the block and that will likely amplify come June. Their stable of young defensemen make a deal more palatable and the return (above) could help them in the mid and long-term.