The New Jersey Devils have stumbled lately, with only two wins in their last 10 contests. They sit at 9-9-4, so their season is certainly not over. But it could get late early if things don’t change in a hurry, and adding some scoring help could help them find some more consistency.
On Thursday, with December beginning and the quarter mark of the season hitting, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli revealed 15 trade targets on teams’ radars. The list was forward-heavy, which favors the Devils since their forward depth is lacking. General manager Tom Fitzgerald does not seem like one to make a panic move to improve his team. With that said, if the right opportunity presents itself, he won’t hesitate to make the Devils better through a trade. Let’s take a look at some potential fits.
Possible Rentals for the Devils
Though the Vegas Golden Knights have dealt with numerous injuries to start the season, they’re likely to be Stanley Cup contenders when it matters most. That’s especially true once Jack Eichel, who they acquired from the Buffalo Sabres, gets cleared to play from disk replacement surgery sometime around the Olympic break in February.
It may seem counterintuitive to trade someone like Smith, who has 10 goals and 18 points in 23 games this season. But the Golden Knights will have to clear cap space for Eichel, and Smith could be a cap casualty. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer and has a cap hit of $5 million for the rest of the 2021-22 season.
After a tough 2020-21, Smith has bounced back in a big way to start this season. He’s fourth on the Golden Knights in Corsi for percentage (CF%) and has an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 51.29 percent. He’s also averaged 2.34 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five, which would be a significant boon for the Devils. He’d likely fit in perfectly on the wing alongside Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes.
Since Nick Foligno fetched a first-round pick and two fourths last trade deadline, Seravalli thinks Smith should net the Golden Knights more. But I’m not sure that’ll be the case. Every team knows the Golden Knights have shed salary to fit in Eichel. They have no choice, and that should lower Smith’s value. If he doesn’t cost the Devils their 2022 first-round pick as a rental, there’s probably a path to acquiring him.
The Anaheim Ducks have been one of the NHL’s biggest surprises so far. They have a 13-8-4 record and sit in third place in the Pacific Division. If it keeps up, they’ll likely be buyers. But even if they are, they could move someone like Rakell, who’s on an expiring contract, if they don’t plan to re-sign him.
After struggling the last couple of seasons, Rakell is off to a strong start in 2021-22, with eight goals and 10 points in 15 games. That’s a 43-goal pace over 82 games, though his shooting luck will probably cool down a bit as the season progresses. Still, for a Devils team that’s struggled to finish their chances, Rakell could be of help.
Since the start of 2019-20, Rakell has averaged 20 goals and 50 points per 82 games. He’s been an efficient five-on-five scorer, averaging 1.71 points/60, which is worthy of top-six minutes. He may struggle defensively, but the Devils need more scoring punch up front. That’s what Rakell would provide, but the price matters. He’d likely be one of the more expensive rentals when the time comes. If the Ducks are looking for top assets in return, then Fitzgerald will look elsewhere.
Players With Term
Earlier this past offseason, I wrote about how the Devils should avoid trading for Tarasenko. Though he requested a trade from the St. Louis Blues, he was coming off three consecutive shoulder surgeries that limited him to only 34 games between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. The risk just seemed like too much for a Devils team that had a great cap situation and a young, budding roster.
Well, it might be time to eat crow. Tarasenko has looked more like the Tarasenko of old to start 2021-22. He has seven goals and 19 points in 23 games — a 25-goal, 67-point pace over 82 games. He’s averaging 2.45 points/60, and his offensive impact has been above average and closer to what’s expected of him.
We’re five months removed from Tarasenko’s initial trade request, and it hasn’t been rescinded, per Seravalli. The Devils were reportedly one of a couple teams willing to eat Tarasenko’s entire salary, which was a $7.5 million cap hit for two seasons at the time of his initial request. Would the Devils still be willing to do that? With the way he’s playing, he’s probably worth closer to that full cap hit than he was during the offseason.
The Blues will most definitely want a 2022 first-round pick as a building block in a trade package. If the Devils get it together in December and look like they’re going to have a shot at a playoff spot once the new year rolls around, Fitzgerald could very much consider dealing his 2022 first to acquire Tarasenko since he’s still under contract for the 2022-23 season. With that said, the Blues are in second place in the Central Division, and are under no obligation to trade him since it looks like they’ll be playoff contenders themselves. And there might be better use of the Devils’ 2022 first than Tarasenko.
Since getting traded to the Vancouver Canucks in 2019, Miller has been one of the most productive wingers in the league. He has 141 points in 147 games, an average of 78 points per 82 games. He’s been one of their most-efficient five-on-five scorers and a force on the power play, the latter of which the Devils desperately need.
Unlike the Blues, the Canucks are in complete disarray. They’re 8-15-2, sit at the bottom of the Pacific Division, and seem unlikely to climb their way back into playoff contention as constructed. No one seems to know what the Canucks will do moving forward, including the Canucks themselves. But if there are changes to the front office and a new regime decides to sell, Miller could be on the move.
If the Devils are going to move their 2022 first as the trade deadline nears, Miller would be the ideal candidate, as he’s the top-flight scorer they need around Hischier or Hughes. It will cost more than their 2022 first, probably a prospect and another a pick at a minimum. Are the Devils ready to make that type of move? That’s for Fitzgerald to decide, but there’s no doubt Miller fits their needs.
My colleague Vincent Velotta wrote a detailed piece about DeBrusk being a fit for the Devils, so I’ll keep this brief. DeBrusk is 25 years old, will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and has a previous history as a 20-25 goal scorer. His finishing has dropped off over the last year, but he’s still a reliable middle-six winger nonetheless.
DeBrusk’s value is at its lowest at the moment. The Boston Bruins probably won’t get an outrageous return for him, which is why the Devils could make a move since it’s unlikely they’d have to give up their best assets to acquire him. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported he expects Fitzgerald to check in with the Bruins about DeBrusk (2:50 into the video). While his qualifying offer may be an obstacle, he’s very much a player of interest, per Dreger. If DeBrusk’s finishing rebounds, he’d provide crucial scoring depth for the Devils in their middle-six.
Taking On Salary — Patric Hornqvist
The Florida Panthers aren’t up against the salary cap…yet. But they will be next season once the dead cap hit from Keith Yandle’s buyout kicks up to $5,391,667. That’s why Hornqvist could be on the move, per Seravalli, as he’s under contract next season at a cap hit of $5.3 million.
Though Hornqvist isn’t the player he used to be, he could still fill a need for the Devils. He has 11 points in 24 games, and his five-on-five results have been quite good — he has a CF% of 55.06 and xG% of 54.98 percent. He’d also provide the net-front presence the Devils have been looking for on the power play that they’ve been missing for quite some time.
Fitzgerald wouldn’t have to give up anything of significance to acquire Hornqvist since the Panthers would be shedding his salary. They’d likely get a notable sweetener in return, however. The Carolina Hurricanes received a first-round pick from the Toronto Maple Leafs for taking on Patrick Marleau’s contract. It’s not unreasonable to think the Devils could get the same for Hornqvist. Plus, they’d be getting a useful player in him. The Panthers are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, so their 2022 first will almost be as good as an early second-round pick. Because of that, they could be willing to part with it if they don’t use it to acquire a player for their postseason run.
Adding Scoring Is a Must for the Devils
It’s likely too early for the Devils to be making a significant move for Miller or Tarasenko. The same is true of a rental like Smith or Rakell. But their schedule in December lightens up after a trying November. If they can turn it around and start picking up some wins, names like Miller, Rakell or Smith become much more viable as they head towards New Year’s Day.
If Fitzgerald wants to get ahead of the game, making a move for DeBrusk sooner than later makes sense. Since DeBrusk is 25 and will be an RFA this coming offseason, that’s an acquisition the Devils make not only for this season but for the next few years at a minimum. It has to be for the right price, of course, but he clearly fills a need for the team.
Fitzgerald will have options to add a scorer this season if he so chooses. The Devils need to pick it up to acquire a rental, but a player with term on his deal could already be a smart addition. The bottom line is they need to add more scoring if they want to make serious noise in the Metropolitan Division. And it’d be a surprise if that doesn’t happen at some point.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017