Editor’s Note: The following piece is purely based on speculation and solely reflects the opinions of writer Mike Luci. The following article does not represent the opinions of Devils Army Blog, its admins, or the rest of its writers.
Although general manager Ray Shero’s mold of a “fast, attacking, supportive” team is slowly coming to fruition, there’s still much work to be done. The Devils entered the offseason with a surplus of young defensemen on their roster, waiting in the minors, and a promising prospect pool. Especially with the signing of John Moore, whose contract insinuates he has a roster spot reserved for him, it’s only fueled the growing speculation that Shero will orchestrate a trade to ship out a defenseman or two.
Outside of guarantees like Andy Greene, Damon Severson, Adam Larsson, and John Moore, it leaves two or three vacancies on the Devils’ blue line for a group featuring names like Eric Gelinas, John Merrill, Seth Helgeson, and Raman Hrabarenka (just to mention a few), to compete for. Between teams seeking cap relief, needing to shore up on defensive depth, or looking to add the final touches in preparation for making a serious playoff run, the Devils won’t have a shortage of trade partners.
Let’s take a look at a few teams that may contact the Devils about one of their young defensemen.
Buffalo Sabres…The Sabres are in the midst of a redefining offseason after bolstering their offense and taking a chance on a young goalie in Robin Lehner. General Manager Tim Murray is reportedly looking to add another defensemen to his roster. With over $15 million in cap space and a myriad of forward prospects, it’s not inconceivable for these two teams to at least discuss a trade of this nature on a cordial basis. Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges are Buffalo’s only defensemen signed beyond next season and while Rasmus Ristolainen has made considerable progress, he’s in the infancy of his career. The Sabres averaged the lowest shot totals last year, especially their defense corps, which averaged a little over six shots per game. Murray would undoubtedly like to improve that department, and could look at someone like Eric Gelinas, who signed a two year contract extension with New Jersey on Tuesday. Gelinas’ 1.83 shots per game exceeded Buffalo’s highest-shooting defenseman (Ristolainen, 1.55 per game). His booming shot would fit nicely in the playing system that Head Coach Dan Bylsma likes to implement. The Devils could be interested in prospects Connor Hurley or Justin Bailey, both of whom were selected by the Sabres in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft. Shero could even inquire about left wing Marcus Foligno or center Tyler Ennis, who might become expendable with newcomers like Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, and Sam Reinhart coming in.
Colorado Avalanche…Outside of 23-year old Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson, who combined for 24 goals last season, five other defensemen on Colorado combined for just 16 goals. The Avalanche were among the lowest-shooting teams last year, and had the 29th-ranked power play. With players like Francois Beauchemin, Brad Stuart, and Nate Guenin in their early-to-mid-thirties and having a pinch over $9 million in cap space, Colorado would surely like to do more on their blue line beyond signing Beauchemin. The biggest obstacle for Colorado to tackle is the steep drop-off on their defense’s depth chart after Barrie and Johnson. Colorado would probably like to acquire one or two younger NHL-ready defensemen that could play big minutes and bolster their struggling power play. Eric Gelinas could interest Colorado, however if they’re seeking more of a two-way or stay-at-home defenseman, they could express interest in Seth Helgeson, Jon Merrill or (if they see eye-to-eye on the return for him) inquire about Damon Severson. In return, the Devils could pursue one of Colorado’s plethora of young centermen, such as Carl Soderberg.
Dallas Stars…Having recently made headlines with the acquisition of Patrick Sharp, the Stars have one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. Dallas is hoping to fit another defenseman under their $6 million cap cushion as they aim for a playoff return. John Klingberg is the Stars’ only defenseman signed long term beyond next season. Alex Goligosky, Jason Demers, and Jordie Benn are unrestricted free agents next summer, while neither Jyrki Jokipakka, Patrik Nemeth, nor Jamie Oleksiak have played under 100 career games each. Dallas would love to find an immediate replacement for Trevor Daley’s defense-leading 16 goals and 1.66 shots per game, (another potential suitor for Gelinas?). General Manager Jim Nill would probably make a pitch for the likes of Adam Larsson or Damon Severson in this speculative scenario, but Shero wouldn’t pay any mind unless it’s an offer he can’t refuse. Such an offer may include Cody Eakin or – and this is HIGHLY unlikely – Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin.
Edmonton Oilers…Between acquiring Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart, and highly touted prospects Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers would presumably be content with their defense. Veterans like captain Andrew Ference, Mark Fayne, and Nikita Nikitin clearly aren’t the answer in getting the team back into the playoffs for the first time since 2006. It’s not entirely certain Nurse or Draisaitl will make the team next year, and with Reinhart having all of eight games of NHL experience under his belt, there are no guarantees there is a roster spot waiting for him either. The top-heavy Oilers would be an ideal trading partner for the Devils, especially if they’re willing to part ways with one of their core forwards. Right wingers Jordan Eberle or Nail Yakupov would address the Devils’ lack of depth at forward. Hypothetically speaking, Shero would inevitably have to part ways with the likes of an Adam Larsson or Damon Severson-type player in a deal of this nature, and could possibly force the Oilers to take back an expiring contract for someone like Dainius Zubrus or Tuomo Ruutu to counteract any large salary coming to Jersey.
Carolina Hurricanes…A particularly interesting option since they’re within the division. Although Carolina selected Noah Hanafin at the draft, any other noteworthy defensive prospects of theirs are a few years away. A defense with the likes of James Wisniewski, Ron Hainsey, and John-Michael Liles logging regular minutes speaks for itself. It’s uncertain what direction general manager Ron Francis will take with Captain Eric Staal entering his contract year and with rumors of Jeff Skinner being shopped, the Hurricanes could have some compelling trade options for the Devils. Both forwards appear due for a much needed change of scenery to reconnect with their old scoring touches. Carolina’s biggest need on defense is getting more contributions in the offensive zone. Outside of Justin Faulk’s 15 goals last season, eight other defensemen combined to score 16. Eric Gelinas and Damon Severson once again emerge as two prospective commodities Carolina could inquire about in this hypothetical scenario, especially if Staal or Skinner come the other way.