There never seems to be a shortage of trade speculation in the hockey world. Since the draft, seven different trade deals have been completed throughout the league that saw players of all positions, prospects, and draft picks involved. Among the seven trades that transpired over the past three months, one of the most notable has been the one-for-one deal that sent left wing Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson. This is undoubtedly Ray Shero’s most significant move since he took over as Devils general manager, and one of the highlight transactions of the 2016 offseason.
Upon looking closer at that groundbreaking deal, you’ll notice the greater ramifications that resulted outside of how it improved the respective teams involved. Look at all the trades that occurred since the Hall/Larsson swap and you’ll realize the players involved were strictly forwards and goaltenders. Despite rumors swirling about players like Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk, Tyson Barrie, and Jacob Trouba reportedly being shopped by their respective teams, not one NHL defenseman has been dealt since June 29th (the day the Adam Larsson/Taylor Hall trade was completed).
This isn’t a coincidence, and Shero is directly responsible for the stagnancy that’s persisted among the trade market for NHL defensemen.
In the wake of the Hall/Larsson swap, a new precedent was set for top-pairing defensemen in terms of trade return. If the Devils could obtain a star-caliber forward like Taylor Hall for a young top-pairing defenseman like Adam Larsson who hasn’t even reached his full potential, NHL general managers will demand a return just as good or better for a more established defender they’re trying to unload. Especially since the aforementioned defensemen that are allegedly available- Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk, Tyson Barrie, and Jacob Trouba are all considerably better than Larsson, the returns their respective general managers are seeking must sorely exceed what prospective trade partners are willing to part with. Personally, I don’t like how these correlations exist when it comes to weighing the perceived value of what a general manager might get back in return for unloading one of their assets. Having said that it’s a known fact NHL general managers use trades similar to the ones they’re trying to make, as comparative leverage when they’re in discussions for a deal with another team.
Ultimately, the ramifications of the Hall/Larsson deal immensely benefited the Devils, while stifling other teams with a need for a top-pairing defender. The newly established precedent has undoubtedly kept division rivals like the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Columbus Blue Jackets from bolstering their blue lines. Since the elite teams of the Metropolitan Division (Capitals, Penguins, Islanders) didn’t improve while teams like the Devils, Rangers, and Hurricanes bolstered their rosters, the balance of power is pretty level going into the regular season. Ironically, Larsson’s departure left a significant void on the Devils blue line that most fans would like to see filled by acquiring one of the said defensemen above. While New Jersey has the cap space to accommodate a contract of that magnitude, they don’t possess the necessary assets to meet the inflated demands these general managers have. Despite the uncertainties surrounding the Devils defense, their inability to directly address the matter is offset by the league-wide stifling Shero bestowed on other teams to improve that part of their roster.