A season ago, the New Jersey Devils shocked the NHL and made the playoffs on the back of Taylor Hall’s MVP performance. This season, with Hall out of the lineup, the Devils have sank back towards the bottom of the standings and won’t be playing in the postseason this April.
General manager Ray Shero is a smart man, and he has slowly been building a pretty good group in New Jersey that should be a consistent playoff team in short order. After buying at the deadline a season ago, he has the chance to cash-in some pending free agents for assets this season to help build for 2019-20. On top of that, it may also give him his first chance to talk with Hall about his future with the team.
Although the Devils don’t have any stars to send out as rentals, there are some decent pieces that could help a team like the Boston Bruins in a depth role. If Bruins GM Don Sweeney strikes out on the big names, could he take a chance on some lesser options from a team like the Devils?
Why The Devils?
Entering Friday’s action, the Devils sit last in the Metropolitan Division and are tied with the Detroit Red Wings for the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference. This isn’t a playoff team, especially without Hall in the lineup. Shero is a smart GM and has done a great job over the years at the draft table. Giving he and his scouting staff extra bullets for June’s draft is likely the smart play as this season gets flushed down the drain.
The Devils don’t have difference makers up front that are available for trade, but they do have some useful depth pieces. Veteran forward Drew Stafford is a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) who could draw some interest, while both Brian Boyle and Marcus Johansson will be sought-after commodities. Boyle, a pending UFA from Massachusetts with Boston roots, is the ideal fourth-line center in the modern NHL. Johansson, meanwhile, has battled injuries for the last few seasons.
The Devils aren’t the team you go to if you are looking for a sexy addition before the deadline, but they do have some strong depth options that could help a team. The Bruins are one of the teams that could go running with the Devils and get exactly what they need, however.
Okay, there might need to be some relationship repairing done between Johansson and Brad Marchand before this happens. That said, Johansson is a strong complimentary piece that brings speed, skill, penalty killing ability and smarts to the table. He won’t light the world on fire offensively, but he could be a diamond in the rough and still add a little pop to the Bruins lineup.
Johansson’s numbers have actually been strong when playing with skilled linemates. When the Devils put him with a competent offensive center like Travis Zajac or Nico Hischier, he produces. When asked to play with a more defensive center who struggles offensively, aka Pavel Zacha, he struggles to post numbers.
Essentially, Johansson isn’t going to push the river possession-wise and he isn’t going to drive the offense on a line. That being said, he can complement skill and won’t be an offensive liability. In fact, he’s not far from the 2.00 points-per-60 mark when with skill. That’s the sign of a guy who can produce at a top-six level when put in the right spot.
Johansson’s hockey IQ is very high, and he’s a responsible forward in his own zone. He’s played on the penalty kill with the Devils, and could help a team like the Bruins in that area. One of the best things about him is his exceptional speed, which makes him a perfect fit for the modern NHL.
In terms of asset cost, it’s tough to say with this player. Johansson has dealt with injuries over the last two seasons, including concussion problems. He’s only played in 38 games this season and that could make teams a little hesitant. Perhaps a draft pick (second-rounder?) and a prospect gets this deal done, a similar price to what the Devils paid for Michael Grabner a season ago.
What a great story this would be. Boyle, a native of Hingham, coming home to chase the Stanley Cup after battling cancer. He has been a great story the last few seasons, fighting through the aforementioned cancer to still produce for the Devils. He’s still a solid fourth-line center, and I think he’d be a good fit for the Bruins depending on price.
Boyle doesn’t have exceptional speed and isn’t an offensive difference-maker by any means. He’s found a way to fill the net a bit this season, however, with 13 goals in 45 games. Asking Boyle to be a consistent 20-goal scorer is asking for too much, however. Asking him to be a depth scorer while filling a penalty killing and defensive role, however, is perfect.
The Bruins could use a third-line center, but I’m not sure if Boyle is still capable enough to fill that spot. As a fourth-line center? He would be such a perfect fit that I’d have made the trade yesterday. He’s a low-risk option for the bottom two lines and very well could come cheap. If the Devils are willing to eat a little money to make the cap work, and if the price isn’t too high, he would be a solid depth option.
One thing I truly believe in is that if you are making a run for the Stanley Cup, you load up on defenders and centers. Adding a capable veteran like Boyle cannot hurt.
A Deal To Be Made?
I don’t think the Devils are the first, second or even third option for the Bruins. If Sweeney is going to market, it is probably to add a top-six forward who can make a difference in the playoffs. The Devils don’t have that player on the block this season, but they do have some depth that can provide secondary scoring and penalty killing prowess.
The prices will be cheaper, and although the impact will be smaller, it could still help this Bruin team. Sweeney won’t leave anything on the table between now and the deadline, which could lead him to New Jersey. After all, the Bruins could use a little secondary scoring and some depth anyway, no?